Posts Tagged ‘sprawl’

Legislation would eliminate 1% bike/walk funding

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

A group of bills were introduced in Lansing earlier this year that change how Michigan generates and distributes road funding.

These bills as written have many opponents. Bicyclists, pedestrians, trail users, and Complete Street supporters should be among them.

Here are three reasons.

Eliminates bike funding requirement

First, House Bill 5300 would transfer funding from the current Michigan Transportation Fund (MTF) to the Commercial Corridor Fund (CCF) over an 8 year period. The MTF and CCF distribute funds to counties, cities, and villages. The MTF requires 1% of the funding to be spent on non-motorized facilities like bike lanes and sidewalks. The CCF has no such requirement.

So rather than remove the 1% requirement in law, legislators are simply creating a new fund without the requirement and shifting the money. We’re not sure how intentional this change was, but it has been a long standing goal of the County Road Association of Michigan to remove this requirement.

Increases funding for sprawl

The current road funding is generally distributed based on the miles of roads. House Bill 5303 would change that to distribute funding based on motor vehicle miles traveled or VMT.

Counties and cities that require people to drive more and longer distances will be rewarded. There will be a financial disincentive for counties and cities to promote public transit, biking and walking as they’ll receive less money.

Forecasts from MDOT show the city of Detroit would see some devastating funding cuts as a result. Even if the fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees are raised significantly, the City will still lose 8% of their road funding. And since those tax and fee increases may not even occur, the loss will be even greater. The City has already testified against this change.

Ironically enough, the bill’s sponsor is former City Councilwoman Alberta Tinsley-Talabi.

Promotes speeding

Granted this is the weaker of the three sins, but it deserves a mention for its sheer stupidity.

House Bills 5301 and 5302 require counties, cities, and villages to time traffic lights but not for the speed limit. On a road that has enough speeding cars, this legislation requires road agencies to time the traffic lights for them, which will likely induce more speeding.

We’ve already heard of MDOT doing this on a local state trunkline. Now this practice will be enshrined in law.

Recommended action

We recommend you contact your state representative and state senator to let them know you oppose removing the 1% requirement and oppose distributing road funds according to vehicle miles traveled.

These bills have been out for more than a couple months now. We can’t afford to keep sitting on the sidelines.

With ever rising fuel prices and increasing public interest in Complete Streets, it is unacceptable that we change road funding that takes us back to the 1970s mind set.

Transportation key to young staying in Michigan

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

The Detroit News ran a commentary last month written by members of the Millennial Mayors Congress, which is “a partnership of city officials and rising leaders working together to address regional issues.”

Michigan’s transportation system is not getting young people where they need to go.

As citizens under 35, we know that not all of our peers can afford the $8,500 a year it takes, on average, to own a car. Some of us are looking to reduce our carbon footprints. Whatever the reasons, young people want to see a transportation system that gives everyone the freedom to get around, with or without a car. Unfortunately, failed transportation policies have been holding Michigan back.

Every year thousands of us leave for places that have functioning transit, safe biking and walking conditions, and convenient transportation between cities.

They also give support to Complete Streets.

We need to adopt a truly comprehensive “complete streets” policy, so Michiganians do not have to risk their lives to walk or bike.

It’s worth the time to read the entire opinion piece. It focuses mostly on public transit, which is expected since it was released during the recent Detroit light rail/bus rapid transit news.

Still widening highways

One minor correction? It speaks about MDOT widening highways in the past tense. MDOT is still widening highways.

Where did a majority of the transportation stimulus money go in Michigan? Widening an expressway. MDOT plans to spend well over a billion transportation dollars in Detroit over the next 20 years… to widen an expressway. Widening roads are still a funding priority for MDOT and many Metro Detroit municipalities.

Want to lose faith in Metro Detroit’s transportation decision makers? Take some time to review the road projects in SEMCOG’s transportation improvement plan (TIP).

Let’s look at the Road Commission for Oakland County’s 2012 TIP projects. They have $30.7 million in projects of which $21.8 million involves road widening.

Road agencies, SEMCOG, and others don’t like to publicize road widening projects because at the same time, they’re asking for more transportation funding.

They need the funding to continue building sprawl, but that’s not a good sales pitch — especially to millennials.

