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Transit Updates for Greater Grand Rapids


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All this talk about rail made me find these from the library

Fancy new Laker Line stop at the zoo!

Proposal to establish regional bus line gets support from Grand Rapids metro group. https://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/2019/08/proposal-to-establish-regional-bus-line-gets-support-from-grand

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There's never enough money for all of the transportation demand at any level of government, but federal funds, both FHWA and FTA are available now through the SAFETEA-LU authorizations and the agency that it must go through in the GR metro area is the Grand Valley Metro Council, including any transit discretionary grants the ITP might consider. The planning rules I refer to above are affecting transportation decision-making as we speak. If you want to understand how federal money becomes available to transportation agencies and how it is distributed within GR, as well as the rest of Michigan, you should read those regs or at least become more familiar with the workings of the Metro Council. Did you know that there is a great deal of flexibility in the federal transportation funding programs, at least for capital projects (hint: so-called highway funds can be used for transit and vice versa)?

I certainly plan to become well versed in the FTA/SAFETEA-LU requirements.

Well, I posed this question before and didn't get a response. What if funding were raised at the local level (ie local sales tax)? Would the FTA even need to be involved? From what I understand, if a metro-wide system were proposed that included light rail serving the Southern and Northern corridors, as well as multiple streetcar lines feeding into the near downtown neighborhoods, we'd be looking at a New Starts level of funding because the price tag would be in the $500 - $700 Million range minimum, and that there is no way we'd be able to get funding because of the backlog and requirements. In essence, New Starts are only available to metros with already functioning mass transit systems (ie Portland, Houston, Charlotte, San Diego, et al).

So why go down a road that is a dead end? Why not forge a new path that looks at non-FTA funding?

Unless I'm wrong and we can qualify for New Starts.

FilmMaker, a well planned light rail line would include stations with park-n-rides in the less dense areas, and then fewer parking spaces as you approached the core since the population is more dense. I'm not through pursuing this issue, and in fact, a few of us are going to ramp up our efforts.

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I certainly plan to become well versed in the FTA/SAFETEA-LU requirements.

Well, I posed this question before and didn't get a response. What if funding were raised at the local level (ie local sales tax)? Would the FTA even need to be involved? From what I understand, if a metro-wide system were proposed that included light rail serving the Southern and Northern corridors, as well as multiple streetcar lines feeding into the near downtown neighborhoods, we'd be looking at a New Starts level of funding because the price tag would be in the $500 - $700 Million range minimum, and that there is no way we'd be able to get funding because of the backlog and requirements. In essence, New Starts are only available to metros with already functioning mass transit systems (ie Portland, Houston, Charlotte, San Diego, et al).

So why go down a road that is a dead end? Why not forge a new path that looks at non-FTA funding?

Unless I'm wrong and we can qualify for New Starts.

FilmMaker, a well planned light rail line would include stations with park-n-rides in the less dense areas, and then fewer parking spaces as you approached the core since the population is more dense. I'm not through pursuing this issue, and in fact, a few of us are going to ramp up our efforts.

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I thought I had replied previously, but maybe I didn't communicate well. Certainly a local area, region or state can go forward with transportation projects of any size without federal funding. Actually, federal funds in total don't contribute that much to the overall expenditures on the nation's transportation system, if you count all levels of highway and transit facilities and service. However, the "really big stuff" does tend to have federal involvement for financial reasons (although major toll road projects are changing that to some degree). I think I mentioned Denver and Houston (and probably others) constructed their first LRT lines without federal funds, at least not New Starts funds.

If a local area can pay for the system they want with non-federal money, I don't think FTA or anyone in the federal gov't will try to stop them. Regardless, since a major new or expanded transit system could have impacts on the federal-aid transportation system, any proposals would most likely still need to go through the metropolitan planning process, particularly if the area is nonattainment/maintenance for air quality standards and if the area wants to make sure its proposed transit system/service complements and enhances what's already out there. Don't forget, not only are there the initial capitial investments and other start-up costs, but also on-going operations and maintenance costs of the current and expanded system. And those expenses, for larger urban areas, cannot be covered by federal funds. As a result, so often, that is where the local/state funds are committed as a necessity.

