The city of Grand Rapids will be cited for its “Vital Streets” plan this month, and while the Business Journal offers congratulations for the professional planners association’s recognition of adherence to process and the city’s adoption of national goals to significantly reduce vehicular traffic while increasing pedestrian, bicycle and public transit, we believe such an occasion begs the problem solving left unfinished. It is more than obvious after three years of significant issues the national overlay is not working.
In 2015, the city’s San Francisco consultants who were paid $610,000 for their analysis, flat out told the city the Vital Streets plan is “disjointed,” not well integrated and, among other concerns, lacks efficient freight movement that is “vital to the local and regional economy.” Consultants told the city many business owners don’t believe the city can develop existing parking lots into commercial properties (as proposed) because employers can’t get the parking permits they require for their workforce in current conditions. That remains a big concern for business owners downtown.
Three years later, after significant reporting by the Business Journal regarding the impact on downtown businesses, not much has changed. Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce noted in January that the issue is second only to “talent and attraction of qualified employees” (and the two are interrelated if “talent” has no parking and little choice in public transportation). The chamber survey of 650 members showed the parking situation is “a barrier to business growth” and both “availability of parking and employee commutes were highlighted as primary concerns by roughly half of the respondents. Transit connections followed in third.”
The city commission last discussed the problems in December when a vote to explore additional options was deadlocked in feigned indignation for First Ward Commissioner Dave Shaffer’s proposed “process.” At the time, First Ward Commissioner Jon O’Connor supported Shaffer, saying he believed the city needed alternatives to the parking issue to underscore to residents, visitors and businesses that the city understood the problems.
In the last few weeks, the city shut down two more lots behind the Van Andel Arena for new construction. Those lots will be used for a development including a movie theater, commercial businesses and residential units, which were scaled back for market analysis showing near saturation and increasing development costs.
It is long past time for “vital” action to address an issue 70 percent of surveyed business owners described as the No. 1 potential investment for the city to make to best benefit their business.