Join us to participate in the upcoming 2019 City:One Challenge. 

Making Grand Rapids Accessible for all

Create an accessible Grand Rapids for residents and visitors with cutting-edge changes to its transportation and land use choices.

Photo of Erika  Young
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The recent history of transportation in cities has been one of trying to move vehicles through and around cities as quickly as possible. The resulting economic, public health and social equity outcomes of this strategy have harmed not just the health of the city, but also the people living in and visiting it. Elected officials, planners and engineers have largely focused on relieving congestion. However, many cities are now thinking more comprehensively about accessibility - or how they can provide all of their residents with access to economic opportunity and all of the other assets that their cities offer.  

Smart Growth America (SGA) and The Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) propose to work with the City of Grand Rapids to reorient the city’s transportation objective toward accessibility. Instead of looking exclusively at the movement of vehicles, we will build the capacity of City staff to analyze whether people are actually getting to their destinations and whether that access is shared equitably by people of all economic circumstances. 

We will do this through in person meetings as well as the application of a rigorous, recognized and proven accessibility tool with which our experts can scan and analyze the city’s existing and future transportation policies and investments. Through the application of this accessibility tool, we will provide recommendations on how Grand Rapids can better integrate accessibility into its decision-making and project selection process and determine which investments will lead to the greatest improvement for the least cost. The result of this effort will help Grand Rapids create a flexible decision-making model that can accomodate all current and future modes of transportation, while incorporating issues pertaining to land use, housing and other important community development concerns. And because the tool is user-friendly and freely available online, anyone in Grand Rapids can use it themselves to understand accessibility in their own neighborhoods. Simply, it is a new way of understanding how to build a thriving city. 

Project stages include:

1. Partner and Stakeholder Kickoff -- We always start with partner and stakeholder kickoff meetings to communicate what the shift toward accessibility is and why its important. We identify the departments and leaders needed to achieve our shared goals and build excitement and commitment by City staff and leaders, build working relationships and start surfacing the local qualitative and quantitative knowledge needed to complete the work. 

2. Accessibility scan -- Based on our initial conversations, and using highly respected tools (like CNT’s AllTransit, the H+T Index and SugarAccess), our team will conduct an accessibility scan  to examine transportation accessibility across Grand Rapids, focusing on neighborhoods have high concentrations of lower-income people, older residents, and people of color. The result of this scan will be a path forward for Grand Rapids to understand its current transportation and land uses while stopping traditional institutional disadvantages from continuing. The products produced will include a variety of items, like map-heavy reports and training workshops. 

3. Accessibility analysis -- Our analysis includes factors like regional travel patterns and choices, opportunity zones, transit corridors and stations and station area trips, among others. This analysis provides an early evaluation on the performance of recently completed projects and evaluates the land uses of future transportation and development projects. This analysis builds both from the scan and the results of the community workshop and allows SGA and CNT to more precisely define accessibility challenges across Grand Rapids.

4. National best practices -- As national-scale organizations, both SGA and CNT have knowledge of best practices in solving transportation problems across the nation and can bring its practical, first-hand knowledge of solutions in other cities - ranging from Minneapolis, MN to Albuquerque, NM to Pittsburgh, PA. The national best practices collected will be specifically focused on previously identified priority accessibility barriers in Grand Rapids.

5. Recommendations -- As a number of the proposed solutions in this challenge have mentioned, while Grand Rapids has a number of newer attractions in downtown, the lack of accessible alternative transportation options has led many to still feel the need to drive, decreasing the effectiveness of recent transportation oriented development projects and bus corridors. As this team is intimately aware, the answer is not for Grand Rapids to build more parking. The answer is to investigate why it is that people don’t find those locations to be accessible currently. The project proposed by SGA and CNT allows Grand Rapids to see the challenges in a new light and better align the data, technology and policy solutions necessary to answer the right questions in the right way at the right time. It creates space for the City to evaluate and prioritize projects that will meet today’s transit and development challenges, while accommodating the changing landscape of mobility and autonomous vehicle policies.

Describe who will use your solution (1,000 characters)

The primary users of this solution can include the City’s planning, public works, public safety, community development, Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc., engineering, economic development, mobile GR and parking services, parks and recreation, and sustainability offices, among others. Additionally, The Rapid, GVMC and neighborhood associations should be brought in to inform and participate in the process. We have also had success in other cities with our process and tools being used by residents and advocates to explain the value of investments in their neighborhoods, and to understand how the City makes its investment decisions.

Describe your solution's stage of development

  • Fully Scaled - you have already scaled your solution and are exploring new use cases

Tell us about your team or organization (500 characters)

Through advocacy, technical assistance, and thought leadership; Smart Growth America advances the idea that no matter who you are or where you live, you should be able to enjoy living in a place that is healthy, prosperous and resilient. Our partnership with The Center for Neighborhood Technology deepens our experience by incorporating their award-winning analytical work and data tools, advocacy for good public policy, and entrepreneurial spirit.

Size of your team or organization

  • 11-50

Funding Request

  • $100,000

Describe how you would pilot your idea (1000 characters)

Our product is fully deployed in the form proposed, with a variety of successes to highlight. We’ve conducted accessibility analyses on a scale as large as a state (as in the case of Virginia DOT’s Smart Scale program) to as small as a single corridor (as in the case of Sacramento). The component parts, including AllTransit, the H+T Affordability Index and other tools, have been deployed in communities all over the country. These tools are proven to alter how communities are built.

Describe how you would measure the success of your pilot (1000 characters)

In other areas that we’ve conducted this work, we knew it was successful because we saw changes in how cities and state DOTs chose projects based on our accessibility measurement. Here we suggest that the outcomes would be short-term, medium-term and long-term as follows: short-term: train city staff to understand and be conversant in accessibility concepts short-term: accurately identify where destination access is the lowest, particularly for lower income populations. medium-term: develop and prioritize projects that address accessibility challenges. In other words, specific solutions will be crafted to address the communities with lower accessibility and those projects will be prioritized based on this information. long-term: the areas of lower accessibility will decline and overall accessibility for people across the city will increase.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Tom Bulten

Hi Erika: I am one of the facilitators on the forum. Thank you for the proposal from Smart Growth America and The Center for Neighborhood Technology. It sounds like your proposal would provide tools and processes for analyzing public infrastructure development, public transit, and/or tax credits for private projects. Is Pittsburgh already a client or partner? If not, you could propose to the Pittsburgh Challenge as well. Their deadline is October 10.

Photo of Erika  Young

Thanks for the interest Tom, we're evaluating that potential course of action currently.