In the midst of a spectacular building spree that's pumped nearly $3 billion into high tech medical labs, worldclass hotels, state-of-the-art museums, and countless pubs, restaurants, and condos, Grand Rapids, MI last week officially launched an investigation into the potential benefits of a piece that remains missing from downtown: a modern streetcar system to improve mobility for residents, workers, and visitors.
The eight month study, led by one of the world's leading engineering firms, will analyze the economic, environmental, and social dimensions of the proposal. Upon its completion, the investigation will deliver a preferred route, estimated capital costs, and projected ridership for the project. Basically, it will answer the question of whether Grand Rapids should make a move that has helped cities like Seattle and Denver prepare for the 21st century.
The boo birds, however, are already out. After the local ABC affiliate aired a special report on what the streetcar could mean for the revival of Michigan's second largest city, the naysayers stormed the station website to say the idea of streetcars is nothing more than an expensive plot that will cost too much tax money, stifle job growth, and further bust government budgets.
Click here to read a scrolling list of the missives. But here is a sample of the huffy statements:
"Anyone remember that Simpsons episode where that scam artist talked Springfield into getting a monorail? How could we possibly afford this with our state's economy in shambles?"
"This will be nothing but a traffic congestor and drain the local, state, and federal budget!"
"This is a stupid idea."
Streetcar opponents said essentially the same thing when Portland announced the initial leg of its system in 1997. Since opening the streetcar route at the turn of the century, the city has experienced ever deepening private investment, significant growth in knowledge economy jobs, and a rising reputation as one of the most competitive, attractive, and sustainable cities in America.