Cynical Synapse

Wed, 14 Dec 2011

Detroit’s Woodward Light Rail Torpedoed

Detroit light rail sinks
Image by Jerry Paffendorf. HT: Detroit Curbed

Big news in the Motor City today is the “sudden” cancellation of the Woodward Light Rail project slated to begin construction within the next year. The line would run up Woodward Avenue from downtown Detroit to the city limits at 8 Mile Road. The US Department of Transportation had already awarded federal funds toward the program, with more promised. Awards included $2 million for the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) to study expanding the line into the northern suburbs. The project, including its extension, seemed to have local, regional, state, and federal backing&ellipses;until now.

Known as M-1 Rail, for Woodward’s designation as Michigan state highway 1 (M-1), several years of planning and discussions, including such hurdles as environmental impact studies, are already done. Perhaps more significantly, the transit line represented a new era of regionalism and cooperation between city and suburbs. Add to that the $100 million in private seed money to jump start M-1 and you can sense the larger importance of Woodward light rail. Even now, the M-1 Rail consortium wants to build the 3.4 mile phase I line in Detroit. Full disclosure: I’m a rail and transit enthusiast. When entrepreneurs and private foundations still want to invest their money, civic leaders should pause and take notice.

bus rapid transit

Initially I had Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood cast as the bad guy. He met with Detroit Mayor Dave Bing (D) and Gov. Rick Snyder (R) last week, so I presume this announcement has been festering since then. Even Detroit City Council had no clue, interviewing project managers just this week. It becomes apparent, however, Mayor Bing made the decision; perhaps under duress from Gov. Snyder who is not a rail proponent. In place of the Woodward light rail line is a proposal for several bus rapid transit lines. According to Bing, this is the right decision for Detroit and the region. Except no one asked the transit folks at SEMCOG, or Detroit City Council, or Detroit’s congressional delegation, any of which seem none too happy with this turn of events.

Mayor Bing contends the same money will buy bus rapid transit from downtown Detroit out Woodward and Gratiot into Oakland and Macomb Townships, a line between those suburban endpoints, and another connecting downtown Detroit with Metro Airport. There’s no question such a plan would serve more than Woodward light rail alone. As M-1 Rail points out, however, there’s been no work on funding, no environmental impact studies, or any other preparatory work. Bus rapid transit is, thus, at least a couple of years down the road—pun intended—before the first shovel-ful of dirt is turned. Never mind Detroit already has two dysfunctional bus systems. The “plan” is to overlay bus rapid transit so it complements the current Detroit Department of Transportation (D-DOT) and Suburban Mobility Authority for Rapid Transt (SMART) bus systems. Just what we need, a third metro Detroit bus system.

Besides my predictable chagrin at yet another nail in the coffin of Detroit rail transit, the region is left as the only major metropolitan area without an integrated transit system and, particularly, no light or commuter rail or subway systems. Taking a more pragmatic view, however, loss of the Woodward light rail line equates to a loss of an estimated $3 billion in development along the light rail route. Bus systems do not bring the same degree of transit-oriented development as rail. Did I point out the entrepreneurs behind M-1 Rail still want to proceed with at least phase I construction?
 

Previously on metro Detroit transit:

Mon, 31 Oct 2011

In Detroit, Pumpkins Decorate You

Filed under: Detroit, Driving, Good job, Helping others, holidays, Humor, Life, People, Society — cynicalsynapse @ 1:41 pm

pumpkins littering I-696

Detroit has a long-standing tradition of beginning Halloween celebrations early; not always in the best light. This year was no exception as the holiday period kicked off, not with a famous act, or even an act of vandalism. North suburban Farmington Hills saw the arrival of the smashing pumpkins on I-696 last Wednesday, just in time for the morning commute. Drivers had to carve their way through the bouncing gourds which shattered at least one windshield but caused no injuries. According to Pat Carmichael, who witnessed the mayhem:

There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of these pumpkins… There’s [sic] three lanes that are just covered with smashed pumpkins. I’m just now getting toward Telegraph and the truck’s been pulled over by a police officer. The back of the truck has been sheared off.

damaged I-696 pumpkin truck

Police said the driver, Brian Rose, could be cited for having an unstable load, which carries a $150 fine. But, Rose said he was cut off and struck a bridge pier. Excuse me? Why didn’t he stop to see if there was any damage? How about a ticket for fleeing the scene of an accident? How about restitution for the cost of clean up? As you can see at right, Rose’s hitting the bridge pier was more than just a little bump or scrape.

