Tag Archives: holland

You Want to Join this New Group in Holland

“Eighth Street! It’s terrible! You have to wind through the parking lot of the vacuum store and across the gravel through that other parking lot, and then sit there for ten minutes to cross over into the Russ’ driveway…!”

If you know what I was saying in that quote, then you bike my city. It describes a particularly ugly stretch of street just beyond our award-winning downtown, the hidden non-infrastructure that everyone who bikes this way knows. It’s also a route that I ride four times every weekday on the school run, and sprang up as a topic of discussion as the first meeting of people of the Holland Area Cycle Coalition wound down.

Like me, all the people around this table want things to be better. A diversity of riders represented that night – yes, road warriors, but also commuters, year-round riders who brave the ice and snow and brutal cold, and even a few other family cyclists. One doctor who commutes through the snow expressed concern for the guys he passes on the road mid-winter, who were not represented this time around. “This is a choice for me, but for them it’s not. We need to make things better for them, too.”

We need you – your voice, your thoughts, your experiences. Our second meeting is tomorrow, Wednesday, October 22 at 7:00 p.m. at Skiles Tavern in downtown Holland. If you can come, please do. If you can’t but like to ride bikes, Like the Facebook page for the Holland Area Cycle Coalition to stay up-to-date and voice your thoughts there. And if you know anyone who rides around town on a regular basis, please invite them to join us as well. The more voices, the better!

Our series on the stories we tell will continue later this week or early next.

Three Easy Ways to Fix the Streets around the College

For a few more precious weeks, she sits in front of me as I ride her home from school. The bleary-eyed days of babies screaming the house awake two hours before dawn are being replaced by mornings I consider serving the kindergartener a cup of coffee before school.

Today, though, this last baby chatters about the “app-ohs” she had for snack, asks if dragons are allowed in our house, and repeatedly demands chicken nuggets for lunch.

DSCF6584

We cut through Hope College’s peaceful campus to take advantage of their leafy sidewalks, but a wrong turn this week brought us down one of the streets directly adjacent to the school instead. It was lined with parked cars on either side, and we enjoyed the slow pace of the street, a pace that matched our own. A car pulled out behind us as we rode that street, glided past us as we turned the corner. Two blocks later the driver pulled into a driveway, safely home.

American to the core, the student appeared to have driven five meager blocks. And this is our culture: we drive as a default, as a reflex. We drive because it feels like an indulgent waste of time to spend those precious minutes on a walk. We drive because it’s easy and we’re promised parking on the other end – and sometimes because it freaks us out to cross that one road. Most of us have done this, myself included.

But this student’s journey suggests a set of solutions to the questions our city is facing this season.

Front page in the local paper last Tuesday: Record enrollment at Hope College has huge impact on Holland.

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The two big issues are parties and traffic/parking.

The college has and maintains 998 total parking spaces, said Tom Bylsma, Hope College’s chief financial officer and vice president of business. Students must have permits to park and earlier this month, a total of 955 had been sold. It is standard to leave a small cushion of spaces for snow piles in the winter, he said.

“That should be enough,” Bylsma said, adding that historically, about one-third of the students have a vehicle.

The car-lined streets in the Hope College Neighborhood is a concern mentioned numerous times by people who live there.

Homeowners on 12th Street said if there is practice or a game at the soccer stadium, it is near impossible to get in or out of driveways.

Yet Hope officials have not had any formal discussions about a parking structure, Bylsma said, but added they would be open to conversations about it with city leaders.

“We want to be good neighbors,” Bylsma said. “No matter what college or university you go to there will be parking challenges. We feel the parking is sufficient.”

The real challenge is parking behaviors of people, he said. People tend to want to park as close and conveniently as possible to where they want to be “and often people park where they shouldn’t,” he said. “And often times that is what creates the problem.” (Emphasis mine.)

“I see the biggest problem is going to be parking,” City Councilman Wayne Klomparens said Wednesday, adding it was a problem when he went to school there.

Councilman Myron Trethewey suggested allowing parking on only one side of the roads in that neighborhood to help ease congestion.

I rode through campus again today to see how all those parking lots are looking, and I bet you’ve guessed it already:

Hope College - parking lotb

Tom Bylsma, quoted above, nails it: we want to park as close to our destination as we possibly can, and will only choose otherwise if there is a compelling reason to do so.

In addition to all the dedicated student parking lots, there is free street parking everywhere in the city during daytime hours. Much of this parking is blocks closer to the classroom buildings than the parking lots. The streets by the college are, indeed, lined with cars for much of the day.

Hope college - 12th street

Much to the neighbors’ chagrin, there is no disincentive to driving five blocks.

This is actually not a problem that’s difficult on a technical level. It’s been addressed, successfully, in many other places. But it does require us to begin to think a little bit differently about when and how we use our cars in the city. With that said, here are some great options:

Option 1: Meters

This would be a fun experiment. Leave everything precisely the same as it is now, but meter the on-street parking at a reasonable rate (I’ll leave it to the experts to determine what’s reasonable, though parking guru Donald Shoup suggests setting a price that produces 85% occupancy). Given my memories of how far I was willing to walk in college to avoid paying for parking, this might solve whatever problem we have all by itself.

