Rachel Dovey | Next City

A Silver Line BRT stop in Grand Rapids, Mich. (Photo by ByteofKnowledge)
A Silver Line BRT stop in Grand Rapids, Mich. (Photo by ByteofKnowledge)

It’s been a big year for the small city of Grand Rapids. First, the transit authority launched Michigan’s only bus rapid transit line in August. Then, on Monday, the city held a dedication for its new $6 million Amtrak station — part of a line that’s so well-traveled, the train’s beleaguered higher-ups tout it on slash-happy Capitol Hill. With new bike lane protections in the works as well, it’s no surprise that the national Center for Transportation Excellence announced it would hold its 2015 transit initiatives conference there, calling the city a “learning laboratory for leaders around the country.”

But actually, it is kind of a surprise. As much larger cities on the progressive coasts struggle to prioritize multi-modal transportation against car-loving codes, infrastructure and voting populations, what is the Midwest city’s secret? What, exactly, is it doing right?

For one thing, the area’s transit authority has a unique structure, according to Grand Rapids mayor George Heartwell. Because suburbs surround the main city, The Rapid is a standalone regional agency. It isn’t housed within any one city’s government. Read more