GR traffic engineer, residents voice opinion on shared street concept for Bridge Street

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- The idea of a shared street plan was all the focus at a community question and answer meeting on Thursday evening in Grand Rapids.

The city is looking at the possibility of extending the sidewalk along Bridge Street. This would get rid of street parking, and slow down traffic in hopes of making the area more appealing to pedestrians and bicyclists.

"Change is scary. I'm all about health. I've been a member of the YMCA my whole life. You know we got to get out there and walk," said Gutowski.

Grand Rapids City Commissioner and real estate investor Walt Gutowski said that after meeting with city leaders out of state, they were impressed with the idea of a shared street concept. So much that the commissioner wants the city to implement the idea along Bridge Street where several new breweries and restaurants plan to open.

"This is Grand Rapids. This is not Detroit. We are going to do it the right way. The people of Grand Rapids demand that and we will," said Gutowski.

The city’s traffic safety manger, Chris Zull said that there isn’t enough research done in other places across the country to be able to determine if Bridge Street would be a good fit for the shared streets concept.

The city said that other cities using the concept average about 2,400 cars a day on the street and Bridge Street averages about 19,000 thousand cars a day, which far exceeds that amount.

"That's a much higher volume than what I'm seeing the woonerf concept as," said Zull. "The shared street concept blurs those lines between where the pedestrians are suppose to be and where the vehicles are suppose to be. That section doesn't have a curb where people step down six inches into the road."

The city isn’t sure how much the project would cost, and doesn’t expect a decision to be made for a few years.

Several residents came out, voicing their concerns that include taking away street parking and slowing down traffic since the street is used to access area hospitals.

Another concern is that the commissioner pushing for the project also owns property along that same stretch of Bridge Street.

"He has no parking in front of his building. Imagine that. Why is that? But he does have a paid parking lot. You can pull in there and pay where he will make money," said resident Gail Schuiling.

Responding to that argument, Gutowski said his love for the west side drove him to invest in the area long before a career in politics.

"My wife and I lived in a humble home when we first got married so we could invest in Bridge Street because we did have this vision for Bridge Street long before I was a city commissioner," said Gutowski.

Pending more research with how the idea of extending the sidewalk towards the street will affect traffic and safety,  Zull said that the city will continue to look at it’s options.

"Is this a concept that we can put on Bridge Street? I don't know yet. In the city of Grand Rapids? Maybe. But, we all have to learn quite a bit about them to make sure it works safely," said Zull.

Again, the city doesn’t expect any decisions of the shared streets concept for several years, and how much it could end up costing tax payers is still to be determined.

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