Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Transit Love in Metro Detroit

These are heavy times, with sustainable transportation on the ropes in Washington and within the Great Lakes State. But the metro Detroit Millennial Mayors Congress is rallying Michigan transit proponents around a lighthearted Valentine's Day letter to regional leaders, seeking their support for regional transit legislation in Lansing. They're requesting your own regional transit love poetry, so don't hold back.

Full disclosure: the author is an employee of the Congress's parent organization, the Michigan Suburbs Alliance.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Save Public Transit: Don't Let U.S. Become Another Detroit

Faces of Transportation 11-30-11 from Project S.N.A.P. on Vimeo.

In the past few months, there's been a lot of transit news in Michigan, from the unfolding saga of Woodward Avenue rail to new efforts to forge a regional transit authority. But meanwhile, metro Detroit's public transit crisis continues to upend people's lives. The video above, produced by University of Michigan School of Public Health students for community organizing group MOSES, may be the most eloquent testimony yet to the trials of living in constant doubt of the basic individual right to move about.

And now, that grim state of affairs could spread across the country if Congress passes the House of Representatives' transportation bill.

Bus service in Detroit is so bad because the city still pays for transit out of its general fund, instead of through a special regional tax or some other dedicated funding source. That forces transit to compete with other programs - and means that transit constantly gets the ax, since riders are usually a poorer, less powerful subset of the citizenry.

This is precisely the situation that the House bill proposes to take nationwide. The bill eliminates all dedicated federal money for public transit, a provision that's been around since the Reagan adminstration, and makes vital transit funding compete with other priorities. It's a slap in the face to transit riders across the country, like the already suffering individuals in the video above, and it has to be stopped. Follow the link here to do your part.

Monday, October 17, 2011

SMART Bus Cuts Deepen Detroit Transit Crisis

Her bus odyssey may get even longer. Detroit News
Detroit's Deborah Lawrence may soon have to take five buses to get from home to work.

As the Detroit Department of Transportation bus system sputters, the metro region's suburban transit agency has announced its own massive cuts. 22 percent of SMART's service will go, 15 routes will be completely eliminated, and 120 employees would be laid off under the plan.

Lawrence already takes three buses - one Detroit bus and two SMART buses - to reach her job at a nursing home in Roseville. The cuts will scale back one of those SMART buses, the Detroit News reports, adding another two transfers to her commute.

SMART's shrinking schedule.
Another 10 routes will have Saturday or Sunday service eliminated, and 11 more will end at the Detroit city limits for some or all trips, leaving riders standing to transfer in the cold - or not, since Detroit's tattered buses haven't always been showing up lately.

SMART is trying to secure concessions from its unions, and the announcement should be seen in the context of that effort. The press release on the agency's website (newly revamped with stimulus funds) makes it clear who it's targeting with the news: "SMART Unions Fail to Reach Agreement; Service Cuts Required," it reads.

Whether or not the cuts take effect as proposed, given the sharp decline in property values in the region and SMART's dependence on a property tax millage, it's difficult to imagine that SMART service will be sustained absent the formation of a regional transit authority with a new source of funds.

The news is even worse when you consider how bad the existing service is already.

"Doesn't anybody get it?" Northville resident Robert Shoens asks in a letter to the Free Press. "Why should any company, small or large, open a business or keep one here when it cannot rely on its employees' ability to get to work?"

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel says, somewhat circuitously, of a regional transit authority: "Nobody doesn't agree it's necessary." Indeed, Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties, as well as the City of Detroit, have all passed resolutions in favor of it. There are just those little questions of governance and funding to be sorted out.

Bus riders have waited long enough for that to happen. Enough with the talk. We need a regional commitment now.

The Free Press says it well in an editorial today: "This is no  longer a question of politics...This is a question of survival."

Saturday, October 8, 2011

"All You Can Do Is Pray for a Miracle" : Detroit Bus Riders Turned Away After 3-Hour Delays

Light rail in Detroit is moving forward, and the celebratory T-shirts are retailing for $24. But meanwhile, savaged by funding cuts that have halved service over the past decade, Detroit's long-suffering city bus system is staggering towards collapse, devastating the lives of riders with no other way to go.

