CATA Bus Rapid Transit Plans for EL Evolving

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Wednesday, April 1, 2015, 7:43 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

Above: CATA’s Assistant Executive Director Debbie Alexander (right) presenting to City Council last night; at left are Mayor Pro Tem Diane Goddeeris and City Clerk Marie Wicks.

At East Lansing’s City Council meeting last night, Debbie Alexander, Assistant Executive Director of the Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA), presented an update on CATA's Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) plans, particularly as they will impact East Lansing. Her presentation included information about where dedicated bus lanes will start and end in East Lansing, how funding works, what bike riders will be expected to do, and where BRT stops will be.

The BRT would involve a series of specially-designated bus lanes running essentially from the Lansing state capitol down Michigan Avenue to the Meridian Mall on Grand River Avenue. The idea is to speed up travel by bus to encourage bus use, and also to get the buses out of the car lanes to free up car traffic. The BRT is planned to begin in 2018.

Alexander said that stops in East Lansing would include, along Grand River Avenue, stations at Abbot, Charles, Collingwood, and Hagadorn. The plan for Abbot Road’s intersection with Grand River Avenue includes adding a pedestrian walkway on the west side of Abbot. (Currently you can only cross Grand River Avenue on the east side of Abbot.)

Alexander said that in downtown East Lansing from Bogue Street to Hagadorn it is not possible to have dedicated BRT lanes because of how traffic works there, so there the buses would run together with regular car traffic.

She said that traffic studies show that the largest volume of traffic in East Lansing is around 5 pm and is worst where Grand River meets Hagadorn. She said a traffic study of a football Saturday showed that the traffic is not substantially heavier than at the evening rush hour.

Alexander said the project will be funded through various means including state and federal funding and through selling the naming rights of BRT stations to corporations and other entities. She gave as examples of potential corporate sponsors Biggby, Meijer, and Two Men and a Truck, and as a potential nonprofit sponsor MSU.

There will be no bike lanes in the planned BRT transportation corridor. Bicyclists are expected to ride along with car traffic at, Alexander said, car speed. Riders can also put their bikes on the buses if they pay to ride.

Mayor Pro Tem Diane Goddeeris had several questions about why there will be no dedicated bike lanes in this $145 million reconstruction of the corridor. Alexander said that there are no bike lanes now so there won’t be a loss of bike lanes.

There are in fact bike lanes now on parts of the route in East Lansing, namely along Michigan Avenue west of where it meets Grand River Avenue. Whether these bike lanes in East Lansing will be lost due to the BRT remains unclear from Alexander’s presentation.

Councilmember Ruth Beier asked about having dedicated bike paths on parallel streets. Alexander said CATA would consider providing access to such parallel paths for bikes as well as parking for bikes at stations, but that the BRT plan has no funding or specific plans for support of those who want to ride their bikes rather than using the BRT.

Alexander stressed that the BRT is about “moving bellybuttons through this corridor,” not about providing bike access and that buses move more people in a smaller space faster.

She said that CATA expects dense economic improvement around the areas of stations, providing economic growth in key downtown areas in Lansing and East Lansing.

During public comments, Edward Swanson, representing the Brookfield Heritage Neighborhood Association, asked whether the CATA BRT project offers hope of alleviating the problem of traffic backing up on Grand River east of Hagadorn. He noted traffic in this area has been a considerable challenge for his neighborhood. It was unclear from Alexander’s CATA BRT transportation what impact the BRT would have on the Brookfield Heritage Neighborhood.

Asked by Goddeeris about costs to East Lansing of the BRT, Alexander said there is no construction cost to the City. She noted that East Lansing now contributes to CATA’s operating costs but said they did not expect operating costs to increase from the BRT project. She said that if the state sales tax increase is approved in May, CATA will benefit financially from that tax increase.

East Lansing has no formal say over the BRT decision-making. The corridor is not under control of the City. Lahanas said that City staff is attending meetings on the BRT and giving input and that they would take suggestions from Council.

The BRT will continue to move through various approvals and funding steps. Councilmember Kathy Boyle asked for the current plans to be made available on the CATA website in a clear and accessible fashion. Alexander said that the East Lansing City staff has the plans and can make them available to Council members.

 

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