FYI - Also, once the Denver area passed the FasTracks initiative, about $240 million for the west LRT line (the first one to be built under FasTracks) was authorized (actually "earmarked") under SAFETEA-LU within a year. In this case, the corridor had already completed the NEPA process and was starting final design, and the commitment of the Denver region and local $$ to FasTracks probably helped to get the federal dollars so quickly.

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I thought I had replied previously, but maybe I didn't communicate well. Certainly a local area, region or state can go forward with transportation projects of any size without federal funding. Actually, federal funds in total don't contribute that much to the overall expenditures on the nation's transportation system, if you count all levels of highway and transit facilities and service. However, the "really big stuff" does tend to have federal involvement for financial reasons (although major toll road projects are changing that to some degree). I think I mentioned Denver and Houston (and probably others) constructed their first LRT lines without federal funds, at least not New Starts funds.

If a local area can pay for the system they want with non-federal money, I don't think FTA or anyone in the federal gov't will try to stop them. Regardless, since a major new or expanded transit system could have impacts on the federal-aid transportation system, any proposals would most likely still need to go through the metropolitan planning process, particularly if the area is nonattainment/maintenance for air quality standards and if the area wants to make sure its proposed transit system/service complements and enhances what's already out there. Don't forget, not only are there the initial capitial investments and other start-up costs, but also on-going operations and maintenance costs of the current and expanded system. And those expenses, for larger urban areas, cannot be covered by federal funds. As a result, so often, that is where the local/state funds are committed as a necessity.

FYI - Also, once the Denver area passed the FasTracks initiative, about $240 million for the west LRT line (the first one to be built under FasTracks) was authorized (actually "earmarked") under SAFETEA-LU within a year. In this case, the corridor had already completed the NEPA process and was starting final design, and the commitment of the Denver region and local $$ to FasTracks probably helped to get the federal dollars so quickly.

Thanks Explorer55. I may have missed it. So the goal for a locally driven transit initiative would be to set up funding mechanisms for both capital expenditures, and to cover operating costs, but even without FTA funding, it's critical to have FTA approval of the work so that it meets transportation guidelines, and these efforts should be overseen by the Grand Valley Metro Council? I can understand that, and especially if federal funds for expansions are sought in the future, you want to make sure your current system is up to snuff. I sincerely have my doubts we can beat out the big players in getting New Starts money any time soon.

By my computations, a 1% local Kent County sales tax would raise about $1.1 Billion in 15 years, which would most likely cover the costs of about 15 miles of electric light rail, about 6 miles of modern electric streetcars, and about 18 miles (Holland to GR) of low-cost commuter rail DMU or DEMU, as well as operating costs of those lines. In fact, tax revenues would more than cover operating costs from years 16 and beyond. Or at least it's close enough that the idea should be strongly pursued, even if it means trimming back a bit on the distances.

I ran a comparison, and even if our sales tax here were 7% (6 state, 1 local), we'd still be below: Charlotte, Austin, Denver, Kansas City, Nashville, Atlanta, Seattle, Chicago and many other cities, and even with: Raleigh, Des Moines, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, and Louisville, all of which have combined state and local sales taxes. Michigan is one of only a few states without local sales taxes. We would not be sacrificing any competitive advantage IMO. This would also be modeled closely after the state's sales tax, which exempts food and prescription medicines to lessen the burden on lower income families and the elderly.

I understand if you can't comment directly on my idea, but just to share my thought process.

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Knape has an interesting point to make on his blog:

QUOTE

"Here's something people seem to be keeping a secret about downtown: Grand Rapids already has a free streetcar system of sorts -- the DASH bus.

If you're not a commuter who parks in one of the city's DASH lots, you might not know that those little purplish buses scooting around downtown offer free transportation in three fixed circular routes. You don't need to show a parking pass to take the ride, just hop on.

The unadvertised potential of DASH is its ability to go beyond being a mere parking shuttle. You actually can use the things to get around town -- say, from Grand Valley's DeVos campus to Happy Hour at Bite (soon to be the Ottawa Tavern) at Lyon and Ottawa.