The powerful thing about this option is that it’s revenue-producing. Even though we think of providing street parking as a free service, it’s not. Our streets are built and maintained out of the big bucket of property taxes that we all pay into, so we’re subsidizing all this extra driving and parking as a community (city-wide, not just in this area). Although we could just use the revenue to offset the additional wear-and-tear from the weight of the parked vehicles, this would also be a great opportunity to improve our city’s bikeways as an additional step in solving the parking problem. We’ll talk a little more about that below.

Option 2: Parking districts

Chicago parking pass

Homeowners on the street might not be any too enamored with the idea of meters on their streets, but there’s a tried-and-true workaround here, too – the parking district. The sticker above is still stuck to the windshield of my car from last weekend’s trip to visit my adorable niece (and her wonderful parents) in Chicago. My brother has a resident sticker on his car, and can park anywhere in his neighborhood zone for free. This is a guest pass, which is good for 24 hours and cost them about fifty cents.

(As a side note, maybe someday I’ll tell you guys about how much car ownership costs in Japan. Seven years back, and I still can’t get over how cheap it is here in comparison!)

Option 3: Quality network of bike lanes

Putting a price on parking will deter students who drive five blocks, but presenting a viable alternative to driving is essential for those who live further off-campus. Replacing parking lanes with appropriately-sized bike lanes – ideally, separated from moving traffic – would respect the transportation choices that so many students are already making and be an economic win for the city as a whole, too. I’m hoping to talk about this in more detail in coming weeks, so I’ll leave it there for now.

Rainbow shoes

My friends tell me that the pigtailed toddler in rainbow shoes will be headed off to college before I know it. I hope the city of her choice, the school of her choice, will have set up systems that make active transportation easy. I hope that spending the inordinate amount of money necessary to own and maintain a car will be a choice for her, and not a requirement. I hope that someone has decided to make room for her on the roads if she chooses to travel on two wheels, as she does today. And let’s do the same for our neighbors kids.

Reimagining Downtown

This book I’ve been reading has me imagining. Every street I walk down, I see something new.

In my mind, I’m walking downtown, headed west on Eighth Street toward River.

This map is so ugly. Here we are, going for a walk!
This map is so ugly. Here we are, going for a walk!

On the ground, it looks something like this…

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A one-way street with slow traffic, angled parking, and wide sidewalks. It’s a pedestrian’s dream. But it ends, at River, like this…

All three lanes of glory. The corner of 8th Street and River.
All three lanes of glory. The corner of 8th Street and River.

Personally, I rarely walk down River if I can help it. The speed limit is around 45, and a little bitty curb is the only thing that separates me from the fast-moving traffic. Not compatible with a willful toddler.

Now that’s crappy. Here we have this fantastic downtown – I mean really, it’s so good that we welcome 500,00 visitors during Tulip Time each year and even Kathie Lee Gifford loves us – and we’ve hemmed it in on three sides with thoroughfares! That’s right, out-of-towners, it’s not just River… 7th Street and 9th Street are also three-lane one-way headaches.

We’ve created a beautiful, beautiful peninsula downtown. But it’s really hard for a peninsula to infect the surrounding community, with, well, its awesomeness.

Yeah, I watch a lot of cartoons.

So let’s imagine for a few minutes that these streets are just a little bit different.

A caveat here: Some of these would be easy changes; some far less so. I know that. But for a few minutes, just let your mind wander a little bit.

Now rather than the unfriendly streetscapes above, let’s imagine that they look more like this…

Downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan - photo courtesy of my brother, Ben
Downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan – photo courtesy of my brother, Ben

Or this…

In the city of Charlotte, NC; click for source website.

Or even something like this…

Poughkeepsie, New York. Lots of great photos if you click through to the slide show.

Flip back and forth between those photos a couple times. The basic structure is the same, of course; they’re all traditional downtowns. But some are a lot more pedestrian-friendly and pleasant than others. Some streets looks like they would be nice places to walk, live, run errands. Ours is kind of a non-place to get through.

There are SO many options as to what to do with the area between the buildings, even when you do have a lot of traffic to move through an area.

So instead of getting to the current end of the downtown and facing a torrent of traffic, there’s a reasonable street. Maybe it has bike lanes; maybe it has parallel parking on either side creating a barrier between my kids and this fast-moving traffic. Maybe it’s shaded by trees. I think I’ll go around the corner and wander a little more, past a few more shops… my downtown has just expanded for the cost of a little street paint.

Our awesome downtown is built around the automobile, of course. Check out this map of Holland’s downtown parking – all the blue boxes are parking lots. There’s more parking than storefront! Necessary to a certain point, but I wonder what the return for investment is there.

City of Holland public parking lots
City of Holland public parking lots

So what about this?

The expanded downtown... and me at the park with my grandchild and cane. I'm a little bit realistic.
The expanded downtown… and me at the park with my grandchild and cane. I’m a little bit realistic.

What if we added on-street parking to the revised 7th and 9th streets? And what if instead of having so many crazy surface parking lots, we made space for parking only in the middle of blocks, with storefronts facing the street? What if we had three times the downtown that we do now? How awesome would that be? Can you imagine just how vibrant our downtown would be if we tripled its size, made it accessible to the rest of the neighborhood, slowed traffic so that you could ride bikes with your kids all around town…

Can you imagine?