Later that same Wednesday, Detroit Zoo animals began their own Halloween festivities. In an effort to stimulate their natural behaviors, they were given pumpkins filled with appropriate treats. Some played with or guarded their treasure gourds while others enjoyed dismantling them in one manner or another. The Zoo was also decorated for Halloween, including zombies, which are not part of the Zoo’s regular exhibits.

During the mid-70s to mid-90s, Detroit’s early “celebrations” saw out-of-control arsons, approaching around 800 in later years. In 1995, then Mayor Archer countered Devils’ Night with Angels’ Night. Over the last 15 years, the Halloween holiday has become one of Detroit’s safest. The Angels’ Night mobilizations, which take place over about a 3 day period, are a model of a community taking back its streets. Kids can go trick-or-treating; adults can go on their zombie walks; everyone can have a good time. This is the real D and this is where we’re headed.
 


 

Mon, 17 Oct 2011

A Tale of Two Dysfunctional Systems

Filed under: Budget, Customer service, Detroit, Economy, Governor, Michigan, Politics, Stimulus, Transit — cynicalsynapse @ 8:17 pm

city and suburban buses in downtown Detroit

Detroit and its suburbs enjoy bus service from not one, but two dysfunctional systems. Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) buses primarily serve the city while Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) buses serve the suburbs, including forays into downtown Detroit. It’s not at all uncommon to see buses from one, the other, or both, chasing each other—even leap-frogging as one stops while another goes to the next stop. As many as half of DDOT’s buses are in the shop waiting to be fixed. Even former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick knew way back in 2004 that DDOT was a broken system. As for SMART, individual suburbs can opt out, so the system has traverse these unserved areas to connect those that are served. Declining property values left SMART underfunded by its millage, so the system plans to lay off 123 and cut or eliminate service on 36 routes.

Nine years ago, Southeast Michigan was on the cusp of a solution called the Detroit Area Regional Transportation Authority (DARTA). After years of negotiating and political maneuvering, the Michigan House and Senate had passed the necessary legislation. Then, in a moment of extreme self-importance and political spitefulness, the Jaba-the-Hut-esque John Engler (R) vetoed the bill mere nanoseconds before his rotundness rolled out of office as his term as governor expired. Thanks, John. The region has been paying the price ever since.

Peter Rogoff, Mayor Dave Bing, Sec. Ray LaHood, Gov. Rick Snyder

Ray LaHood, US Secretary of Transportation, was in metro Detroit today to meet with Detroit Mayor Dave Bing (D) and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) regarding transit in Southeast Michigan. During a press conference with Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff, LaHood announced $928.5 million in grants to over 300 projects nationwide. For once, Michigan faired well, snagging about 5% of the grant money. Ann Arbor will get $3.8 million, DDOT $6.8 million, and SMART almost $5 million of Michigan’s $46.7 million share to fund 16 projects.

The elephant in the room is still getting city and suburbs to put their differences aside and craft a true, workable transit solution for Southeast Michigan. Imagine how much farther along we would be if Engler hadn’t been such a jackass.
 

Well! The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Previously on Southeast Michigan transit:

Wed, 28 Sep 2011

Detroit: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Filed under: Detroit, Economy — cynicalsynapse @ 6:08 pm

Detroit Renaissance Center

Metro Detroiters are fiercely loyal to the D. We’re so accustomed to negative news, it’s a pleasant surprise to hear something good about Southeast Michigan. Such was the case yesterday when I heard only Detroit and Washington DC saw housing values increase over the last year. Unfortunately, experts think renewed foreclosures will erase any gains achieved during the Feds looking into robo-signing and other lender irregularities.