Today I took it from the Press (actually, a stop in front of the Ford Federal Building) to the downtown YMCA and back. Press writer and spinning expert Ted Roelofs touted this as a way to cut his "carbon footprint." Like me, I think he was just sick of dealing with the ridiculous YMCA parking lot at lunchtime.

You might want to see if the DASH buses would work as means for you to reduce the need to get around downtown during the day. Here's a link to the route map."

QUOTE

Anyone see anything ironic here? It's about 2/3 of a mile from the Press to the Y, approx. 3500 feet or 1400 steps. Two people get in their car in a reserved parking lot to drive 1400 steps to EXERCISE. They have to park in a non-reserved lot at the Y - "ridiculous YMCA parking lot" in a prime time and are complaining :huh:.

IMHO, commuter rail on the freight lines (no freight traffic from 4AM to 9PM), with the DASH buses from from Bridge Street to Pill Hill, downtown St Mary's etc.. It might not be glamorous but it's affordable.

Rizzo: The Ottawa County bypass would be funded by MDOT with their own pot of Federal Highway funds. Their projects must be shown in the TIP (Transportation Improvement Program) for the MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization - Metro Council in Greater GR area, Macatawa something or another in Holland, GH) but does not compete with local agency projects for funding.

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Knape has an interesting point to make on his blog:

IMHO, commuter rail on the freight lines (no freight traffic from 4AM to 9PM), with the DASH buses from from Bridge Street to Pill Hill, downtown St Mary's etc.. It might not be glamorous but it's affordable.

Rizzo: The Ottawa County bypass would be funded by MDOT with their own pot of Federal Highway funds. Their projects must be shown in the TIP (Transportation Improvement Program) for the MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization - Metro Council in Greater GR area, Macatawa something or another in Holland, GH) but does not compete with local agency projects for funding.

I actually think that's a great idea for a leg from Holland Township to downtown Grand Rapids, with stops in downtown Hudsonville, downtown Grandville and then downtown Grand Rapids. I believe a lot of these small cities like Coopersville and Hudsonville have or want to include commuter rail stations in their master plans, so I think they'd be all for that idea. Imagine people in Georgetown Township no longer having to fight traffic on Port Sheldon or on Main Street/Chicago Drive just to get to I-196.

But in more dense urban settings, light rail works better. You can put the stops somewhat closer together because they accelerate faster, they're more environmentally friendly, they're quieter, their low floors make for much quicker boarding, plus they spur development at the stations, increasing density (which then adds to ridership). A nice mix of different vehicles for different purposes and different corridors seems to be the hallmark of every great transit system. No two solutions work the best for each situation.

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In the interest of reintroducing intercity rail in Metro in the shortest amount of time while the most inexpensive you could do it. I can see a really quick prototype system right now under 10 million, I'd have to go and recalculate it. A few EMD F40PH Pullman train sets are extremely cheap these days, yet in great condition. I'm not quite sure of the rail conditions from Holland to Downtown, but I'm guessing if they get reshaped you could push a few cars at 30-40mph in some sections.

Edited by Rizzo
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In the interest of reintroducing intercity rail in Metro in the shortest amount of time while the most inexpensive you could do it. I can see a really quick prototype system right now under 10 million, I'd have to go and recalculate it. A few EMD F40PH Pullman train sets are extremely cheap these days, yet in great condition. I'm not quite sure of the rail conditions from Holland to Downtown, but I'm guessing if they get reshaped you could push a few cars at 30-40mph in some sections.

Forget GR - Holland- too busy with freight traffic for the "no freight" time period. CSX just started running coal trains from Chi to the east side of the state. It can be made to work on NS from 84th to downtown and Kent City to downtown.

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okay the city of Grand Rapids population is greater than Little Rock, Kenosha Wi, & Tacoma Wa, all of which have streetcars already. Not to mention, Metro GR at 1.3mm people. It is worth the investment from the City of Grand Rapids to start the streetcars now and later incorporate other cities as years go by. By having streetcars it also puts our city's image in a whole different league that it is currently viewed. Maybe then more of West Michigan will view Grand Rapids as the core and could help create a metro government. This could help tourism, bring in more out of state investment dollars and maybe just maybe help keep more of our college students in Michigan. Just my 2 cents.