This week, desperate passengers waited at Seven Mile and Woodward for over three hours before flagging down a passing FOX 2 News van, whose cameras recorded the affecting video above.

"All you can do is pray for a miracle," rider Kala Miller told a reporter. When the crosstown bus finally pulled up to the dozens of people waiting on the trash-strewn Seven Mile sidewalk, it was already packed to the gills. Miller couldn't even get on the bus she'd waited 3 hours to board.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tenth Tour De Troit Breaks Records, Redistributes Regional Transport $

In a testament to the continued rise of bicycling in America's automotive heartland, its biggest group ride has broken records yet again. 4300 bicyclists paraded down Motown's streets last Saturday in the tenth annual Tour de Troit - not bad for an event that began in 2002 with a bike trailer serving as the sag vehicle.

Thankfully, the snowballing of the Tour hasn't detracted from its friendly, advocacy-oriented character. The Tour is somewhat unique among similar group rides around the nation in that the money it raises ($40,000 last year) goes directly to building bikeways. This year's participants got to see the results of previous years' rides in the freshly painted bike lanes and route signs of the Southwest Detroit Greenlink.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Transit Tops Agenda as Metro Detroit Talks Regionalism, Race at "New Metropolis" Event

john powell talks regionalism for the cameras.
We're back. Thanks for your patience the past two months. This also marks our first anniversary here at TransportMichigan.org. It's been good having you along for the ride!

Last Thursday evening, downtown Royal Oak's Emagine Theater hosted a who's who of metro Detroit advocates for regional cooperation at "Reimagining the Region: Building a New Detroit Metropolis," a film screening and panel discussion on the racial shifts and infrastructure problems occurring in inner-ring suburbs around the country. For thirty years, metro Detroit's failure to establish a regional transit system has been a symbol of segregation and distrust between the city and its suburbs, and the panelists agreed that for the sake of both, that has to change.

State Representative Jim Townsend of Royal Oak talked about the billions of dollars the region could save with a transit system, while Ferndale City Councilwoman and Michigan Suburbs Alliance Associate Director Mel Piana discussed how she's helped six south Oakland County cities apply for planning funds to study extending a Woodward Avenue light rail line across Eight Mile Road. "That will help us connect better with Detroit," she said.

Moderator Stephen Henderson of the Free Press prodded the panelists to move faster. "I have a hard enough time getting the Oakland County Executive and the Mayor of Detroit to sit at a table next to each other," he said. Yet john powell, the nationally-known, Detroit-born scholar of race and regionalism, noted that the nascent regionalist coalition had already won some political victories against continued sprawl, including the Michigan Department of Transportation's adoption of a "fix-it-first" policy that puts repair of existing roads before new widening projects.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

UAW Shifts on Fuel Economy, But After Thirty Years, Big Three Remain Slow Learners

Not good business. Associated Press
This blog rarely delves into the innards of the automobile. To build a better transportation system, we've got to do more than tinker with what's under the hood. Still, there are times when attention must be paid.

In a historic break with the past, the United Auto Workers has declined to join the Big Three's latest campaign against higher fuel economy standards. Instead, UAW President Bob King joined the heads of other leading unions and environmental organizations in a letter supporting "strong fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards," and publicly criticized the automakers' radio ads against the proposed 56-mile-per-gallon average. For that, he's earned the ire of some of the Big Three's purported defenders, including the Detroit News' Nolan Finley, who says the standard poses an "existential threat" to the industry and its workers. Greener vehicles, Finley argues, are a Trojan horse for environmentalists "openly hoping the industry chokes to death."

Recall that Finley is making this argument less than three years after oil price spikes almost choked the Big Three to death absent any help from environmentalists, the companies having successfully blocked fuel economy standard improvements in passenger cars for two decades beforehand.

Michigan would do better to mind a Christian Science Monitor column by Pat M. Holt. "While Detroit has been lobbying Congress to postpone and stretch out better fuel economy standards," Holt observed, "the Japanese and Germans have been meeting those standards." Unfortunately, while foreign competitors seize market share, the American auto industry "is acting as though it ought still to be reaping the rewards for inventing mass production and the Model T."

Holt's column was published in 1980.