A Modest Request: A Legal Right-Of-Way Between Highland Park & Midtown

The easiest route to walk or bicycle between Highland Park (the park and the south west neighborhood) and Midtown is to pass under the freeway along the GRE (Grand Rapids Eastern) railroad tracks. Residents have been using this safe and convenient pathway for years. You can stand there and see the 'demand lines' and on nice days you do not have to wait long to see people using this route.

Once upon a time there were three tracks under the bridge, now there is only one, and lots of space on either side. Railroad cars typically hang over the edge of the tracks up to three feet on each side, figure four feet for safety.

The alternative of pedestrians is to go up and over the freeway at Eastern Avenue. For residents along College Ave there is the prospect of walking over two 2 - 3 lane freeway on/off ramps and a five lane overpass.

Now with Operation Lifesaver the police have been stopping and asking for identification of people using this route. Operation Lifesaver is a program to dissuade people from running crossing signals or using railroad right-way (which is technically trespassing). Operation Lifesaver is a worthy program; Michigan rail traffic is rebounding after decades of decline, there are more trains, and trains are moving faster, than many are used to. Rail related accidents in Michigan are on the increase.

However in this case even implying that the route over the interstate at College Ave is safer is completely absurd. I have never spoken to a pedestrian who finds crossing the interstate on College Ave to be a pleasant experience. Walk that route in the dark, or in the rain. Do we want people traversing that overpass after having a couple of beer's at Logan's Alley or a delicious Appleshine at Flatlanders? Does anyone enjoy going around and climbing up Lydia St. hill, rather than the gentler slope of College Ave and Highland Park?

Now with all the development in Midtown along Michigan Ave there will be more citizens there, some of them only a few hundred feet away from the park, wanting to make use of Highland Park. No doubt many of these new residents will use this illegal route - it will almost be at their back door, the park will be right there. Next year new development in Midtown will add 350+ residential units, with new developments by 616, RISE, and Third Coast.

So.... I would like to see a legal right-of-way created for this ~100 - 200 feet, under the interstate, between the park and Grand Ave. But I am not sure where to begin. This park is a neighborhood amenity - it would seem obvious that developers would want to assist in making it easily available to neighbors/residents [and again - they are putting new residents in a location where they will actually be able to see the park... but not get there]. Just a hundred feet of asphalt or concrete, and possibly a fence, physically that is all this requires.

It is in the Highland Park renovation plan to restore the walking paths the park once had.... can that include the ability of Midtown residents to walk to the park? That freeway... that ground used to be part of the park before it was thrust through the neighborhood, creating this barrier.

Does anyone know how to begin? Is anyone else interesting in helping me turn this commonly used but illegal passage into an official pedestrian and cyclist right of way?