Council urged to look again at BRT plans

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Monday, July 18, 2016, 7:23 am
Alice Dreger

Image: An artist’s rendering of a station for CATA’s proposed BRT route

Opposition in Meridian Township to CATA’s plans for the Bus Rapid Transit made its way to East Lansing’s City Council meeting last week in the form of Ingham County Judge Bill Collette. A public critic of the BRT, Collette spoke during public comments to urge East Lansing’s Council to look carefully at CATA’s plans. His remarks suggested East Lansing’s Council might want to join those in Meridian who are seeking to pass formal resolutions against the project.

CATA’s plans for the BRT continue to evolve as the project undergoes further design, but the basic plan is to run buses mostly in dedicated lanes from the Lansing Capitol Building to the Meridian Mall, including through downtown East Lansing along Grand River Avenue. The plan involves reducing the number of stops along what is now the #1 bus route and reducing the number of lanes available to cars in various places. In East Lansing, it also means a reduction of the green median space by about twenty-five percent.

The BRT would have raised platforms for boarding, making it easier for people with mobility assistive devices and strollers. The time it takes to travel along the route would be reduced, and CATA says car traffic would be “calmed” because cars would no longer jockey with buses in most areas of the route. The project, set to cost over $130,000,000, would be largely funded with federal grants and is expected by CATA to spur economic development in the area.

The project has been drawing increasingly vocal criticism and increasingly vocal support in response. As ELi has reported, MSU maintains concerns about the plan, some business owners in Meridian have been organizing opposition (including lately producing protest signs along the route), and some bicyclists are hoping for more attention to their desire for safe pathways along the route. Supporters of the project see it providing better transportation options for all, including seniors, people with disabilities, and those with limited incomes.

At last week’s East Lansing Council meeting, Collette made clear he was speaking as an individual, not as a judge, but he also mentioned his many years of public service and his warm relationship with East Lansing Mayor Mark Meadows. He said he and his wife Chris (who also came to Council) have a Haslett address but an East Lansing zip code and consider East Lansing part of their home, as they both earned degrees at MSU.

Collette told Council he is concerned about the vagueness of CATA’s plans with regard to taking care of people who are blind or have mobility disabilities. He said he also thought CATA was not taking adequate care of businesses along the Grand River Avenue corridor with regard to customer and delivery access. He also expressed worries about emergency vehicles being able to get through because of the lane reductions set to occur.

Collette said the intersection at Hagadorn Road and Grand River Avenue is one of the busiest in the region (as we’ve reported, it has the most accidents in Ingham  County) and he said it can’t afford to lose lanes to the BRT. He urged East Lansing’s Council to have East Lansing’s Traffic Commission study the likely impact of the BRT.

In response, Councilmember Erik Altmann asked about what the current plans are with regard to buses running from Bogue Street to Hagadorn Road—whether they will be running in dedicated lanes or with car traffic. While CATA later confirmed for us that the plan is still to run the buses in regular traffic in that stretch, in response to Altmann’s question at the meeting last Tuesday, Collette said CATA’s plan is constantly “morphing” and that CATA has had a “willy-nilly” approach to the plans. He said that if you want to rely on CATA’s claims about the plans, “you have to get it signed in blood” to believe them.

Responding to this, Councilmember Shanna Draheim thanked Collette for his comments but said that Council and various City commissions had been getting “a lot of information” from CATA and staff about the plans.

As ELi has reported, in March of this year, CATA and City staff presented to City Council about the BRT plans. Last November, Council discussed aligning the BRT plan with East Lansing’s Comprehensive Plan, and a year ago April, CATA also presented to Council on the plan. Last month, East Lansing’s Commission on the Environment heard an update on the BRT. (This is a partial list of presentations; see this PDF for a more complete list, which CATA compiled in response to questions from the Lansing City Pulse.)

At last week’s meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Beier told City Manager George Lahanas that she wanted another BRT plan update sometime soon. Lahanas asked if she wanted the update from CATA or City staff, to which Beier replied, “I don’t want to be lobbied,” meaning she wanted the update from staff. Lahanas indicated he would arrange that.

Following the meeting, I asked CATA’s media liaison, Lolo Robison, to respond to Collette’s remarks. Robison insists “CATA has committed to work with people with disabilities, including those who are blind,” and “will comply with all ADA requirements on the project.” She also says that emergency responders will be accommodated and that emergency responders who met with CATA in 2015 “were excited about the project and the benefits to emergency responders.”

Robison says CATA is also working to address the concerns of business owners: “Each business is invited to work with CATA individually to address their specific business needs.” As to the question of access for customers and deliveries, Robison says “it is too early in the process to get to that level of detail” but that CATA is looking to address these concerns.

As for the Hagadorn-Grand River intersection, according to Robison, this intersection “will not have a reduction in traffic lanes or left- or right-turn movements due to the BRT.” She adds that “CATA has worked with all the jurisdictions’ public service and traffic engineers” throughout the process. She notes that MDOT and the City of Lansing own the roads along the route, not East Lansing or Meridian Township.

Robison suggests it is hardly surprising that the BRT plans are still changing in terms of specifics, because they are doing so in response to “community and business discussions, and with discussions with road owners and jurisdictions.” MDOT has been requesting changes, for example.

Says Robison, “The plan has not yet been finalized and will continue to be refined based on research findings. CATA has taken into consideration public input to improve the plan, which is exactly what Collette and others who have expressed opposition to the BRT have requested.”

(Note: Mayor Mark Meadows and Councilmember Susan Woods were on vacation and so were not in attendance at last week’s Council meeting.)


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