Posts Tagged ‘Public transit’

Will M1 RAIL become an M1 FAIL?

Friday, January 18th, 2013

The opinions expressed here are those of the m-bike blog, but you already knew that right?

Bikes, walkability and good transit are keys to forming an effective urban transportation system.

The shortcomings of Detroit’s transit — built on the DDOT and SMART buses systems and People Mover — are well documented.

We wish the M1 RAIL would be complement, but from all that we know to date, it won’t be. In many ways, it will diminish the urban transportation system.

Huh?

First, let’s make one clarifying point. The Detroit Woodward Light Rail project from downtown to Eight Mile was a good one, but it didn’t connect enough Detroiters to jobs nor tap into the more millage-rich surrounding counties. Governor Rick Snyder, Mayor Dave Bing, and U.S. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood changed this project into a Bus Rapid Transit system that would connect Oakland, Macomb, and Wayne Counties with a high-speed regional transit system. It’s a great solution and we support. This is exactly what this region needs for better transit.

But, once this project was no longer running on rails, the M1 RAIL investors restarted their 3-mile streetcar design — something that even they admit is a development project rather than a transit project. Development? Yes. studies show that permanent transit solutions like streetcars spur transit-oriented development along their routes. Guess what? So does Bus Rapid Transit.

There are some key points to keep in mind with the M1 RAIL. It starts at Larned and goes to Grand Boulevard. It runs mostly along the Woodward’s curbs except at the ends. Remember that Lego video that showed how curb running is slow and unsafe? The U.S. DOT’s Woodward Light Rail environmental review concurred as did the majority of the public comments.

Curb-running streets cars will run as slow as the slowest vehicle on the road. Streetcars can’t go around a stopped bus, a slow bicyclist, a parking car, etc. Even without anything in their way, the streetcars are expected to travel at 11 MPH — roughly equivalent to a beginning bicyclist.

This is a linear People Mover, but slower and is projected to carry fewer passengers.

Of course Detroit’s original street car system was center-running.

When asked, a M1 RAIL representative has said the curb versus center running was a “religious argument” among their investors.

If better transit was the goal, the M1 RAIL investors would have put money into level bus boarding stations and pre-sale ticket systems like NYC has. According to NYC’s transportation commissioner this was the best way to improve bus service reliability. It could have been implemented far more inexpensively. This would be a fix-it first strategy that relies on bus rapid transit to deliver transit-oriented development.

One other thought: why do you design a transit system that doesn’t directly connect with the Rosa Parks Transit Center or Cobo Hall or the Ren Cen?

Not Complete Streets

The reason for covering the transit issues first is to make clear that this is not an anti-transit article. We did not want this to read like bicyclists’ sour grapes. It’s not.

However, there’s another reason the Woodward Light Rail concluded that center-running operations was best rather than curb running. Curb running is significantly hazardous for cyclists. Bicycle wheels get caught in streetcar tracks causing serious injuries, and in some cities, lawsuits. This is why most cities don’t build curb running systems, or at least put them one side of one-way streets.

A very recent study found bicycling on streets with curb-running streetcar tracks is 300% more likely to cause a crash over a regular street like Woodward.

A center-running design would be a Complete Street. Putting the M1 RAIL at the curbs makes Woodward Avenue less Complete.

Now if you’ve following the recent Detroit Works Project unveiling, you’d have seen Complete Streets touted as a priority in Detroit.

According to the national experts, streetcar systems should design for safe bicycling from the start. MDOT and M1 RAIL did not. In fact, years ago MDOT’s Tim Hoefner said solving the bicycle safety issue was at the top of their to do list. Apparently they never got to it.

But its a public road

To date, MDOT has shown mostly indifference to this project’s negative impacts on bicycling. In exchange for a significantly less safe state-owned road they offered to put up some directional signs along a couple miles of Cass Avenue. Seriously.

MDOT has also said cyclists can use the sometimes parallel street, John R. Of course MDOT is removing the John R bridge over I-94 and in that project’s environmental review they said cyclists can use Woodward.

MDOT has been quick to deflect blame to others such as the Federal Highway Administration, but it’s a public road, they own most of it, and they have a Complete Streets policy. Why are they allowing a less-safe design based on some investors’ “religious argument?”

U.S. DOT’s role

From what we can gather in speaking with other sources is that the regular process rules are off the table. Secretary LaHood is so enamored with the investors’ commitment that he’s directed his staff to make it happen. And it’s Detroit — a laggard in the public transportation world.

That might explain why he’s giving the M1 RAIL group $25 million before the supplemental review process (which determines if it should be built) is even completed.

Other issues

And this discussion hasn’t gotten into other more significant issues like social equity. How do the investors justify building a redundant transit system when Detroiters and Detroit school children struggle to find mobility options with the current bus system? That is a far greater travety than any bicycling safety issue.

And where has the media been on this reporting? They’ve certainly covered the happy talk but so far have shown an unwillingness to look any deeper.