Edited by GR2010
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What are we seeing on the CSX? are, we seeing large consits again...? Should make for awesome rail fanning! :w00t:

Even better :yahoo: BNSF run through power on the head end and CSX is adding helpers at Wells or Grand Junction to get them up East Saugatuck, up the east side of the Grand River valley, and east up out of the Thornapple River valley finally taking the helpers off at Elmdale :thumbsup:

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You guys and your rail terminology. :P What does that mean in English?

If you could run a continuous line from 84th through downtown near Seward and up to West River/131 (I don't think Kent City is the way to go to start), then I think we'd be onto something.

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You guys and your rail terminology. :P What does that mean in English?

Long version - The coal trains originate in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway. The BNSF leave their locomotives on the head of the train. CSX crews take over in Chicago and take the train to Essexville MI. The 124 car coal trains are too heavy to make it up the hills at East Saugatuck, along Buchanen SW and east of there in GR and east of the Thornapple River in Cascade Township with just the BNSF engines. CSX runs a couple locomotives from GR south to Wells or Grand Junction MI where they are put on the back of the coal trains to help push. The extra locomotives are taken off at Elmdale which is at the east Kent County line. These "pushers" are rare around here and especially pushing that long of a distance. Incidentally, back in the olden days, (days of steam engines) pushers east out of GR on the C&O and Grand Trunk and west out of GR on the Trunk were not unusual.

PS - Stick with us and we'll teach you all this good stuff :thumbsup:

Edited by Raildudes dad
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okay the city of Grand Rapids population is greater than Little Rock, Kenosha Wi, & Tacoma Wa, all of which have streetcars already. Not to mention, Metro GR at 1.3mm people. It is worth the investment from the City of Grand Rapids to start the streetcars now and later incorporate other cities as years go by. By having streetcars it also puts our city's image in a whole different league that it is currently viewed. Maybe then more of West Michigan will view Grand Rapids as the core and could help create a metro government. This could help tourism, bring in more out of state investment dollars and maybe just maybe help keep more of our college students in Michigan. Just my 2 cents.

I think you got what a lot of interested people have been saying. Of course I'd say yes to build it as early as possible -- to get it out of the way and also compliment the current construction boom downtown and nearside neighborhoods. The thing is, I absolutely believe that streetcars will be appropriate for the city of Grand Rapids and her neighborhoods. Say from downtown out into the districts that are about 1.5-2.5 miles away from downtown.

Routing the rail from downtown to her suburbs in the street is the worst way to go. It costs SUBSTANTIALLY more and for that single reason I really think it shouldn't happen. For a long haul out to Wyoming or Kentwood a non motorized/paved right of way is a must and could lower the cost of the system by millions compared to using public thoroughfares. The cost of embedding rail far exceeds the cost of ballasting, ties, and rail.

With some research I've found it's not so much the population of the entire metro that matters its the entire situation along the line that matters, i.e. business centers. Of course the great thing about this matter is that it will be privately funded. The quicker it gets up and running and the success holds to be what is touted this could prove to be an excellent driver for more rail transit.

Even better :yahoo: BNSF run through power on the head end and CSX is adding helpers at Wells or Grand Junction to get them up East Saugatuck, up the east side of the Grand River valley, and east up out of the Thornapple River valley finally taking the helpers off at Elmdale :thumbsup:

Nice :thumbsup: I'll hope they continue with these consists when I'm back home I can grab some pictures.

You guys and your rail terminology. :P What does that mean in English?

If you could run a continuous line from 84th through downtown near Seward and up to West River/131 (I don't think Kent City is the way to go to start), then I think we'd be onto something.

Basically means the locomotive needs more help at pulling these car loads from the front and needs to pull it with extra power to make it happen. I haven't followed these tracks in a long time and don't remember their grade (how steep) through the valley an its terrain.

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You guys and your rail terminology. :P What does that mean in English?

