Saturday, May 9, 2009

Silver Line

Well, the Silver Line crashed and burned with the operating millage failing by 52 to 48%. Bill Harris analyzed the vote breakdown by district and it's clear that the supporters just didn't convince voters in Kentwood, Grandville, Walker and Wyoming that this was worth the money.

The Press today had a clear headed editorial that laid the blame on the transit officials for failing to make the case that this investment is worth it for the community. The cost per household is not extravagant ($12 per year on a $150,000 house plus $84 for continuing costs) but people said no.

I have to think part of the problem is that there are vast numbers of people in Grand Rapids who have never ridden pubic transportation in their lives. This sounds ridiculous but I would bet on it. If you haven't lived in an old East Coast city (or Chicago, or anywhere in Europe) pubic transit is something only poor people use - because it generally sucks. Voters just haven't had the experience of living with good public transit and the joy of not having to drive everywhere. I lived in and around New York for years and could go a week without getting in a car - and it was great.

Maybe the Silver Line pitched itself too much towards riders and not enough towards the economic development aspects of the project. It also never made the case to places like Kentwood that are miles away from the where the Division line would run. There was no vision for how the Silver Line would eventually tie into something larger that could actually connect the various cities.

Voters needed to be convinced that this was going to add value to the community beyond those who actually use the service. This message got through to East Grand Rapids but none of the other cities. It's really a shame, because this project would have been something good for the area.

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