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.
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