By Juliana Moxley
Old Town Lansing Times staff writer
OLD TOWN LANSING — While walking down Grand River Avenue, Capital Area Transportation Authority, or CATA, buses pass you by, but a new transportation system may be added to the mix in the years to come.
CATA, who was not available for comment after multiple attempts, has proposed the Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, as the newest transportation system. However, the BRT is not slated to make traveling to Old Town any easier than riding the current CATA buses, which is disappointing those who live and work in the district.
CATA has made the proposal to implement the BRT into the transportation system for the Greater Lansing Area. With public transportation becoming increasingly popular in the area — in fiscal year 2012, ridership growth was attributed to a seven percent gain in demand for curb-to-curb transportation services, according to the CATA Community Report 2013 — the BRT will offer more advantages such as time efficient travel.
The BRT will operate for 8.5 miles along the Grand River Avenue corridor and will replace CATA’s Route 1 bus, which is currently CATA’s highest ridership line, according to CATA’s blog, “The Latest Project Updates.”
Although this is only a local project, MDOT Director of Communications Jeff Cranson said MDOT is road owner in the corridor. With MDOT being road owner, Cranson said MDOT’s role in the BRT project is to work with CATA as they move through the two current federal processes, which are Project Development and Environmental Assessment.
Cranson said MDOT provides a supporting role for this type of project.
“We try to listen to what the community needs are and try to identify funding sources for what they want and help for what ever mode of transportation people in the community think is best for them,” Cranson said.
Since the BRT project is on MDOT’s right of way, Cranson said final decisions regarding how the BRT will be constructed and operated require MDOT’s concurrence. He also said since federal highway funds were used to build the existing roadway, MDOT may need to get Federal Highway Administration, or FHWA, approval regarding changes to how the roadway is configured and how it is operated with the addition of the BRT.
What This Means For Old Town
People using CATA to travel to Old Town will still be subject to using multiple bus routes since there is not a direct route that goes to Old Town. This is an issue that will continue to deter people from coming to the district because transportation is not simple.
Old Town Commercial Association Executive Director Louise Gradwohl acknowledges that some students don’t frequently visit Old Town because of the bus transportation system.
“We want to draw more of a student population,” Gradwohl said.
Meat BBQ manager Tate Skiba said he has thought of ways to bring in more students to his restaurant, such as trying to potentially do “College Night” for students, where they could get sandwiches for a lesser price compared to Meat BBQ’s usual prices on other days.
Both Gradwohl and Skiba said they think the businesses in Old Town would benefit from having a direct bus route that goes to the district, such as the BRT.
“Unless they don’t have a car, they just won’t hop on the bus and figure it (the bus route) out,” Gradwohl said. “People want it to be easy.”
Skiba said he never visited Old Town during his five years at Michigan State University. He said students not knowing about the district or it being located far from MSU’s campus may be what’s contributing to the issue of students not visiting.
“Most students don’t have cars because they don’t need them, and they might not want to take the CATA to Old Town because they would have to switch routes — they might be worried that they could end up in a bad neighborhood if they are not familiar with the routes,” Skiba said.
While Gradwohl is in favor of having a BRT route to Old Town, she said there would need to be a lot of surveying done to see if the BRT would be used effectively. Gradwohl suggested expanding the district’s venues to give visitors more options of how they can spend their time in Old Town.
“We could add more restaurants for people to come here and spend more time down here,” Gradwohl said.
Skiba said he thinks Old Town would have a greater chance of getting more visitors if there was a direct bus system that ran to the district. He said having a direct bus system could also increase the amount of new customers Old Town receives since they would be exposed to the district and possibly be interested in checking it out.
The Positives and Negatives
East Lansing City Manager George Lahanas said the BRT has many positives, such as numerous bus stations along the route, time efficiency, and an easy ability to enter and exit the bus. The doors of the BRT open up like a train and the bus station platform becomes leveled with the bus, a feature that would enable handicap people to easily get on and off the bus.
“If someone has disabilities, like a wheel chair impairment, they could move directly on to it and not have to use a lift or some other mechanism,” Lahanas said.
Although there are many positives that will come out of the BRT, there are some downsides to the new innovation. The BRT operating in its’ own center lanes is a feature that raises the concerns of the East Lansing City Council members, according to Lahanas.
With the BRT occupying the center of the Grand River Avenue corridor, Lahanas said the council member’s concerns are potentially losing the center median in East Lansing’s downtown and causing traffic congestion in that area by eliminating lanes. Other concerns are losing the ability to take a left turn into downtown East Lansing if you’re heading westbound, and the cost of implementing the new system.
A New Transportation Innovation
CATA is the dominant bus system that runs throughout the Greater Lansing Area. According to the CATA Community Report 2013, fiscal year 2012 marked CATA’s third consecutive year with high ridership — a total of 11,861,760 rides were taken by CATA passengers.
The BRT was approved by the Federal Transit Administration and is currently in the project development stage. Numerous public meetings are available to gain more information about the new bus system or to address concerns.
A BRT charrette event was hosted at East Lansing High School March 19-23. The charrette was open for the public to attend and get insight on possible designs for the BRT.
Lahanas said there’s a possibility that the BRT project will continue to move forward and become another transportation system in the area, but he said there is a lot that needs to be taken into consideration before the project implementation becomes official.
“Really, now, it’s in the formulating decision stage to see if it’s feasible, to see if the municipalities and the jurisdictions are in favor of it, to see if all the design concerns and cost concerns work out, and if there’s funding available from the federal government for a project like this,” Lahanas said. “So, I would say we’re still in a preliminary step.”
Advertising junior Molly Moorfoot said she thinks a BRT system would be beneficial for people who are on-the-go in the Greater Lansing Area.
“The time efficiency of the BRT is a great idea,” Moorfoot said. “It would be beneficial for students. I think they should consider replacing other bus routes with the BRT system.”
If the BRT does get implemented into the public transportation system, the city’s hopes are that this innovation will help in moving forward with the urban feel that is trying to be achieved.
Gradwohl said she has experienced bus systems similar to the BRT in other locations, such as Baltimore.
“They have a really great transportation system that’s everywhere,” Gradwohl said. “I think to grow Lansing, adopting a BRT system is going to push us into the future a little bit better.”
Questions? Contact Juliana Moxley at firstname.lastname@example.org or (586) 819-9750