The Millennial Mayors Congress is also on Facebook.

Feds fail to fund Detroit’s inspired TIGER project

Friday, December 16th, 2011

[Disclaimer: I provided assistance to the city of Detroit on this TIGER grant application.]

It wasn’t a good week in Detroit for transportation news.

First came the light rail decision, and now this. The U.S. DOT did not select Detroit’s TIGER III grant.

There were 828 application and only 46 were selected. The odds weren’t good but Detroit’s $20 million grant request was first-class.

It was called Link Detroit, a Multi-model enhancement plan and a copy of it is available on the city’s web site.

The listed project benefits were:

  • Implements a $25 million infrastructure project that includes bridge replacements, streetscapes, on and off road non-motorized greenways ($20 million DOT grant, $5.8 million local match)
  • Links Detroit’s core investments such as the Riverfront Conservancy and adjacent downtown central businesses through the Dequindre Cut and Midtown Loop greenways to the Eastern Market, Midtown and Hamtramck
  • Intersects major transportation routes including auto, bus, and the planned Woodward Light Rail, enabling multi modal options from anywhere in the region
  • Enhances non-motorized and multi-modal connections to:
    • Jobs (downtown and midtown anchors, locally owned commercial/professional services, start up establishments, hotels and restaurants, eastern market district)
    • Educational institutions (Wayne State)
    • Cultural institutions (DIA, MOCAD, DSO, theatres)
    • Recreational opportunities (Milliken State Park, numerous city parks, marinas)
    • Famers market (Eastern Market)
    • Neighborhoods (Midtown, Hamtramck, East Villages)
  • Leverages significant investments already made in the transportation infrastructure (Campus Martius, Detroit RiverWalk, Woodward Light Rail, Dequindre Cut Greenway, Midtown Loop Greenway, Hamtramck Greenway) and real estate development (Downtown, Midtown, Eastern Market)
  • Provides 289 direct near term jobs, and up to 16,000 long term jobs, assuming the residential and commercial fill in development typically stimulated by this kind of investment

Can Detroit just reapply for TIGER IV? That’s uncertain.

Congress has asked that TIGER “focus on road, transit, rail and port projects.” One source says it’s not a ban on bike-ped oriented projects, but that future focus doesn’t help Link Detroit.

In addition, some of the matching funds will likely be spent before the next TIGER round, and therefore will become ineligible.

Detroit had received $25 million in the first round of TIGER grants. That money was to be spent on the Woodward light rail and will now be applied towards planning bus rapid transit. We don’t know what role this previous award and the city’s current financial situation had in this grant request cycle.

No Dequindre Cut Extension?

This does not stop the planned Dequindre Cut extension. The city has a purchase agreement for the private property from Gratiot to Mack and is now doing due diligence. The funding is there to keep moving this project forward.

Eventually the Midtown and Hamtramck connections will be built once the needed funding is found. TIGER III would have put these critical projects on the front burner.

Other Michigan TIGER grants

The only successful TIGER III grant was for $3.6 million to rebuild 2.6 miles of road in St. Clair County which “provides essential access to the County’s only landfill facility.” Yeah, that stinks.

That said, we’re not surprised the MDOT/Canton TIGER request was rejected. This was a $22 million project to improve the IKEA exit on I-275.

The required grant section on Livability appears to have been written in the 1980s or earlier. One claimed project benefit is it will improve the quality of life by having “a safer operational and connected network to and from the surrounding community and the freeway network.” That and they won’t remove the existing bike path.

The grant’s section on Alternative Transportation and Sustainable Development says, Canton is “committed to promoting sustainable development opportunities and alternative transportation options for residents.” Canton opted out of SMART. You cannot take the SMART bus to the IKEA store.

If anything, this is an example of why transportation in Michigan is not a sustainable model. We let a major traffic generator locate in an area which lacks the existing transportation infrastructure to handle it. And now Canton (and MDOT) want taxpayers to fix their $22 million mistake.

IKEA even mentioned in their support letter for this grant that “when IKEA was considering potential locations for our Michigan store, we had strong concerns about the interchange.”

But to be fair, there are other costly expressway exit examples, from the Chrysler headquarters to the Great Lakes Crossing at Baldwin. We have a history of funding mistakes.

