Thursday, July 29, 2010

SMART millage renewal--vote Aug. 3 in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb counties

Just got a sneak peek at the primary ballot for Macomb County. Here is the ballot language, verbatim:

If approved this proposal will renew the 0.59 mills levied by Macomb County in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 and allow continued support for public transportation through a contract with the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) or other public transportation authority, for the purpose of serving the elderly, handicapped and general public of Macomb County.
Shall the 0.59 mill, (59 cents per $1,000 of taxable value), increase on the limitation on the amount of taxes imposed on taxable property in Macomb County, which expired with the 2009 tax levy, be renewed for four (4) years, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013, inclusive, for public transportation through a contract with the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) or other public transportation authority, for the purpose of serving the elderly, handicapped and general public of Macomb County? It is estimated that the 0.59 mills would raise approximately $16.4 million when levied in 2010.

Of course I support the proposal, but something in the wording really burns me. In both paragraphs, to wit, "for the purpose of serving the elderly, handicapped and general public of Macomb County." I'm absolutely sick of the notion that mass transit is some kind of charitable service we run for the elderly and disabled. It is for the general public, and since it's accessible to the elderly and handicapped, it's a more general public than the motoring public. Also, the general public of Macomb County? What? It is for the general public of Macomb County, but it's also to make Macomb County more accessible for work, shopping, even tourism. And it's also about making Wayne and Oakland counties more accessible to the 'general public of Macomb County.'

The mainstream cultural norms of metro Detroit, especially in the suburbs, include a tendency to look down on apartment dwellers and bus riders as either deserving poor (elderly and disabled) or undeserving poor (LOSERS). Maybe that made a little bit of sense when the auto industry was a mass employer in the area, and there was a community spirit of supporting the industry that supported the community. More recently the 'Big Three' have made it perfectly clear that they intend their future to be dramatically less labor intensive, especially when it comes to American and other 'first world' labor. Only a handful of 'Big Three' jobs have been made available to the younger generations, and even then under a system that is frankly nepotistic. The auto industry is no longer a regional jobs engine and never again will be. At this point in our history, we as a community have nothing to lose by taking our transportation business elsewhere. Quite to the contrary. If anything our car-centric infrastructure and hypersuburban land-use patterns will make us obsolete at some point in the 21st century. Already there is a suburban underclass emerging in America.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

ANOTHER Oil Spill: 800,000 gallons in Kalamazoo River � It’s Getting Hot In Here

ANOTHER Oil Spill: 800,000 gallons in Kalamazoo River � It’s Getting Hot In Here: "That’s right, another oil spill.� Monday, July 26th, over 800,000 gallons (25,000 barrels) of oil from an Enbridge pipeline spilled into a creek that flows into the Kalamazoo River.

It appears that the spill was detected and shut off much faster than the Salt Lake City Oil Spill in June, but spewed nearly twice as much greasy scum as the Chinese Oil Spill just over a week ago.� It pales in comparison to the disaster in the Gulf, but is more than enough contamination for Michigan.

Enbridge, I should mention, is proposing a new tar sands pipeline to bring Canadian tar to Asian refineries.� Because we need more pipelines and tankers… Thankfully the Enbridge pipeline is facing massive opposition.

So that makes 4 major oil spills in 4 months.� Let’s hope that we learn to break this pattern."

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Miscellaneous rants concerning the greater Detroit area

Blanket the area with bus routes

I feel a need to reiterate my view that the poor and lower middle class populations are the natural constituency for mass transit in the Detroit area. The urban yuppies, downshifters and high-density-living trendsetters, bless their hearts, are important and vital components of the constituency, of course, and their voices need to be heard. Nevertheless, much of the Detroit area still romanticizes the postwar era, and ecological concerns being the driver of mass transit can still be framed as a call for some kind of altruism or voluntary austerity. The voices proclaiming transit as a screaming need also need to be heard.