If you could run a continuous line from 84th through downtown near Seward and up to West River/131 (I don't think Kent City is the way to go to start), then I think we'd be onto something.

It will be continous from 84th down to Pleasant Street (NS) across CSX and then CSX up the west side on to Sparta & Kent City on Marquette Rail. I'll use the exisiting rail to Kent City to get started. Wrestling back the Fred Meijer White Pine State Park to put the rail back will be a MAJOR project. Don't forget a state park is a Section 4f recreational property (Bad news for construction projects especially if built with Federal funds) Yes, commuters will have to drive a few miles west but if there are NO DASH lots downtown, they'll not have a choice. There will be a stop in Comtock Park :thumbsup:

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Long version - The coal trains originate in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway. The BNSF leave their locomotives on the head of the train. CSX crews take over in Chicago and take the train to Essexville MI. The 124 car coal trains are too heavy to make it up the hills at East Saugatuck, along Buchanen SW and east of there in GR and east of the Thornapple River in Cascade Township with just the BNSF engines. CSX runs a couple locomotives from GR south to Wells or Grand Junction MI where they are put on the back of the coal trains to help push. The extra locomotives are taken off at Elmdale which is at the east Kent County line. These "pushers" are rare around here and especially pushing that long of a distance. Incidentally, back in the olden days, (days of steam engines) pushers east out of GR on the C&O and Grand Trunk and west out of GR on the Trunk were not unusual.

PS - Stick with us and we'll teach you all this good stuff :thumbsup:

My grandfathers plowed through Kent with steam. They retired in the late 60s well before my time. Too bad they would have let me pull a few levers if I had been. Maybe I'll shoot for being a Conductor and not the Big E. Better yet grab some of C & M Equipment and learn to run while I'm young.

Back to Rapid Transit :oops: Sound of trains running through the Metro makes me giddy.

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My grandfathers plowed through Kent with steam. They retired in the late 60s well before my time. Too bad they would have let me pull a few levers if I had been. Maybe I'll shoot for being a Conductor and not the Big E. Better yet grab some of C & M Equipment and learn to run while I'm young.

Back to Rapid Transit :oops: Sound of trains running through the Metro makes me giddy.

You want to be the Big C, not the little E :D The engineer can not move the train or do anything unless the conductor tells him to. Remember the Conductor is the captain of the ship - that's my favorite job on the RR :yahoo:

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It will be continous from 84th down to Pleasant Street (NS) across CSX and then CSX up the west side on to Sparta & Kent City on Marquette Rail. I'll use the exisiting rail to Kent City to get started. Wrestling back the Fred Meijer White Pine State Park to put the rail back will be a MAJOR project. Don't forget a state park is a Section 4f recreational property (Bad news for construction projects especially if built with Federal funds) Yes, commuters will have to drive a few miles west but if there are NO DASH lots downtown, they'll not have a choice. There will be a stop in Comtock Park :thumbsup:

I hear yer barking big dog. :D Say we follow your route, what if we dropped a park-n-ride right here, by Vitale's in Comstock Park? (I assume I have the correct freight line?)

398213277_07288042b7_o.jpg

And if so, how far of a distance would you want to go before the next stop toward downtown? Deltaplex? Ann Street? Keep in mind this thing's gotta be fast and efficient to keep people happy. But also, I think there needs to be about two "urban" stops between CP and downtown.

Thanks for the info on the pushers. That's pretty fascinating stuff. I'm a sucker for "Modern Marvels" on the Discovery Channel too.

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It would come down to the type of equipment used versus the need for another station. If time and speed are the utmost concern I'm thinking that running these locomotives as stop and go service probably isn't going to help much. There's a problem with speed in that scenario. Much of the affordable equipment isn't going to speed up and slow down effectively within a short distance so your going to have to keep your speed minimal. I'm thinking depending on the locomotive type if you have a station down one mile from the last they aren't going to hit that great of speed between these stations.

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When looking at the North/South corridor "goals", there are essentially six things that we should be keeping in mind:

1) Building density near the stations through TIF zones and public/private partnerships to build TOD's (transit-oriented developments) or very dense "village" type developments near the stations.

