Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Rapid Silver Line - More Concealment and Deceit

Grand Rapids Pundit has received one of the pro-Silver Line post cards in the mail, as I'm sure many residents of the ITP service district have (Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids, Walker, Wyoming, Kentwood, and Grandville). This post card, which you can view here, exemplifies the continued contempt that the ITP/Rapid has for the taxpayers. The post card says virtually nothing about the reason for the tax increase. In fact, they bank on voters knowing as little as possible about this tax increase. The more voters know, the more likely it is that they will vote no.

The only detail the post card has on the Silver Line is as follows:
Silver Line is more like a light rail system than a traditional bus. A proven solution in other communities, it will maximize ridership opportunities, economic development, and travel-time savings. Silver Line vehicles will use:

  • Dedicated lanes during peak times

  • In-station fare collection to speed boarding

  • Intelligent transportation system applications such as signal priority, allowing quick travel between stations

That's it? Yes, that's it. As previously stated, they don't want you to understand all the details.

What is the Silver Line really? As we've previously reported, it is a Bus Rapid Transit line that will dedicate one lane each way on Division Avenue from 60th street to the Rapid Station for use only by these new buses. This means that Division will be limited to one lane each way for regular vehicular traffic during peak traffic hours (rush hour). You heard that right. Division will turn into a traffic nightmare, likely pushing traffic to side streets to find better ways to get where they are going.

They say that this new "traffic priority" system will allow for these buses to travel much faster than current buses (which already travel the same exact route as the proposed Silver Line). How much faster? Well, we don't really see any improvement. The Silver Line's route would be 9.8 miles long and would take the new buses 36 minutes to travel. Huh? Yes, that's right, 16 miles per hour. We don't honestly understand how they can call this a Bus Rapid Transit line.

But wait, it gets better! This whole project is a $70 million tax increase - all so that they can duplicate the bus route they already have. No kidding: they already have a bus that travels this route. There's no reason to raise taxes by $70 million just to duplicate what's already there.

If you are a resident of East Grand Rapids, Grandville, or Walker, you will see no benefit from this line at all. If you are in Kentwood or Wyoming and happen to live near Division street, you might be able to use this new line conveniently, but as said before, there already is a bus line on this route. Basically, very few residents of any of the six ITP cities will see any benefit, yet will be expected to pay for it.

In the same vein as the near-informationless post card, the Rapid's pro-Silver Line web site lists one source for their claim that the "investment" in the Silver Line will create jobs and produce a return on investment through new development. They reference an article named "Bus Rapid Transit: A Powerful Real Estate Development Tool" by William Kaplowitz. They don't provide a link to this article, nor the text of it. So we did a simple Google search and came up with the text of the article. Read it for yourself here. The article makes a couple of simple, poorly-documented claims about development, and that's it. That's what they use to try and get residents to raise their own taxes by $70 million.

What they don't discuss is that most of the time this "new" development was already happening or happened only because government created tax incentives to do so. In other words, they confuse correlation with causation. Just because development occurred around same time as the bus system's implementation, it doesn't mean that the buses caused the development. For example: there already is a lot of development going on along Division. It is likely that the Silver Line people would say that the Silver Line caused that development if they try and tout the "benefits." But once again, since there already is a bus line along Division, it's hard to understand how new buses would suddenly spring up more development.

But this is how the ITP/Rapid works. They don't release their budgets. They don't make true ridership numbers (by route, etc.) easily available. They don't release the true operational statistics of their system. They don't release the minutes of their board meetings, as the City of Grand Rapids does. They operate as though they don't need to be accountable. But they're a publicly-funded body and they need to operate transparently. The Rapid operates secretively so that you don't understand how they operate. It's all part of their contempt for taxpayers and efficient operations.

Don't forget for vote on Tuesday, May 5th if you live in Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids, Wyoming, Kentwood, Walker, or Grandville.

Read more on this issue:


  1. Thanks, GRP, for highlighting this issue.

    It almost literally never stops in Grand Rapids these days.


  2. General publications:

    Archived Minutes:

    Besides the website, I'm sure that if you call or write The Rapid -- someone there would be happy to send you a budget report.

    Also, please be more clear and show your work. I don't understand where your figure of 70$M came from. At the very least you should itemize this value. It will greatly help educate your readers.

    While I think the benefits of the Silver Line are being overstated by Friends of Transit your post seems to critiques the Rapid for the sake of critiquing it. There are a lot of people in Grand Rapids who have a genuine concern where their tax dollars are headed, but you did very little to inform us.

  3. Thanks for the link to their minutes.

    The $70 million comes from their statement that this is an increase of $13 million (in the first year) for five years. Factoring in property tax value increases, this comes out to approximately $70 million.

    Although they post some information on their site, it's thoroughly sanitized. No one should have to request a copy of their budget, it should automatically be posted for all to see, as most other local governments do. We've gotten copies of their real budgets for the last several years, but they still don't post them.

  4. I live on this route with a bus stop right on the corner and I am AMAZED that they are selling this monster because the Buses in Wyoming and Kentwood are always mostly empty or downright EMPTY! CRAZY to be paying for this many extra empty buses and then ask for MORE! Where is our media?
    I took this bus to downtown to pick up GVSU bus and never had a problem with the speed.

    They speak of New York City and huge cities when talking about this. Heh people WE DON'T have the Population density for this. Go to and punch in the ciites with rapid transit and they are HUGE compared to us.

    Please visit


    Anyone want to meet at 7 p.m at 54th and Divison and rally with signs at the EMPTY bus stop tell me when and where


    Don't subsidize the hype business owners of diplidated properties are hoping will allow them to scam buyers into thinking their proporties are gold mines.

    Government and business SPECULATES and Deceives with YOUR MONEY

    It is coming here. Stop the BUS TO NOWHERE

  6. Mary, please offer your readers and others how you obtained 110$M in the various websites you promote. It doesn't help me as a tax payer to tell something is expensive and not line item it.

    By the way upwards of 50,000 to 60,000 people travel downtown every day. This city isn't New York, but it isn't Maybury.

  7. Nope, don't own property on this route. I take my handle name from a nickname for the land south of GR (Wyoming-Kentwood.)

    You should probably stop assuming things. It's not a great way to lead into a debate and overall rude. You assumed someone who I was not and essentially supplanted that into your argument against my inquiry.

    You are telling folks to not vote for this, but you don't provide any hard sources or numbers for your claims.

    Again, all I ask is that you clarify some of the statements you make on your website. It's not unreasonable to expect you to provide numbers and sources for your talking points.

    Educate me....

  8. [...] As we have previously pointed out, the development in Portland around mass transit, as the pro-Rapid supporters love to point to, only occurred after government subsidies were enacted. The development did not occur due to the mass transit system. This is the heart of the pro-Silver Line argument; that the Silver Line “would have” spurred several dollars’ worth of development for each dollar spent. This is simply not the case. The only evidence the Rapid points to in support of their argument is a thinly-documented three page article, as we pointed out here. [...]