After a nearly 3 year investigation, the former chief and 5 other Romulus police were charged in a corruption scandal. Former chief Michael St. Andre faces 10 charges; he and his wife could each be sentenced to 20 year terms. What’s bad is the allegation the chief and detectives used drug forfeiture money to buy drugs (marijuana), alcohol, and pay for prostitutes. Their criminal enterprise converted tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars to personal gain, but I can’t believe the amounts were worth the penalties they face.

Detroit map

Detroit and its suburbs have a love-hate relationship. Coleman A. Young, the city’s first Black mayor, characterized Detroit as surrounded by hostile suburbs. The suburbs, for their ugly part, are reluctant to play nice with Detroit. There are separate city and suburban bus systems—DDOT and SMART—in the tri-county service area. The suburbs get their water from Detroit Water and Sewerage, and the suburbs regularly posture for more control of the board.

Fundamentally, though, city and suburban acrimony stem from the 1967 Detroit riot. The region is still struggling, 44 years later, to move beyond its past. This is not rocket science, folks. Detroit needs the suburbs and Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties need the city. Like Rodney King said, “Can’t we all just get along?”
 

As an aside, it’s interesting to note then Gov. George Romney—father of presidential candidate Mitt Romney—called out 4,000 Michigan National Guardsmen in response to the riot. Subsequently, Romney requested Federal troops to augment DPD, the State Police, and National Guardsmen. While I’m not wearing his shoes, that’s a pretty significant escalation of forces in a very short period of time. It’s also a part of the elder Romney’s legacy you don’t hear anyone talking about, considering 43 (34 rioters) lost their lives in the 4 day period.
 

Tue, 20 Sep 2011

Matty Moroun the Loon; Efficacy of a Second Detroit-Windsor Bridge

Filed under: Business, Detroit, Driving, Economy, Government, Greed, Michigan, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 5:47 am

MDOT gateway project

Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and billionaire Manuel (Matty) Moroun’s Detroit International Bridge Co. (DBIC) had a legal agreement on the Gateway Project to connect I-75 and I-96 directly to the privately-owned Ambassador Bridge. Construction, which cost Michigan taxpayers $230 million and shut down I-75 to facilitate construction for over a year. Still, DBIC failed to live up to its commitments and 18 months after a court order to comply, DBIC is no closer to meeting its obligations.

At the heart of the matter, DBIC wants to twin its Ambassador Bridge. Officials in Canada and the US oppose twinning the Ambassador Bridge. While Canada and Michigan consider a second bridge across the Detroit River, Moroun and DBIC don’t want to hear about competition from a government-owned span. Uh, did it even occur to you guys if you’d simply lived up to your agreement with MDOT, which steers traffic (or would if DBIC didn’t block it) to the very doorstep of the Ambassador Bridge?

twin spanning the Ambassador Bridge

What makes this newsworthy today? It seems Matty Moroun and/or DBIC have been running ads against the proposed publicly-owned bridge. In fact, Ambassador Bridge owners have spent $4.7 million on advertising opposing a public Detroit-Windsor bridge this year alone. That’s a lot of money on local advertising.

In the past, DBIC claimed there is not enough traffic to support an additional span. If that’s true, why does DBIC want to build its own twin span? Obviously DBIC believes current, or future, traffic at the busiest US-Canadian crossing warrants another bridge. The question is, should it be publicly owned or subject to the whims of Moroun’s monopoly? Considering DBIC’s record on living up to its agreements, the public option seems in the best interests. Just sayin’.

What’s really interesting about this is both former Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) and current Gov. Rick Snyder (R) support the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) public span, at odds with Moroun’s second private span.
 

Previously on the Ambassador Bridge:

Tue, 06 Sep 2011

Irony: Arethra Franklin Sings Chain of Fools Before Obama Speech

Filed under: Detroit, Economy, Government, Michigan, Politics, President — cynicalsynapse @ 8:55 pm

Aretha Franklin in Detroit

President Barack Obama spoke in Detroit on Labor Day about the comeback of the Big 3 automakers and the importance and significance of labor unions. The warm-up before the speech included Aretha Franklin singing Chain of Fools. Is anyone else seeing the irony here?
 

