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Persistent Voices Lead to DASH Route Improvements for Heartside Residents

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Heartside Neighborhood residents worked persistently over three decades to improve mobility and access to fresh food via DASH.
Ideas shared by Heartside Neighborhood residents at a quality of life input session

Ideas shared by Heartside Neighborhood residents at a quality of life input session /Dwelling Place

Heartside Neighborhood Residents participate in quality of life input session.

Heartside Neighborhood Residents participate in quality of life input session. /Dwelling Place

New DASH route established May 2023 includes stops on Division Ave. in the Heartside Neighborhood.

New DASH route established May 2023 includes stops on Division Ave. in the Heartside Neighborhood. /City of Grand Rapids/MobileGR

The Downtown Area Shuttle, or DASH, is a system of small buses that are free to ride that connects key downtown Grand Rapids locations. DASH buses are funded by the City of Grand Rapids, the routes are managed by the city department called MobileGR, which partners with The Rapid for providing drivers for DASH.  

DASH was originally developed in 1980 for commuters who would park at free lots located near the YMCA and the Downtown Market where they could hop on DASH buses to get around the downtown area where they worked.  Over time it was deemed helpful in serving tourists as well. 

Beginning at about the same time, Heartside residents were seeking ways to meet the need for access to fresh food. According to Urban Institute, low-income and minority neighborhoods often do not have access to fresh produce, dairy and meat products. Called a “food desert,” the limited access puts people at greater risk of serious ailments as obesity, diabetes, chronic illness, and premature death.  

Even though the DASH system was originally built for commuters, Heartside residents believed the DASH could also meet their need for fresh food accessibility. “Transit for tourism in other cities is also utilized by the residents. And some of our Heartside residents do work downtown,” said Jenn Schaub, Director of Community Building and Engagement at Dwelling Place of Grand Rapids. 

In 2016, a consolidation of the DASH route eliminated stops on Division Avenue. For a short while, there was a shuttle bus that gave Heartside residents access to Meijer, but that was eventually discontinued. Heartside resident since 2011, Latesha Lipscomb said, “Transportation barriers impacted a lot of neighbors, especially when it comes to accessing fresh food.” 

Heartside residents consistently brought this message to input sessions with MobileGR, expressing a need for access to West Side Grand Rapids, particularly to have access to the Bridge Street Market. “It is important for the residents to know that we’re here to listen and ultimately work to make changes based on the input,” said Gilles. 

In 2022, MobileGR conducted surveys and held an input session with downtown residents. Lipscomb recalls a neighborhood summit which included a tour of the DASH. “I had been advocating for seven years with neighbors for DASH route changes,” said Lipscomb. “At the summit, I met Ken Miggel-Citriano representing MobileGR. I suggested to Ken that the DASH should serve the residents of the downtown area and he was very positive about the idea. That was the first time I’ve ever heard a positive response. I think that it’s having constant conversations over time that helped in changing the perspective.” 

“The Rapid was concerned about safety,” said Gilles, citing concerns the Rapid had about snow on the slope between Ionia Avenue. and Division Avenue, and about left turns on the route. “After meeting with Heartside folks [at the summit], we knew the changes they wanted could not wait. So, we went back to the drawing board to find a safe way to make it work,” said Gilles. 

In May 2023, the DASH West and DASH North routes were consolidated into a single circulator route to better serve anyone trying to get around downtown Grand Rapids. In August 2023, stops on Division Avenue were added. The DASH operates Wednesday-Friday 7am-12:00am, Saturday 11am-1am, and Sunday 11am-5pm with a bus available at stops every 15 minutes.

Gilles says that almost all the feedback they have received about the recent changes has been positive. “Except the lack of service on Mondays and Tuesdays, which is something we budgeted for, but the Rapid is not meeting that demand. We hope to bring 7-day-a-week service back to the DASH as soon as possible. 

“Normally, it takes a year to make changes, but we realized that a year would be too long for Heartside residents, and we got it done in 3 months,” said Gilles. 


With a mission to improve the lives of people by creating quality affordable housing, providing essential support services and serving as a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization, Dwelling Place serves families and people in 4 counties across West Michigan. Dwelling Place is powered by volunteers and numerous staff persons, interns, Americorps workers, and guest writers. Thanks to JD Sullivan, Americorps/VISTA Dwelling Place CB&E Communications Coordinator for his contribution of this article. 

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