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October 2012 | Volume 1, Issue 5  


 Neighborhood Energy Challenge Spurs Investments in Efficiency
 Mixed-Use Transit Village Leads Redevelopment Efforts
 Arizona Study Suggests Dense, Mixed-Use Development Patterns Reduce VMT and Congestion
 Grantee Spotlight: Planning for a Sustainable Michigan Street Corridor


Grantee Spotlight: Planning for a Sustainable Michigan Street Corridor

The Michigan Street Corridor encompasses a 4-mile long area in the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The Michigan Street Corridor encompasses a 4-mile long area in the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Image courtesy of the City of Grand Rapids Planning Department.
The city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, is transforming the Michigan Street Corridor into a more livable and sustainable place. This 4-mile-long corridor carries up to 31,000 cars per day, which extends into Grand Rapids’ downtown area and is home to a number of Grand Rapids’ major institutions, including Michigan State University, Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids Community College, the Van Andel Research Institute, St. Mary’s Hospital, and Spectrum Health. The city instituted its Michigan Street Corridor Plan as a response to traffic congestion at the intersection of Michigan Street and College Avenue, a major crossroads within the city. Although city officials considered several traditional engineering solutions (such as widening roads) to improve the intersection, none met city standards or the vision set forth in the city’s master plan. Landon Bartley, a Grand Rapids city planner, says that meetings with community stakeholders convinced city planning staff that focusing on the intersection alone offered an incomplete picture of community needs. The stakeholder meetings emphasized that the city needed a plan that would not only address the Michigan Street/College Avenue intersection but also consider the community’s housing needs and coordinate the growth of anchor institutions located in the corridor.

In spring 2011, the city’s planning department hired consultants to identify efficient transportation and land-use practices and to complete a study of the housing market and the characteristics and residential choices of employees of institutions within the corridor. The anchor institutions study indicated that commuter traffic could be reduced by increasing the number of people who both live and work in the corridor, but the study found that only about 140 anchor institution employees (approximately 3 percent) lived within the corridor at the time of the study.1 Despite this finding, the market study showed that the corridor had the potential to support 4,660 residential units and that the target market, primarily young singles and couples, tended to prefer rental apartments and lofts. The anchor institutions study suggested that the city provide incentives, amenities, and a variety of housing options to attract these young employees.

A Collaborative Effort

The Planning Department used the “Quality of LIFE meeting-in-a-box” game to creatively engage the community in the planning of the Michigan Street Corridor.
The Planning Department used the “Quality of LIFE meeting-in-a-box” game to creatively engage the community in the planning of the Michigan Street Corridor. Image courtesy of the City of Grand Rapids Planning Department.
As part of a larger effort to promote sustainable communities, HUD awarded Grand Rapids a Community Challenge Planning Grant in 2011 to help create the Michigan Street Corridor Plan. Public interest in the project has been demonstrated through attendance at public forums about the plan, with two of the events attracting more than 120 people. The city has also engaged the community in the planning process by creating a 40-person steering committee that includes a representative from each of the corridor’s anchor institutions. An innovative strategy initiated by the planning department, a “Quality of LIFE meeting-in-a-box” game, has been used to creatively involve the public in the planning process. The planning department provided residents with a free game containing a map of the Michigan Street Corridor to play with family and friends. The game allowed participants to add features such as street trees, transit, and multifamily residential developments, to the corridor. Once the participants had added their desired features, the games were returned to the planning department and used to inform the planning process.

Creating a More Livable and Sustainable Michigan Street Corridor

Although the plan is still under development, a number of guiding principles for developers are emerging out of the planning process. Two of these principles include creating an interconnected transportation system with multiple transportation options and providing multiple housing types in the corridor. The Rapid, a local bus transit provider, currently serves area residents, and plans are in the works to add dedicated bus lanes to the corridor. The city is also considering widening sidewalks and adding bike lanes, which will enhance pedestrian and bike access as part of the larger multimodal transportation network. To promote a better live/work balance for the area, the city is creating an incentive program to encourage residential development within the corridor. By implementing programs and projects that improve transportation and housing options, the city may help reduce traffic congestion while also attracting more employees to the corridor.

Allowing for a range of uses, enhancing neighborhood character and the corridor’s identity, pursuing sustainable construction practices and green infrastructure, and creating an environment conducive to active living and clean air are among the Michigan Street Corridor Plan’s other guiding principles. To bolster the plan’s effectiveness, the city will implement a form-based code and intends to use the plan to form partnerships and encourage job growth and economic development. Grand Rapids is expected to adopt the final version of the plan between March and June 2013.

1. Excludes Spectrum Health; the boundaries of the study area used in the housing and employment consultant studies differ slightly from the boundaries of the transportation study area.


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