It's reached the point where truly usable mass transit needs to be implemented immediately. Any rail-based system is a major up-front investment, and face it, the national and state polity is still such that 'infrastructure' is a fancy word for 'roads and bridges.' We need major restructuring of the infrastructure (roads and streets) and equipment (buses) that are already present. I don't personally give a damn whether DDOT and SMART can be combined into one system. As long as they continue to honor each other's transfers, their failure to do so is an inconvenience, not a deal breaker. Also, I'm willing to put my generally suspicious attitude toward privatization on the back burner if private sector bus service can actually get people within walking distance of where they have to go, especially if they have to go to work. I think a plurality of carriers can be accommodated by the road infrastructure if certain conventions and standards can be agreed on throughout the 'industry':

  • A bus stop is a bus stop, and a bus will stop at a bus stop if someone has stopped there to wait for a bus.
  • A bus route known by a certain name or number is the same bus route no matter who services it.
  • If you overlay the routes and schedules of all the carriers, you should have fewer gaps in service provision than under the status quo.
  • So I'm inclined to say, if we must do privatization, let's do it with the intent of maximizing competition (this means minimizing any hoops to be jumped through for a 'license'), and not privatization for the sake of privatization, especially whole-farm transfer of assets to a private entity, which I still think is just union busting by another name.

    Some thoughts on bus routes

    Except for 'inner city' Detroit, and some 19th century small towns that have been absorbed into greater Detroit as de-facto suburbs (Farmington, Plymouth, Center Line, Royal Oak, etc.), the whole area is under a grid of 'section line roads,' imposed by the Northwest Ordinance back in the day. In the local dialect these are of course called 'mile roads.' It seems simple enough. The name of the route is the name of the street. Instead of the Imperial Express covering most of Seven Mile road on the west side, then taking a turn on the Lodge nonstop to downtown, why not have a Seven Mile Bus that covers the length of Seven Mile all the way from the original St. John's Hospital on the east to Whitmore Lake on the west? Actually there is a Seven Mile bus, but it only goes as far west as the Detroit city limit. With a few kludges to patch in pre-war neighborhoods and natural interruptions of the mile-road grid such as rivers, such a system should be able to pick up or drop off a passenger within 0.707 miles of any location in the metro area. The Detroit system pretty consistently tracks the grid, but SMART's coverage map (pdf) has coverage gaps as much as eight miles wide, in suburbs as not-so-far-flung as Livonia (ALL of Livonia, whose residents excluded SMART service by defeating a SMART millage), Harrison Township, and more than half the land area of Sterling Heights and Troy.

    A Detroit subway?

    I half jest. Detroit, even Detroit proper, is sprawled out enough to make subways an impractical mode of transportation, but if LA can do it… Anyway, since most of Detroit's freeway miles are below-grade, I was thinking out loud the other day, what if they lay tracks, slap a roof over it and call it a subway? A web search on the search terms 'Detroit' and 'subway' of course yielded lists of locations of the ubiquitous Subway sub shop chain in Detroit, but there was a needle in the haystack, courtesy of one Matt, posting to Google SketchUp: Feast your eyes on this. Also, this. My own thought was that if the freeways become subway lines, maybe the freeway intersections become subway stations with a dual function as a locale for parking structures to accommodate the 'park-and-ride' concept. There's a lot of acreage in those fields of clover they call 'clover leafs.' Seems Matt would use the space for bus parking, which also sounds fine to me. Many current proposals by leading urban planners in Detroit call for 'transit villages,' starting with the already-operational Rosa Parks Transit Center. Given the total perfusion of the area by car culture, I think large-scale parking is an inevitably necessary feature for such a facility.


    I wish to call attention to Muskegon Critic's blog article on the Complete Streets initiative passed by the Michigan House. In it said Critic criticizes Muskegon, MI for being found wanting relative to some cities of comparable size in Iowa, in the area of walkability. This article also clued me in on experimentation by ultra-big-box retail chain Meijer with a downsized store concept in Niles, Illinois. I'm sure many of the lifestyle transit riders would like us all to shop at health food stores or better yet farmers' markets, but for many of us, there's major-chain supermarket food, and there's overpriced 'boutique' food, or worse, overpriced substandard 'urban supermarkets.' If the supermarket concept can adapt to pedestrians or bus riders, I've got no complaint. Happily the farmers' markets have been getting noticeable less 'few and far between,' although I find their hours of operation to be a rather narrow window of opportunity.

    2010 primary election

    The SMART bus system, as always, is at the mercy of the voters:

    SMART is seeking a millage renewal that will appear on the August third primary ballot. Voters in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb County will consider the 59 mill renewal, which translates into $59 per $100,000 of property value a year.

    So, unless you're some kind of anarchist (and in this case even if you are), be sure to vote.

    Sunday, July 4, 2010

    Divorce Your Car!: Free Public Transit

    Divorce Your Car!: Free Public Transit

    Among ideas for recovery -- from the Gulf spill, from oil addiction, from our economic doldrums – more investment in transit is near the top of the list. Now here’s another suggestion to layer in: make this free transit – with no fare charged at the point of use.