Planning students learn how transportation choices affect lifestyle
by Michele Coffill
Cassie Miles is among the 4,000 students who live in the housing complexes along 48th Avenue, the west border of Grand Valley between M-45 and Pierce Street.
Miles was also enrolled in an introductory transportation class that spent a semester studying a road construction project proposed for that street.
This Google map shows Rapid buses turning into the apartment complexes near 48th Avenue. Construction plans call for the road to be widened.
Her class, led by Patricia Houser, hosted a meeting in the Kirkhof Center about the project. The April meeting drew about 80 people, including stakeholders, Ottawa County officials and transportation experts.
Houser, assistant professor of geography and planning, said her class learned real-life examples of how transportation choices can shape lifestyles and landscapes. Officials are discussing a plan to widen 48th Avenue, possibly from two to four lanes; construction is expected to begin in 2016.
“Everything we learned from our textbook seemed to come up in the project,” Houser said. “Current literature on transportation shows that our country is in the midst of a paradigm shift toward alternative modes of travel — to not be so car-dependent. Planners want to get people out of their cars and shrink streets instead of widening them.”
Miles said she and others in her class were concerned that a wider avenue might discourage off-campus residents in that area from walking or biking to class. Several different road layouts were presented at the public meeting.
“My favorite was the plan with the median in the middle and an indirect left turn lane,” Miles said. “It would make it easier for pedestrians to get across.”
Houser said of critical importance is addressing the needs of the students who live near 48th Avenue and cross it daily to get to campus.
Houser’s class studied what makes a community walkable and bikeable. A class survey was presented during the meeting. Of the nearly 300 respondents, 73 percent lived along 48th Avenue. Most survey respondents (76 percent) said they use bus transportation to get to campus.
Miles said she takes the bus to campus from Country Place Apartments. She said many common campus complaints about driving and parking in Allendale would be alleviated with a culture shift toward thinking more sustainably about transportation.
“Most of campus is walkable and bikeable,” she said. “Grand Valley has a record enrollment, but people still consider it to be a small campus. There’s no need to drive to class. But we learned that it takes baby steps to change people’s minds.”
Bus ridership on all Rapid routes that serve Grand Valley continues to climb. In the 2012 fall semester, the South Campus Express, which serves the complexes on 48th Avenue, saw ridership of more than 300,000.
Students operate on-campus bike shop
Seeing an opportunity for sustainability, several students developed a plan to operate the campus bicycle rental program and enhance its services.
The GVSU Bicycle Rental and Repair is operating in the Services Building on the Allendale Campus. Dominic Kootsillas-Conybeare, who graduated in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in statistics, developed the plan with two friends after receiving a start-up grant from Grand Valley’s Sustainable Community Development Initiative.
The university introduced a bike rental program to students, faculty and staff members several years ago. Kootsillas-Conybeare said his group studied that plan and added bicycle repair to make it more sustainable.
“We’re able to make small, basic repairs here, instead of sending the bikes out to area shops to be fixed,” Kootsillas-Conybeare said. Bike repairs aren’t limited to the rental inventory, anyone on campus can bring in their bikes for repairs; there is a fee for repairs.
Last year, the 35 bicycles available for rental on campus were reserved quickly; Kootsillas-Conybeare said more bikes have been added to the inventory.
All bikers on campus are encouraged to register their bikes with the Grand Valley Police Department; visit www.gvsu/edu/gvpd for information.
Page last modified November 8, 2013