Cynical Synapse

Thu, 24 Nov 2011

Nothing to Be Thankful For? Think Again

Filed under: Behavior, Driving, holidays, Life, People, Roads — cynicalsynapse @ 12:07 pm

blessings we take for granted

A couple nights ago, I picked my car up from the dealership and was enroute home on the rain-soaked Interstate. Just 15 minutes into my trip, the car started losing power. I managed to work my way from the left lane to the exit before the car died along the side of the ramp. Fortunately, the dealer hadn’t yet closed and they agreed to come collect me. I’m sure, like me, they didn’t think the problem was related to any work they had done.

While I was sitting on the side of the ramp, I realized I’d been lucky this happened when and where it did and that I was able to get ahold of the dealership. Still, as is human nature, I couldn’t help thinking how this was one more trial in a year that seems to have more than its share of tribulations. At the very same moment, the police were working an accident scene just a few miles ahead on the same Interstate I had been on. A women had been struck and killed while attempting cross the highway.

My little problem saved me the aggravation of the traffic backups on the Interstate. More importantly, all of my problems pale in comparison to that young lady’s death and the tragic loss to her family, especially before the holiday. I’m thankful for my car’s acting up because that girl’s death has more significance to me. I have a heck of a lot of things to be thankful that I too frequently take for granted. Do you?

Enjoy time with family and friends. Be thankful for what you have. And have a great, safe, and happy Thanksgiving!

HT: Stealth Magnolia

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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.
 


 

Sat, 29 Oct 2011

Snyder’s Romneyesque Approach to Michigan Transportation

Filed under: Driving, Government, Governor, Hypocrits, Michigan, Politics, Roads, Taxes, Transit — cynicalsynapse @ 1:48 pm

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R)

Although I’ve got to give Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) credit for thinking outside the box, splitting hairs doesn’t change the growing deviation from his own campaign rhetoric. While more subtle than flip-flopping Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Snyder is still back-pedaling from previous positions. Regarding his proposals for road and transit improvements, the disconnects are more significant than they appear at first glance. As a reminder, here’s candidate Snyder’s view on transportation funding in October 2010:

Asked if he’d support increasing Michigan’s gas tax, given that the state has the nation’s worst-maintained roads, Snyder said no, “because we need to get efficient first” with the state’s existing transportation funds. …

“So let’s get efficient about where we’re deploying these dollars. There’s a much better way to do things, and that’s what we should focus on first.”

First, the Governor wants a revenue-neutral change in the fuel tax. Snyder’s plan eliminates the 19-cent “current gas tax on consumers”, shifting it to a percentage at the wholesale level. Wow! I won’t have to pay state gas tax anymore! Except, does anyone believe wholesalers won’t pass the cost of that tax onto retailers? Is the average retailer likely to discount his pump price by the amount of the wholesale tax passed to him? As the Brits would say, not bloody likely. While this proposal is initially revenue-neutral for the gas tax, a percentage tax on wholesale fuels will go up as prices rise. The proposal includes another hidden tax increase. Michigan levies sales tax, presently 6% on goods sold, including gasoline. Retailers don’t include the current 19-cent gas tax when calculating the sales tax. Since the wholesale tax will be part of the price retailers pay, it will now become subject to the 6% sales tax. On day one of a wholesale tax, Michigan will collect more than a penny per gallon in additional taxes from consumers. So much for “revenue-neutral”; never mind Michigan’s fuel taxes are already among the highest in the country.

fuel tax comparison by state

Next up, Snyder figures Michigan needs an extra $10 per month from every vehicle registration. Sounds minimal, but that’s $120 per year, on top of what you’re already paying for license tabs. As Stephen Henderson noted, it disproportionately impacts poor people.

It’s a big hit to people’s wallets in a state still struggling to rebound from a decade-long recession. A family with three cars registered to one person would have to fork over $360 extra all at once.

