Trump Budget Threats and the Local Anti-Transit Brigade Spike Lansing BRT

A 2014 rendering of a possible configuration for Lansing BRT. Image: Dover, Kohl & Partners
A 2014 rendering of a possible configuration for Lansing BRT. Image: Dover, Kohl & Partners

A plan to upgrade Lansing’s busiest bus route was shelved earlier this week. The transit authority said the uncertainty of federal funding under the Trump administration, along with the costs of continuing to study the project, were enough to kill it. Eight years in the making, the project was also undone by suburban opposition. Now, transit advocates in Michigan’s capital are figuring out what can be done to improve transit while their opponents take a victory lap.

The $143 million project would have added center-running bus lanes and stations along 8.3 miles of Michigan and Grand River avenues, wide streets connecting downtown Lansing, East Lansing, Michigan State University, and Meridian Township. A study of bus, streetcar, and light rail options began in 2009, and in 2011 the Capital Area Transportation Authority board decided to proceed with BRT.

Over the past year, opposition forces began to organize on Facebook, centered on suburban Meridian Township. Last July, the township board came out against plans to add bus lanes and restrict left turns. A month later, the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce joined in. Even Michigan State University, which has thousands of students that would benefit from BRT, made noises against the project.

“We’re the automobile state and we have this assumption that everybody should have a car, which is false,” said Laurel Burchfield, a Lansing resident who co-founded Capital Area Transit Supporters last year to push back against BRT naysayers. “There was a very organized opposition that played a really large role in this. And that’s something we need to think about locally moving forward. How do you respond to this NIMBYism?”

BRT did have its backers, including Lansing Mayor Virgil Bernero. But his combative reputation didn’t exactly help the project. “He came out vocally in support, but that didn’t necessarily help our cause,” Burchfield said. “He’s the angriest mayor in America.”

“It seems like no one was really battling to support it at all,” said Sean Hammond, deputy policy director at the Michigan Environmental Council and co-founder of Capital Area Transit Supporters. “It wasn’t really a coordinated effort to get supporters out and spread the word about why exactly this is a good thing for the region.”

On Wednesday, CATA’s longtime executive director announced her retirement. The same day, the transit authority’s board voted to suspend the BRT plan, citing the cost of continuing with an environmental study and the Trump administration’s proposal to gut transit funding. The project was not funded locally, and depended on winning a federal New Starts grant, combined with state funds.

But Trump may not actually enact his slash-and-burn funding blueprint. While his transit cuts would be devastating to projects like Lansing’s BRT, the proposal isn’t guaranteed to survive the congressional budget process. Ultimately, it seems, local opposition is the lead culprit behind the death of Lansing BRT.

So where does that leave transit supporters?

“We’re going to have to increase bus service,” Hammond said. “It could be something like BRT-lite, like Grand Rapids has, which doesn’t require as much capital.”

“I would hate for transit as a general service to get hit because of opposition to one project,” Burchfield said. “I view this as a postponement, not as a death note.”

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Today’s Headlines

|
Albuquerque City Council Approves BRT Project Over Anti-Transit Objections (ABQ Journal) NY Gov Andrew Cuomo Approves $40M to Tear Down Waterfront Highway in Niagara Falls (Buffalo News) FTA Inspectors Found Nearly 200 Safety Defects in D.C.’s Metro System (WAMU) Officials in Alabama File Civil Rights Suit Over Transit Cuts in Mobile (WPMI) New Transit Tunnel Linking New Jersey and New York […]

The Fight for Better Access to Jobs in Detroit and Milwaukee, Using Buses

|
Low-income residents of Detroit and Milwaukee face formidable obstacles to job access. These two Rust Belt regions are consistently ranked among the most segregated in the country, and neither has a good transit system. In both regions, the places that have been growing and adding jobs fastest have been been overwhelmingly sprawling, suburban areas inaccessible to people without cars. A 2013 Brookings study […]

If Not for Trump, Last Night Would Have Been Great for Transit

|
Last night had the makings of a historic election for transit. Voters in cities as varied as Raleigh, Indianapolis, and Los Angeles turned out to support ballot measures to dramatically expand bus and rail service. But the election of Donald Trump and the retention of GOP majorities in both houses of Congress cast a pall of uncertainty over transit agencies […]

Highway Boondoggles: California’s 710 Tunnel

|
A proposal to drill a pair of highway tunnels is the most expensive, most polluting, least effective option for solving the San Gabriel Valley’s transportation problems. A highway linking I-710 from Alhambra to I-210/ SR-710 in Pasadena was first proposed in the late 1950s. Ever since, efforts to build the highway have run into obstacles including […]

10 New Rail, BRT Projects Selected for Funding by DOT

|
From bus rapid transit in Michigan to light rail in Arizona, ten new local transit projects are in line to receive federal capital funding under the President’s 2012 Budget proposal. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today released a list of 10 new projects in nine cities that would receive a total of $569 million in funding […]