Vital Streets plan heads to city commission


The Vital Streets Oversight Commission completed work on a Vital Streets draft plan that will go before the Grand Rapids City Commission in November.

Tammy Helminski, VSOC chair, said the goal of the plan is to create “complete streets” with green infrastructure and ensure taxpayer dollars are spent smartly, as the city undertakes several street improvements.

“We need to make sure, when we are doing the reconstruction of these streets, we are making streets that work,” Helminski said. “There is only so much right-of-way, and we have lots of competition for use in that right-of-way space. We have a good opportunity to be thoughtful and mindful in designing those streets. We don’t want to be doing it ad hoc.”

The 25-member, citizen-led VSOC was established to oversee the investment of taxpayer resources and implement the Vital Streets vision following a 2014 voter approved 15-year income tax extension to fund the investments.

In 2013, the Grand Rapids Sustainable Streets Task Force reported over 60 percent of Grand Rapids’ streets — 371 of 588 miles of city streets — were in poor condition.

The task force issued 12 recommendations to turn things around, with a final vision of maintaining 70 percent of streets in a “state of good repair.”

Helminski said while the funding already has been put to use — with a budget of $22 million per year for investments — the draft plan creates a systematic approach to guide the yearly reconstruction work.

Helminski said major pieces of the plan are the Modal Overlay Map and the Street Types Map, which classifies every street within Grand Rapids’ boundaries based on its primary use.

Modal classifications include: balanced, transit, vehicle/truck plus transit, vehicle/truck, bicycle: commuter, and bicycle: community.

Street-type classifications include: neighborhood residential, link residential, network residential, crosstown connectors, neighborhood business, urban center and maker/industrial.

“We are designing streets wisely and within an overall setting of how we view the city,” Helminski said. “We see these streets being networked together in the city. This plan lays out that view.”

Helminski said the plan creates a systematized process going forward.

“From the city staff standpoint, it’s helpful for them to know they are designing streets in a coordinated fashion, and from a public standpoint, it lets them know the streets are being planned out in a coordinated fashion,” she said.

Several community members were enlisted to participate in a series of workgroups to help form the draft plan. Nelson/Nygaard, a professional consulting firm, also was hired.

Because Grand Rapids remains home to a handful of industrial users with unique transportation needs, one of the workgroups focused specifically on freight and transit routes.

“When you look at our street type maps, there is a street type that is maker/industrial,” Helminski said. “We did recognize they are a part of our city and that we needed to make sure where those areas are concentrated — that was the street type we gave those streets,” she said.

Helminski said cost savings is expected to come from the asset management approach being followed by Vital Streets.

“The savings are more cost avoidant,” she said. “We don’t want to design a street that doesn’t allow for buses, and then we realize it makes sense to have a bus route here two years later. We are taking a long-term approach and looking at streets network wide.”

The public was invited to provide comments on the draft plan earlier this month, but Helminski said there still will be additional opportunities for individuals to comment on the plan as it goes through the city commission approval process.

She encouraged individuals to visit to view the plan and the maps.

The VSOC will present the draft plan to the Grand Rapids City Commission on Nov. 15. Following that presentation, the city commission will set a date for public hearings on the full design guide.

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