The bottom line is Michigan can’t afford to keep ignoring the obvious relationship between land use and transportation.



The problem isn’t high gas prices. It’s the lack of choice.

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

Have you seen the price of arugula? It can be a pricey green for salads, but fortunately salad eaters have choices. That old iceberg lettuce is never that much money and the more dedicated can often grow their own. It’s good to have choices.

Unfortunately for many of us in Southeast Michigan, when it comes to high gas prices, we don’t have choices — at least in the short run. Much of Southeast Michigan is urban sprawl and car dependent by design with mediocre to no transit options. Except for the most urbanized areas, Southeast Michigan’s walkability and bike ability is mediocre to poor as well. Complete Streets are typically a resolution rather than reality.

So while 9% of those recently surveyed blame President Obama for the high gas prices, it’s surprising that local officials that have promoted sprawl are escaping the blame for this automobile dependence.

The area’s main sprawl supporter is L. Brooks Patterson who says:

I love sprawl.  I need it.  I promote it.  Oakland County can’t get enough of it.

Yes, believe it or not, that’s actually his quote. Why is he being given a pass?

Those living in sprawling communities have few options in the face of high gas prices. It’s affecting peoples’ quality of life. We have built much of this region in such a way that residents are more vulnerable to the price of oil — and we’re all paying the price.

It’s time we held this area’s politicians and planners more accountable and demanded better transportation choices.

Additional reading:
Drive to Spend: Sprawl and Household Transportation Expenses

Detroit’s urban biking: Attracting young professionals

Monday, March 7th, 2011

It’s often a challenge for the city of Detroit to compete with its suburbs in terms of schools, taxes, and city services. But there’s one feature most of the suburbs — especially the exurbs — can’t compete with Detroit: walkability and bikeability.

And this is critical as Gen Yers are less in love with cars and McMansions. They are shunning car dependence and showing a preference for more dense urban areas. And place matters.

So it’s not a surprise that Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is picking up on this.

Attracting young professionals to Detroit is a key piece to revitalizing the city and improving the economy, Mayor Dave Bing said Friday during his annual address to the business community.

Even as the city continues to lose residents, Bing said, young people are moving in and bringing creative ideas, fresh energy and investments with them.

That’s why Bing said he plans to make Midtown, a popular spot for young professionals and artists, an important component of his ambitious plan to reshape the city by creating denser neighborhoods with better services.

But Midtown has something most areas don’t — colleges, art galleries, bike paths, theaters, condos, boutiques and an eclectic assortment of bars and restaurants, all within walking distance of each other.

Okay, the bike paths aren’t in Midtown yet, but some are under construction and many more are planned.

While Bing appears to get it, we’re not sure other Metro communities do. But they should.

Theater of the Absurd

And if they don’t, they need to read this email from Andrew Basile, Jr., a patent attorney with Young Basile. It’s a must read.

If you don’t have the time, here are some highlights (emphasis ours).

We’d like to stay in Michigan, but we have a problem… Our problem is access to talent…  Most qualified candidates live out of state and simply will not move here, even though they are willing to relocate to other cities. Our recruiters are very blunt.  They say it is almost impossible to recruit to Michigan without paying big premiums above competitive salaries on the coasts.

Having moved here from California five years ago, I will testify that Metro Detroit is a very hard place to live.  Ask any former Detroiter in California, and you will hear a consistent recital of the flaws that make Metro Detroit so unattractive.  Things are spread too far apart.  You have to drive everywhere.  There’s no mass transit.  There are no viable cities.  Lots of it is really ugly, especially the mile after mile of sterile and often dingy suburban strip shopping and utility wires that line our dilapidated roads (note above). There’s no nearby open space for most people  (living in Birmingham, it’s 45 minutes in traffic to places like Proud Lake or Kensington).  It’s impossible to get around by bike without taking your life in your hands. Most people lead sedentary lifestyles. There’s a grating “car culture” that is really off-putting to many people from outside of Michigan.  I heard these same complaints when I left 25 years ago.  In a quarter century, things have only gotten considerably worse.

It truly is a great letter that shows how this area for the most part is not investing in place, nor walkability or bikability. And not doing a good job attracting young professionals, much less retaining those that are already here.

But if the Mayor has his way, Midtown will be an exception.