Oct. 12 2016 10:53 AM

Collette’s attacks on BRT lowering the discourse

CATA’s proposal for faster bus service on Michigan and Grand River avenues deserves serious scrutiny, but that’s not what it is receiving from one of its leading critics.

Longtime Ingham County Circuit Judge William Collette is understandably getting media attention for his attacks on the proposal by the Capital Area Transportation Authority. After all, he’s a well-known and respected public figure.

But that doesn’t make him right or qualified when it comes to mass transit.

In fact, he sounds more like a good ol’ boy sitting outside the country store, whittling wood while he expounds on what is wrong with the world, than he does an educated, temperate, fair-minded jurist.

Here’s what the Bus Rapid Transit project, a $133 million plan to be paid for by federal and state funds, is about, as expressed by Debbie Alexander, CATA’s assistant executive director and the project's manager, on WKAR’s “Current State” last week:

“The region is looking to grow this Main Street. It has a vision to become a world-class city and community, and in order to do that we have to have infrastructure that allows for more population, jobs and housing growth. Because we’re in a built environment, we can’t just expand our roadway. The way to do this is to separate the buses from the auto, which gives both of them improved travel time.”

Here’s Collette’s view of Greater Lansing, as he stated it on the same show earlier in the week:

“People in this community drive cars. Now they want to go back 50 years and rearrange society.”

Collette seems blind to not only what the future holds, but what is happening today.

Collette says that other than the SkyVue development that is under construction and the proposed Red Cedar Renaissance project, “economic development has already occurred in this corridor.”

He could have said the same 50 years ago. But look at what he has happened since. The Stadium District and Cooley Law School Stadium sprang up, replacing numerous buildings. Scott Gillespie is putting up a four-story mixed-use property to replace a half-dozen buildings in the 2000 block. Just beyond it, a former bank building is being doubled in size for a new brewpub. A few blocks south is another Gillespie mid-rise where a gas station once stood. Much of Michigan Avenue, replete with low-rise structures, is ripe for just such redevelopment.

“There are no homes” on the corridor, says Collette, who apparently hasn’t noticed the blocks of homes on Grand River east of Hagadorn Avenue. It’s amazing to me they even still exist today in an area so prime for development. It’s just a matter of time.

“No city our size … does anything like this,” Collette opines about the BRT. But in fact Eugene, Ore., a city of 159,000, has successfully introduced just such a plan. A case study by the University of Utah found this, as Lawrence Cosentino reported in City Pulse last month:

“In the post-2008 recession, jobs fell by 5 percent outside the Eugene's BRT corridor, but increased 10 percent within a quarter mile of a BRT station and 5 percent within a half mile. ‘We are impressed to see how the Eugene-Springfield market responded so quickly to the EmX BRT system,’ the study concluded, with a caveat that further research was needed to pin down the correlation between the BRT and economic growth.”

Collette even complains that delivery vehicles in downtown East Lansing will be inconvenienced because the BRT would prevent them from being able to block traffic on Grand River while they make their deliveries. First of all, good riddance. But secondly, that’s illegal now, and it’s unseemly of a judge to be defending it.

Collette paints a bleak picture of the BRT’s chances in our community, citing opposition from the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce and Meridian Township and concerns expressed by Michigan State University. He says Sparrow is opposed, although Sparrow has been publicly silent.

But such opposition and concerns can be overcome. And CATA is responding in an appropriate fashion by continuing to listen to critics. Just last week, it held three public meetings at which it presented five “ideas” that could be adopted to address some of the issues that institutions and citizens have raised.

Collette respond with invective, calling CATA’s approach “flim flam.” He impugned the fairness of CATA’s moderator at one meeting, saying written questions were ignored. CATA’s Alexander says the moderator was just combining similar questions.

Collette moans about the cost, wondering aloud about how many miles of road could be repaved. (The 8.5-mile project includes paving, by the way.) But what is the cost of not getting people out of cars? Or is he also a climate denier?

To be sure, the BRT plan is a big change and merits serious discussion. But it should be a civil discussion informed by reality. The reality is that growth is going to occur on our region’s Main Street and that future generations will want to live in more of an urban core.

We have an opportunity to improve our community’s infrastructure with federal and state funds that will otherwise go elsewhere.

We can work out the details together, but let’s not let small-mindedness sabotage progress.