Posts Tagged ‘Ray LaHood’

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.

Better for biking: Republican or Democrat?

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

We were recently asked which party is better for bicycling. As you might guess, the answer is “it depends.”

Generally speaking, over the past decade, Democrats have been more supportive of bicycling at the state and federal levels. ?At the National Bike Summit in DC, you can usually count on a friendly welcome with Senator Carl Levin or Congressman Gary Peters.

There certainly are Republican exceptions, of course.

Governor Rick Snyder seems to be a strong supporter of cycling. He seems to recognize it’s value from a tourism aspect as well as a means for attracting and retaining young adults. We’ll probably know more as he fleshes out his urban agenda over the coming months.

But perhaps an even bigger Republican bicycle supporter is U.S. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood. He’s really moved the conversation forward, tied it to livability, ?and given us “equal footing” in Washington DC. He vowed to retire as Secretary at the end of this presidential term, so it remains to be seen how his replacement will far. We’ve heard at least one very interesting rumor so far.

One thought to keep in mind is some Republican politicians support bicycling but are unwilling to support it at a federal or state level. I’ve heard it before that a politician supports bicycling but doesn’t think the federal government has a role. Or they are a supporter but not enough of one to buck the party vote. We’ve seen that too in Michigan.

So given the recent election results, we’re hopeful to see continued support for better, safer bicycling at the state and federal levels. It won’t be easy, but we could have been moving in a much more challenging direction.

We should also mention that the failure of State Proposal 6 decreases the potential headaches while building a new bridge to Canada, one that has bicycle access.

Biking the bridge(s) between Detroit and Windsor

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

The proposed New Internationals Trade Crossing (NITC) bridge moved closer to reality this past week.

From Crain’s Detroit Business:

At a press conference at the Hilton in downtown Windsor, Gov. Rick Snyder and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a joint effort to build the $2.1 billion New International Trade Crossing between Detroit and Windsor.

The project could start in 2013 or 2014, and work is expected to take at least four years.

This was a big deal. Even U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was present. He talked about it on his blog.

As everyone who has worked so hard to make this project happen knows, the new crossing will be much more than a road across the Detroit River. With jobs and economic growth, both of our countries will prosper from the new connection.

Neither LaHood nor Snyder made a comment about biking across the new bridge, but that is in the design plans as we noted back in December.

Bike the Ambassador Bridge

The annual Bike the Bridge event was also this past weekend. The Windsor Star covered the event and included these comments from Windsor City Councilor Halberstadt:

Ward 3 Coun. Alan Halberstadt, who sits on the Windsor Bicycling Committee, said part of the purpose of the annual event is to raise awareness that a bike connection is needed across the border. He said they will be pushing to have a bike route added to the existing Ambassador Bridge or included in plans for the new bridge.

“It just makes sense. Cycling is becoming more and more popular for health and economic reasons and it’s a great tourism attraction to have Americans come over here,” said Halberstadt.

House transportation bill: a disaster for biking and walking

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Since 1993, biking and walking transportation have been better supported with each new transportation bill: Safe Routes to School, Transportation Enhancements, Bike/Pedestrian coordinators at the state DOT’s, and more.

That’s could end soon.

Today the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee voted on a new federal transportation bill — an 800-page bill that none of the legislators admitted to reading since its release just two days prior.

Current U.S. DOT Transportation Secretary and form Republican congressman Ray LaHood told Politico:

“This is the most partisan transportation bill that I have ever seen. And it also is the most anti-safety bill I have ever seen. It hollows out our No. 1 priority, which is safety, and frankly, it hollows out the guts of the transportation efforts that we’ve been about for the last three years. It’s the worst transportation bill I’ve ever seen during 35 years of public service.”

Oregon’s Representative Peter DeFazio called it “a transportation bill with an ideological wish list – drafted with Big Oil companies in mind – that will prevent Congress from passing a measure that could provide real transportation improvements.”

The League of American Bicyclists have put together this top 10 list of problems. For example, rail trails could not be funded by Transportation Enhancement dollars. The Dequindre Cut, Clinton River Trail, Macomb Orchard Trail, and other area rail-trail projects were largely built with Transportation Enhancement dollars.

A bipartisan amendment was introduced to restore dedicated biking and walking funding. It failed to pass, 27 to 29.

Michigan Congresswoman Candice Miller, a longtime support of the Macomb Orchard Trail, voted against the amendment.

What’s next? According to this America Bikes timeline, the bill should hit the House around the week of February 13th.

Meanwhile the Senate is working on its own version of the transportation bill which not only maintains current biking and walking funding, it has some level of bi-partisan support.

Tomorrow the House Republican leadership has proposed killing dedicated public transit funding.

 

Woodward Corridor lands huge Complete Streets grant

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Here’s some exciting news about Woodward that has nothing to do with the Dream Cruise.

Senator Carl Levin’s office and the Federal Highway Administration just announced a $752,880 grant for “developing a Complete Streets plan for Michigan’s 27-mile Woodward Avenue corridor that connects 11 communities and two Southeast Michigan Counties.”

“Transportation investments like these will create jobs and improve the quality of life for Michigan residents as well as strengthen the state’s economy,” said Secretary [U.S. DOT Secretary Ray] LaHood. “The demand from the states for these funds shows just how critical the need is for infrastructure investment.”

The funding is being awarded to the Woodward Avenue Action Association (WA3) who will be releasing more details soon.

WA3 has been a big supporter of Complete Streets and they are members of the Detroit Complete Streets Workgroup.

It will be interesting to see how this new planning effort fits with some prior Woodward bike/walk plans, the forthcoming Royal Oak non-motorized plan, and the Woodward Light Rail project.

But as for the Dream Cruise, there is a Complete Streets connection. The best way to move within the Woodward Corridor during the Cruise is on foot or by bike. Making Woodwared a Complete Street could give better, safer, and faster transportation options during the event.

Complete Streets Resolution passes

And in related news, Oakland County Commissioners passed a Complete Streets resolution for the county.

Special thanks to everyone who contacted their commissioner. It worked.