Friday, August 8, 2008

Getting Around

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a SEMCOG public forum on regional transportation issues. They held three of these around Southeast Michigan. I attended a session at Washtenaw Community College.

The results of the public forums have just been posted. You can read the full results of the survey done with forum attendees and see how we doled out the 100 SEMCOG "bucks" the presenters gave us to spend, if you are so inclined, but I can tell you [Spoiler alert] most people think our public transit system in the region is inadequate and more money should be spent on it. Astounding, eh?

I found the meeting to be disappointing overall. It didn't have much depth to it and it was hard to not snicker at hard-hitting polling items designed to gauge our level of agreement with statements such as this: "The region's transportation system has an impact on the region's economy."

Sniping aside, here are a few important points that did emerge from the meeting: First, "non-motorized transportation" is an awkward/inadequate category (one of six that SEMCOG focuses on). As one who frequently uses a bike as transportation, I found that lumping biking and walking together tended to pull the discussion in the "recreation" direction and away from "transportation." The focus then becomes more on expensive-to-build paved paths ($300,000/mile... just for comparison, it might be helpful to know that a 2-lane road only costs $950,000/mile!) and less on bike routes/lanes, sensors at lights that can detect bikes, and other fixes that would promote transportation/commuting by bike. Bike lanes are cheaper than paths and have more in common with other SEMCOG categories (such as "pavement" and "bridges"), but being lumped in with non-motorized seems to make these connections secondary.

The SEMCOG representative with whom I spoke about non-motorized transportation confirmed that this is, more than any of the other categories, the most intensely local issue. In other words, planning for regional non-motorized transportation has been quite difficult and, in some cases, is a non-starter. Considering that, those of us interested in such issues and interested in shaping the planning in this area, need to be working on the county, city, and township level. SEMCOG's planning for Direction2035 (the regional plan they are now developing) will move to this level during the winter (Nov.-March) and those are meetings -- with both regional and local officials -- that we will want to be attending.

Second, the regional rail project between Ann Arbor and Detroit is moving ahead. There was some big grant that was going to launch this initiative in style, but it didn't come through. Instead, a shoe-string budget, some heavy negotiation, and probably some political slight of hand is going to produce a much more modest system to be up and running by 2010. I'm stupidly excited about this. I don't care if it's third-hand rolling stock and passengers have to use an old loading dock as a station platform -- being able to train to Dearborn for my work would be gorgeous... half an hour to doze or read instead of drive. Oh yes, please.


TeacherPatti said...

I love the A2-Detroit rail idea, but here is the will you get from the train to where you work? My school is about 5 miles from I-96 (presuming there would even be a line that hugged 96). Sorry, but I'm not riding a bike through the west side of Detroit at 7 in the morning when it's dark out (much of the school year). I don't think I'll ever get to the point where I feel confident enough to ride my bike under those circumstances. I really truly do teach in the "hood"...I always see drug transactions taking place when I drive to lunch.
Did the report mention that, or is it just assumed that the major stops will be in the downtown Detroit area?

Zoe the Wonder Dog said...

I'll walk or ride my bike. Bikes may not be allowed on the train, but if that is the case, I will get a beater bike to lock up at the station.

I don't know where the terminus is in Detroit, but what about connecting to a bus? Sorry to not have much to suggest, but I teach in the 'burbs, ya know.

biscodo said...

Patti: "what do you do when you get off the train?"

Metro rail transit is generally integrated into a "system". Where the train stops, usually there are multiple bus routes that pass by the station. (e.g. the Detroit-AA route will likely run on the existing Amtrak rail, which has a station at Woodward and Baltimore downtown near the DIA. Then the 415/420 bus connects south to Jefferson and north all the way to 14 mile.)

A well-run intermodal system will have the train schedules synchronized to some extent with the bus schedules so that when people get off the train, there is a bus coming soon. Or if you're taking the bus to the station, it gets there in time for the next train.

The connection to via rail between AA/Detroit and Detroit Metro Airport is already on the SEMCOG proposed route map and will be by bus (there's no rail loop to DTW).

Zoe - if you leave a bike at the station, even a junker, I'd recommend having a backup plan (i.e. bus) available. A bike locked up at the same place overnight, every night, is a target for thieves and vandals. Sure, a $20 bike is cheap to replace if it's stolen, but imagine if you're running late or a tight schedule, and you get to the station and the bike isn't there, or has a flat, or is damaged and unrideable... I'd prefer rentable bike lockers at the station myself, but I haven't seen SEMCOG talking about that (yet).

biscodo said...

oh yeah, and about the dollars for pavement - I talked with some of those SEMCOG people at the presentation - the $950k is per "lane mile", meaning a new 2-lane road, built to current law and specifications, costs about $1.9M when you're building a 30-50 year road, with all the underlayment and signage and traffic signals and curbs and ADA compliant crosswalks, etc. However, your typical asphalt repaving (i.e. "mill and overlay") costs significantly less.

TeacherPatti said...

Thanks for the info, Andy! Now, the next thing that would have to happen is that the Detroit bus system would have to be improved. (I'm sorry--I'm making things really difficult :) )

Some of our summer school kids who were working could not take the bus because they were harassed so much, especially the females.

I would like to see this mass transit thing for people like me and Zoe of course, but also for people like my kiddos who will likely never be able to drive (because of their eyesight). But of course, it needs to be safe....

TeacherPatti said...

Stop the presses. I just found out from YpsiPearl that you want to start a commune. So do I! Dibs on being the beer brewing chick. :)