Now, what happens when Bus Rapid Transit comes to Woodward? At its ends, the M1 RAIL runs in the center where the Bus Rapid Transit will go. According to one transportation expert, M1 RAIL may have to get torn out.

There are many, many good people involved in the M1 RAIL and we all feel very passionate about doing the right thing for Detroit, but this project as currently designed doesn’t work. It’s a project heavy with investors and light on collaboration.

We need to do better.

Troy opposes transportation investments… again

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Troy, the “City of Tomorrow… Today” has been in the news lately with their recent rejection of federal funding for a transit station.

Now Brian Dickerson’s Free Press column, “In Troy, an all-too-familiar fear of the other” drops an H-bomb by calling them “hicks.”

To be a hick in 2011, then, is to be in a state of denial — which is why “hicks” is precisely the right word to describe Troy Mayor Janice Daniels and the like-minded elected city leaders who’ve sent Troy reeling backward in time, grasping for a past that is not so much racist or unsophisticated as it is, well, past.

But their real motive was transparent: the fear that outsiders currently disinclined to visit Troy may do so if enticed by a modern train station and convenient parking, at an incalculable cost to Troy taxpayers and their way of life.

This reminds us of a speech given by Horatio Earle in the late 1890s. Earle led the Good Roads committee for the League of Michigan Wheelmen — the state’s cycling body. He was in Troy to promote government investments in building good roads.

From his autobiography:

One night in Troy Township Hall, in Oakland County, where I was holding a meeting, it almost became a riot. I told them that they showed lack of intelligence, and gave me less consideration than would be shown a man in the center of Ethiopia; that some time they would be ashamed of themselves. And they have been; since then, they have made profuse apology.

The farmers said the muddy roads were good enough for them. They felt they were taxed enough already and they didn’t want city folks, especially bicyclists riding through their community.

Sound similar?

Now to be fair to Troy, Earle garnered the same negative reaction in nearby Royal Oak.

Then again, it’s likely that federal funding to improve the Royal Oak transit station would be greeted with celebration rather than controversy.

We should also mention again that Troy also created a citywide plan for non-motorized paths and Good Roads, now called Complete Streets. That plan also appears to be going nowhere.

Metro Detroiters blend bikes and buses

Saturday, December 17th, 2011

Detroit News Laura Berman recently wrote about two Metro Detroit women who trying to get around mostly by bike and bus. They’re not car-free but they are committed to that lifestyle.

[Julie] Funke, a certified public accountant who lives in Royal Oak and commutes downtown, and [Melissa] Damaschke, who recently moved from Ferndale to Detroit, are bike-and-busers by choice – a rare but growing population segment, aided by recent regional upgrades, including bike racks on buses and miles of new bike lanes in Detroit.

In 2010, the friends made a pact, agreeing to use pedals and public transportation to get to work and social engagements as frequently as they could.

As the article mentions, they are documenting this commitment on their blog, Two Women, Four Wheels.

Like Funke and Damaschke, “Tig3rzhark” is documenting his bus/bike experience with a blog called, The Trials and Tribulations of a Detroit Bicyclist. He’s been sharing his stories since the summer of 2009.

Of course there are many other Detroiters living car-free and getting around by bus and bike. Given the route cutbacks at SMART and DDOT, those numbers are likely to grow.

Model D Speaker Series: Urban Mobility

Monday, May 16th, 2011

From Model D Media:

Join us Thursday, May 26 to learn about the future of transit and cycling in the city. Panelists include Kenneth Cockrel, Jr., Detroit City Council; Todd Scott; Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance (MTGA); Kelli Kavanaugh, co-owner of Wheelhouse Detroit; Robin Boyle, Wayne State University and Carolyn Helmke, Chicago-based transportation consultant.

The program will take place at the Wayne State University Law School at 471 West Palmer in Midtown Detroit. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.; program begins at 6 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. Please register here.

Anyone who comes by foot, bike or bus will receive a nifty bicycle patch kit from Wheelhouse Detroit. It’s our little way of saying thank you for using alternative modes of transport.

This Model D Speaker Series event is presented by Model D Media, MSHDA and Wayne State University.

Woodward to get light rail and “bike paths”?

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

The Varsity News is reporting on a transportation symposium held at the University of Detroit-Mercy last week.

The symposium included a discussion on the proposed light rail project currently being planned for Woodward. It is hoped that ground will be broken on the first phase of this project by late next year.

According to the article, one person raised concerns about pedestrian and bicyclist safety.

[Board president of M1 Rail, Matt] Cullen said the system “will be very pedestrian friendly.”

The rail line will have stops at major sites, such as stadiums, colleges and the New Center area. It will create more foot traffic, and there will also be a bike bath.

“It allows you to explore further,” Cullen said.

We wonder if he meant bike lanes on Woodward. Others have asked for them and rumor is they are feasible.

If this is the case, it’s a big improvement over what Cullen told us last winter. He said bikes might be pushed off Woodward.

Light Rail Community Workshops

And speaking on the light rail project, DDOT is hosting community workshops next week.

Here are the details:

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