2) Building density downtown on the current DASH lots and on lots that don't have to be set aside for parking ramps. These lots should be close to the rail and/or streetcar lines, and vice versa.

3) Getting "some" of the suburb-to-downtown commuters off of 131 and onto the the system via park-n-ride lots at the stations, and slowly dwindling parking options downtown.

4) There are about 6 RAPID routes that cross this corridor (54th, 44th, 28th, Burton, Leonard, Alpine (could be modified)) that will act as "feeders" to the NS system

5) The system needs to have enough stops to be effective, yet not too many stops to make it too slow. Park-n-riders near 54th, for instance, will probably endure 3 or 4 stops between where they board and downtown, and that's about it.

6) The neighborhood streetcars then provide a "feeder" system to this North/South corridor, and connects the NS system station to the entire downtown area. They also build density along their lines also adding riders to the entire system.

With those things in mind, what is the best "vehicle system" to incorporate into this North-South corridor? I keep falling back to light rail. Yes, it's more expensive, yes, it will require laying new track. But I don't believe the low cost option will accomplish the goals above.

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In reading Chris Knape's blog about the DASH system being a sort of streetcar that not many "outsiders" know about, I got to thinking "why not?" The answer is that it does not have rails in the middle of the road. If there was a true streetcar system, anyone would know instantly that there was one, and what roads it went on and where it was going just by looking at the road. A bus is not a streetcar no matter how it looks, or even how it is used.

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I hear yer barking big dog. :D Say we follow your route, what if we dropped a park-n-ride right here, by Vitale's in Comstock Park? (I assume I have the correct freight line?)

And if so, how far of a distance would you want to go before the next stop toward downtown? Deltaplex? Ann Street? Keep in mind this thing's gotta be fast and efficient to keep people happy. But also, I think there needs to be about two "urban" stops between CP and downtown.

Thanks for the info on the pushers. That's pretty fascinating stuff. I'm a sucker for "Modern Marvels" on the Discovery Channel too.

The lady that owns that old house won't like your idea :blink: . How about using the parking lot at Dwight Lydell County Park? (Low cost :) )

Stops - 13 Mile / Divison in Sparta, 10 Mile Road, Comstock Park, Delta Plex, 9th Street (American Seating Apts) and Bridge Street / Grand Valley, Amtrak Station, the old Isreals warehouse (Joel Rooks project), Franklin / Hall?, 36th Street/GM, 54th Street (old VKW yard/ parking lot), 68th Street and 84th Street (Douglas Walker County Park)

Rizzo: You can get these trains back up to authorized track speed real quick. They are only 200 ton trains, no 10,000 ton coal drag :whistling:

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When looking at the North/South corridor "goals", there are essentially six things that we should be keeping in mind:

1) Building density near the stations through TIF zones and public/private partnerships to build TOD's (transit-oriented developments) or very dense "village" type developments near the stations.

2) Building density downtown on the current DASH lots and on lots that don't have to be set aside for parking ramps. These lots should be close to the rail and/or streetcar lines, and vice versa.

3) Getting "some" of the suburb-to-downtown commuters off of 131 and onto the the system via park-n-ride lots at the stations, and slowly dwindling parking options downtown.

4) There are about 6 RAPID routes that cross this corridor (54th, 44th, 28th, Burton, Leonard, Alpine (could be modified)) that will act as "feeders" to the NS system

5) The system needs to have enough stops to be effective, yet not too many stops to make it too slow. Park-n-riders near 54th, for instance, will probably endure 3 or 4 stops between where they board and downtown, and that's about it.

6) The neighborhood streetcars then provide a "feeder" system to this North/South corridor, and connects the NS system station to the entire downtown area. They also build density along their lines also adding riders to the entire system.

With those things in mind, what is the best "vehicle system" to incorporate into this North-South corridor? I keep falling back to light rail. Yes, it's more expensive, yes, it will require laying new track. But I don't believe the low cost option will accomplish the goals above.

I'm pretty sure we can use "light rail" on the freight lines as long as there is the no freight time restrictions.

Say, who has mini vans? How about at our "gathering" we take a ride along the route? :P

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