Complete Streets + Green Infrastructure = Vital Streets

The City of Grand Rapids, Michigan, revolutionized its approach to designing, maintaining, and using its streets over the past five years. A program called Vital Streets has been central to improvement and evolution of transportation in the city.

As we highlight innovation in infrastructure across the country this week, Suzanne Schulz, AICP, shared a bit about the origin of Vital Streets and its progress. Schulz is president of APA's Michigan Chapter and managing director of design, development, and community engagement for City of Grand Rapids.


In 2013, the Grand Rapids Sustainable Streets Task Force issued a report on the state of the city's streets. The report found that over 60 percent of streets — 371 of 588 miles — were in poor condition, using Michigan's PASER rating system. With no new investment, 87 percent of city streets would need reconstruction before the end of the decade.

Moving Forward Together

The Task Force developed 12 recommendations with the vision of creating sustainably-funded "Vital Streets" to serve all people and all modes, with green infrastructure. These streets would create successful places to live, work, and invest.

The Task Force shared its goals:

  • Maintain 70 percent of streets in a "state of good repair" through a 15-year investment plan, dedicating $22 million per year to street improvements
  • Reduce single-occupancy vehicle trips from 95 percent today to 45 percent by 2035

Responding to the work of the Task Force, in 2014, Grand Rapids community members voted to establish the Vital Streets fund that is focused on improving street conditions and "fueled by [Grand Rapids] community values."

Among the factors guiding investment throughout the project is the equity analysis, which identifies areas of "Need" as well as "Opportunity" to wisely invest and leverage tax-payer dollars.

To ensure that this aspect of the program is managed, a multi-disciplinary staff team meets weekly to determine the best design approach. It takes into consideration context, modal emphasis, design controls, and streetscape elements that will best advance the city's goals.

A Vital Streets Oversight Commission is charged with ensuring that investment targets and outcomes are being met.


To learn more, check out the Vital Streets Plan.

Interested in following the Vital Streets updates? You can view the progress on an interactive dashboard on the City of Grand Rapids website.

Top image: Crosswalk photo courtesy City of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

About the Authors

Catherine Hinshaw is state government affairs associate at APA.

Suzanne Schulz, AICP, is the managing director of design and development for the City of Grand Rapids and the president of APA's Michigan Chapter.

May 17, 2018

By Catherine Hinshaw, Suzanne Schulz