Riding the Silver Line: The Opening Day Of Michigan’s First Bus Rapid Transit System

“It’s a great day for the state of Michigan!”

That sentiment was echoed across the crowd on Monday for the opening of the Grand Rapids Silver Line. The first bus rapid transit in Michigan (though we don’t think it will be the last!), the Silver Line opened on August 25 with its 9.6 miles of efficient and comfortable bus route for the region. We were lucky enough to attend the opening ceremony and were some of the first passengers for the inaugural trips of the Silver Line.

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MDOT Director Kirk Steudle praised the Silver Line at Monday’s opening ceremony, stating it was “on time, under budget, tremendous”

While it’s one thing to hear about local support for innovative transit, it’s even more exciting to witness community members, some who have never ridden a bus before, gather to support the opening day of a new bus service. A community of loyal and new bus riders all came out to experience the new features, such as the free wireless, well-lit and covered shelters, and hybrid buses. And even those accustomed to riding The Rapid’s buses were impressed by the speed and efficiency of bus rapid transit. We especially like the convenience of the level platforms and how easy it is to bike and ride with three bike racks on each bus and bike parking at most stations.

The new Silver Line stations all share similar features, including real time updates, maps, covered seating, and level platforms for boarding.

The new Silver Line stations all share similar features, including real time updates, maps, covered seating, and level platforms for boarding.

Members of the Trans4M member group the Disability Advocates of Kent County (DAKC) also showed up en masse for the event to illustrate the need for all buses to be accessible to those with disabilities. The level boarding platforms at each station provide comfortable and quick entry for wheelchairs without needing a lift. Kim Frost of DAKC reflected on the bus service provided by GRATA before it became The Rapid, the transportation authority for Greater Grand Rapids. “We’ve come long way from the buses that didn’t even have lifts 15 years ago.” The Rapid CEO Peter Varga also stressed that The Rapid is about making mobility work and providing options for all users and their unique lifestyles.

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DAKC volunteers wait to be the first passengers on the Silver Line.

The morning’s opening ceremony highlighted the benefits of the Silver Line for locals and tourists alike. Christian Gaines, Executive Director of ArtPrize, identified the potential for strong collaboration during this year’s event. “We’re looking forward to putting the Silver Line to the ultimate test during ArtPrize” with this year’s event anticipating over 400,000 attendees.

The Silver Line was an 11 year project for The Rapid. During that time, the region collaborated on a vision for a convenient and cost effective way to connect their communities. This new service begins at the Central Station in Grand Rapids, winds through the Medical Mile and then runs down Division Ave into the cities of Wyoming and Kentwood. Over 10,000 households and tens of thousands of jobs are located along the route, with the city anticipating future economic development along the corridor. A bus is scheduled for approximately every 10 minutes during peak hours, and the designated bus lane and signal priority increases travel time up to 40% along the route.

Signs at each stop help new riders understand their routes, how to purchase tickets and other benefits of the bus rapid transit system.

Signs at each stop help new riders understand their routes, how to purchase tickets and other benefits of the bus rapid transit system.

Bus rapid transit systems like the Silver Line are the newest transit innovation in Michigan, and are already being utilized with great success across the world in places as close as Cleveland and as far as Indonesia.  During Monday’s opening ceremony, FTA Acting Administrator Therese McMillan applauded the Silver Line, saying that “as a nation we need to give the green light to more transportation options like this one.” Here at Trans4M, we couldn’t agree more!

During the first week of service, rides on the Silver Line are free of charge. So take a trip on Michigan’s first BRT and experience it for yourself!

Written by Laurel Burchfield, Trans4M Coordinator

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