Mon, 05 Sep 2011

In Detroit: Obama’s Jobs Plan? Just Stimulus 2.0

Filed under: Budget, Detroit, Economy, Government, Politics, President, Stimulus — cynicalsynapse @ 7:31 pm

black hole

Sen. Debbie Stabinaw (D-MI) was there. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI-14) led cheers for jobs. Seriously? Can anyone see Conyers cheering for anything? His speaking style is the most depressing I’ve ever seen or heard. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) rode with the President on Air Force One to Detroit. It was like a black hole of hope amidst the ruins of reality.

Obama speaking in Detroit

At a Labor Day speech in Detroit, President Obama praised unions, which isn’t a surprise considering the event he spoke at was an AFL-CIO rally. But, Obama fell back on the meme of the failed Stimulus bill:

We’ve got roads and bridges across this country that need rebuilding. We’ve got private companies with the equipment and the manpower to do the building. We’ve got more than 1 million unemployed construction workers ready to get dirty right now. There is work to be done and there are workers ready to do it. Labor is on board. Business is on board. We just need Congress to get on board.

So, while unemployment remains at 9.1% and there were zero jobs added to the US workforce in August, Obama’s solution is just a repeat of the ineffective Stimulus from 2008. It didn’t work then, so why would it work now?
 

Tue, 09 Aug 2011

Detroit Loses a Treasure in Focus: HOPE Founder’s Passing

Filed under: Civil liberties, Detroit, Education, Helping others, Heroes — cynicalsynapse @ 8:11 pm

Eleanor Josaitis

It’s no secret Detroit has its problems, but Focus:HOPE is one of its gems. Today we mourn the passing of one of Focus:HOPE’s founders, Eleanor Josaitis. While others fled Detroit following the 1967 riots, Josaitis moved into the city. She co-founded Focus: HOPE with Fr. William Cunnigham in 1968.

For the next 43 years, Josaitis worked to bring social justice, civil rights, and improved job skills to underpriviledged Detroiters. She cared about her community and its residents. Her goal was to overcome racism, poverty, and injustice. Josaitis frequently said:

There’s no greater way to eliminate racism and poverty than to see that people have education, skills, jobs and opportunities in life.

job training at Focus:HOPE

Josaitis’ legacy is an organization that provides an after-school photography program, gives people necessary and relevant job skills, and education, including engineering degrees.

Eleanor Josaitis “believed in Detroit and its people and believed each one of us can make a difference. … Her influence was felt from board rooms to soup kitchens.” Eleanor Josaitis was part of what makes Detroit great.
 

Previously on Focus: HOPE:

Mon, 07 Feb 2011

Never Underestimate Detroit

Filed under: Bailout, Business, Cars, Congress, Detroit, Economy, Sports — cynicalsynapse @ 7:30 pm

Spirit of Detroit

Detroit, like any urban area, has had its issues, some for a very long time. And some have a considerable way to go before resolution. But never underestimate the spirit of Detroit.

When the Big 3—General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler—were in deep financial trouble, many wanted to write them off. Now they’ve rebounded and it turns out the real quality issues are with one of those much-touted Japanese car companies.

As if with some kind of synergy, Chrysler introduces the 200 model by highlighting the strengths of the Motor City. Don’t dis the D because it will never be out. Not even when everyone wants to write it off.

Sat, 22 Jan 2011

Tigers Finally Retire Sparky’s Number

Filed under: Detroit, Heroes, Sports — cynicalsynapse @ 4:21 pm

Sparky Anderson

Sparky Anderson is baseball’s Detroit Tigers’ winningest manager of all time. He took the team to World Series contentions in 1984, 87, and 88, seizing the title in 1984. Sparky was the first manager to win the Series in both American and National Leagues. He was with the Tigers for 16 years, retiring in 1995. Many fans think the Tigers should have retired Sparky’s number 11 while he was alive. He certainly deserved that recognition.

The Tigers had their chance when Sparky Anderson attended a game with recognition ceremony for the 1984 World Series victory 25 years after it happened. Just a year later, the Hall of Fame Manager died November 4, 2010. Now the Tigers will retire Sparky’s number 11 this year. Players will also wear a “Sparky 11” patch and an “11” flag will fly at Comerica Park for the 2011 season.

Rest in peace, Sparky. Thanks for what you did for Detroit and Michigan.

Older Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: