Friday, January 28, 2011

Faith Leaders Join Obama Call for Transport Lifelines, Ask Aid for "Stuck and Stranded"

MOSES affiliates carry the banner of transit investment
Religious leaders from around the Detroit region seconded President Obama's State of the Union call for investing in transportation infrastructure in a statement released late this week. Michigan, they say, "put American transportation on the map." Yet the U.S. now lags the rest of the industrialized world, and a number of poorer countries, in the state of its transportation infrastructure, particularly rail and public transit. According to the faith leaders, affiliated with regional equity advocate MOSES (Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength), it's past time for us to give those modes new life.

It's not just transit that's suffering. The feds are over a year behind schedule in passing national transportation legislation - popularly known as "reauthorization," or a "transportation enhancement act" (TEA). Without this periodic infusion of cash, we're going nowhere. "Federal inaction on a robust, multi-year transportation bill has come at a price of American families increasingly stuck and stranded without affordable, reliable and efficient ways to get to work, school, or medical appointments," the statement reads. "As gas prices soars over the $3 a gallon mark, citizens will once again be forced to struggle to choose between paying for gas and paying their bills." The question isn't whether we can afford to make lifeline transportation investments, but whether we can afford not to make them.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Weekly Trackback: Thank Canada

Governor Snyder came out for a Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) bridge in his State of the State address, dealing another blow to Ambassador Bridge mogul Matty Moroun. Snyder plans to use Canadian loans, but will the Republican legislature let the deal through? Meanwhile, some hope his new Office of Urban Initiatives brings an end to the state's neglect of its cities.

Detroiters want transit and bikeways, surveys from the Detroit Works planning process reveal. From Portland comes more two-wheel news relevant to local climes: an entrepreneur invents "Helmuffs," earmuffs that strap on to bicycle helmet straps, and a new "bicycle-oriented development" stirs concerns about gentrification.

Regionalism advocate One D has dissolved, turning over its number-crunching operations to Data Driven Detroit. Is this the result of tough times, or one more sign of the continuing fragility of metro Detroit leaders' commitment to prosperity and opportunity across city limits? Regional transit can't happen without a region.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Case Closed: Highways Don't Pay Their Way

Is $600,000,000,000,000 in subsidies enough? PIRGIM
You've heard the story before. Transit riders and bicyclists are freeloaders living it up off public "subsidies," while roads and highways are covered by so-called "user fees" (gas taxes) that don't require that sort of spending. It's a story the highwaymen have repeated so often as to, well, drive it into our collective psyche.

As a new report shows, however, it's a lie.

The report, funded by the Public Interest Research Group in Michigan (PIRGIM), notes that gas taxes haven't usually been treated as "user fees" at all. They've rarely been dedicated just to highways, and the U.S. gas tax actually got started in an effort to reduce the federal deficit.

And do gas taxes cover the cost of roads? Not even close. Right now, they pay just half the cost of building and maintaining highways. As for the cost of wiping out Detroit's Lower East Side (I-96), and the cost of the asthma choking kids who live alongside freeways...well, you've got to be kidding.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Weekly Trackback: Macomb Mum On Transit

Newly elected Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel isn't sold on a regional transit authority, or on high-capacity transit, leaving Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano the only strong voice for regional transit among metro Detroit's "Big Four" officials, and incurring the Free Press's displeasure. Meanwhile, officials in south Oakland inner-ring suburbs continue their lonely fight for transit on Woodward connecting them to Detroit.

Ford Motor Company, which helped make the United States the most motorized society in history, has announced that worldwide universal automobile ownership is not a feasible goal, and will be pursuing car sharing systems instead. In Traverse City, My Wheels Are Turning conducts an informal experiment in the car-dependent lifestyle the vehicles have fostered.

A series of rapes in Detroit has highlighted the vulnerability of bus riders waiting for infrequent buses in places where few people live to provide eyes on the street; bus riders are being encouraged to wait inside City police precincts. In other news from the city, a Detroit Department of Transportation bus driver may face the loss of his job after being filmed driving the bus with an acquaintance seated on his lap; the pair were apparently "trying to make up following an earlier disagreement."

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

In Interview, Snyder Backtracks on High-Speed Rail: A Decision is "Premature," Governor Says

Getting chillier towards rebuilt rail? Michigan Daily
Governor Rick Snyder's campaign stance for reinventing Michigan transportation was fairly unequivocal. "Rick supports the establishment of a proper mass transit backbone in the state," read one of his position statements. "The move to high-speed rail and commuter trains to connect communities will require substantial investment and planning that must be part of a comprehensive vision to develop the state’s infrastructure." Yes, there was the requisite part about not "overburdening taxpayers and businesses," but Snyder seemed a rare pro-transit Republican in an era when prominent colleagues are sounding a call to arms against anything with rails.

Yet will Snyder have the fortitude to sustain that stance, when much of his party is opposed? He's just taken office, so it's too early to say for sure, but a new interview suggests he may be backtracking on his previous commitment to transit and, specifically, to high-speed rail. He now says it would be "premature" to support a high-speed rail system in Michigan without further analysis.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Weekly Trackback: Holding Out for a Gas Tax

Michigan boasts a number of strong sources for sustainable transport news and advocacy, but it doesn't have a site that tries to regularly aggregate them in one place. Until now! Welcome to Transport Michigan's first "Weekly Trackback," brand new for 2011, a complement to the more analytical articles the blog hosts.

The Detroit Free Press calls for increasing the U.S. gas tax, but insists we need a "national transportation policy," one that includes "greater investments in intercity rail and transit systems that relieve congestion, conserve energy, preserve air quality and lower the enormous costs of maintaining and expanding highways." Governor Snyder opposes a Michigan gas tax increase, but as the state's infrastructure crumbles, he's meeting with U.S. transport chief Ray LaHood to seek more cash from the feds.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Pundit Fights Sidewalk Past Lansing Home; Are Race, Class, Gender At Issue? [edited]

Ballenger and sidewalk site. Lansing State Journal
This is one of those cases where you don't know whether to laugh or cry. Bill Ballenger, the state's most powerful political consultant, is battling a proposed sidewalk past his riverside home in the state capital of Lansing. He calls the sidewalk project wasteful spending which would benefit only a few pedestrians, including "power-walking women" and poorer black residents to the north. Local clergy and Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero have criticized the remarks.

In a living room interview with a reporter from Lansing's City Pulse, Ballenger said the sidewalk would be used primarily by two groups: "power-walking women from Moores Park," another well-to-do riverside neighborhood, and “foot traffic from Jolly Road that is mostly lower income, largely African American.”

Read the full article here; the Lansing State Journal has a related story on the subject. After Lansing's Clergy Forum asked Ballenger to apologize for his "elitist, racist, and sexist" comments, Ballenger said the City Pulse had distorted them, saying he meant only to note that trail users he sees tend to be few and poor. "You can tell from their clothing," he said. “My next-door neighbor is African American, and we stand shoulder to shoulder on this (sidewalk) issue."

Michigan transportation politics is truly one mad, sad world.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

This Decade, No Time for Excuses

It's 2011 now, more than a century since the first Model T motored onto a Michigan street, more than fifty years since the last streetcar rolled down Detroit's Woodward Avenue. Most people alive today have never seen a Michigan whose cities weren't ruled by the automobile. We take its hegemony for granted, and the slow pace of our retreat from that mindset comes at our peril. This decade, it's time to accelerate.
"No moderation in a cause like the present."

Notwithstanding some recent advances, a feeling of helplessness still hangs over the state where our transportation system is concerned. Powerful interests continue to argue that transit could never work in Michigan, all facts to the contrary. A dedicated band of transit advocates, working with little assistance and less money, have fought for decades just to get a Detroit regional transit authority, let alone build modern rapid transit. In the struggle for a better Michigan transportation system, it often seems like every four steps forward get counterbalanced by three steps back.

Worse, the transportation fight is just one part of a much larger war, the war for Michigan's social, economic and ecological survival. We're losing that war, thanks in part to an antiquated mid-twentieth-century transportation system that strangles our cities, pumps millions in gas money out of state, and stokes the fire that's cooking our planet. In this context, the relative gains we have made are little more than continued retrogression. Rapid transit on Woodward may be in the works, but it's far from clear it will actually be rapid, and even Phoenix has light rail these days. As a famous Michigander once said, "You don't stick a knife in a man's back nine inches and then pull it out six inches and say you're making progress."