From my perspective, the increased vehicle registration fees are neither logical nor beneficial. Snyder says they will raise about $1.4 billion for roads. They will also price many out of their cars in a state with few functioning transportation options. Don’t be surprised if there is an increase in license plate thefts or cutting their corners off to get someone else’s current year tab. Here’s a novel concept: how about charging heavier weight vehicles for the road damage they cause? A 5,000-pound car exerts a mere 2,500 pounds per axle while Michigan allows up to 17,000 pounds—nearly seven times that of the car—per axle. Financing road repairs also needs to ensure non-resident users pay their share, not just Michiganians. Earlier this year, a bipartisan legislative report said Michigan needs $1.4 billion more for roads each year. Coincidence? I think maybe not.

road workers

Snyder also proposed voluntary elimination of county road commissions, folding their responsibilities into general county government. Such a move would save money by eliminating a separate bureaucracy and improve accountability, through county commissioners, to county residents. Since I absolutely abhor my road commission, I’m tempted to support this proposal. The only problem is Snyder wants counties to be able to levy their own $40 vehicle registration fees on top of the state’s. In the 3 car example, the cost now skyrockets to $780, based on a $100 per car average at present, plus the added $120 state and $40 county fees.

Having nothing to do with the state of Michigan’s roads, or fixing them, Snyder also suggested the red herring of so-called “high-speed buses” on key metro Detroit routes. What he means is rapid-transit buses, which often operate in dedicated lanes, but are still subject to speed limits, traffic lights, and road conditions, like standard buses. The concept of dedicated lanes means either removing lanes from availability to motorists or spending money to add sole-use lanes. Personally, I’m not sold on the idea of bus rapid transit, but what concerns me about the Governor’s plan is its creation of yet another transit agency in Southeast Michigan. Say what? Just over a week ago, I posted on metro Detroit’s two dysfunctional bus systems. How is adding another layer going to fix that? How does this fit with Snyder’s push for local governments to consolidate?

Let’s summarize.

  • Candidate Snyder said no new gas tax, but even his “revenue neutral” proposal increases taxes consumers would pay on fuel
  • Candidate Snyder wanted to eliminate transportation administration/funding inefficiencies, but the Gov. Snyder wants taxpayers to fork over $1.4 billion instead
  • Gov. Snyder wants to eliminate Michigan’s extra layer of county road commissions, but will allow counties to charge vehicle registration fees on top of taxes
  • Gov. Snyder wants local governments to consolidate services, but he proposes adding another transit agency to those already preexisting in southeast Michigan

Gov. Snyder ran on the claim he was a political outsider. What he’s showing us is the same smoke and mirrors approach used by seasoned politicians.


 

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:

Sat, 16 Jul 2011

Most Oppose Repealing Michigan’s Helmet Law

Filed under: Citizen rights, Driving, Government, Legal, Medicine, Michigan, Politics, Safety, Take action — cynicalsynapse @ 7:38 am

helmet laws

Two recent polls yielded similar results on the degree of support for keeping Michigan’s decades-old helmet section in the vehicle code. It requires motorcyclists to wear a US Department of Transportation (DOT) approved helmet. The Macomb Daily poll found 71% say keep the helmet requirement while 26% favored repeal and 2% were undecided. A more scientific EPIC-MRA poll found 68% oppose repealing the helmet law, with 31% wanting to ditch requiring helmets and 1% undecided. The EPIC-MRA poll has a margin of error of 4%.

Motorcyclist killed

Proponents of the helmet law reduced medical costs with helmet use by bikers. Helemt use can significantly reduce injury severity. In fact, a biker who was killed in a helmet protect ride likely would have lived if wearing an approved helmet. There will be increased costs for Michigan residents, both in insurance rates and Medicaid expenses. Michigan is a no-fault state, so if a motorcyclist is hit, it’s the other party’s insurance that pays, not the biker’s.

Opponents of mandatory helmet use say wearing a helmet should be a personal choice. Here’s the rub: 49 states have mandatory seatbelt laws (only New Hampshire does not). How is that any different than choosing to wear a helmet? And yet, with more drivers on the road, traffic fatalities continue to decline, likely due to seatbelt use. It simply does not pass the common sense test to allow one group of road users to choose to stop using the one safety device—a DOT-approved helmet—with any significant chance of minimizing the severity of injuries in an accident.

Save Michigan motorcycle riders. Save your tax dollars. Save your insurance premium costs (both vehicle and health). Tell your State Representative to vote no on SB 291.

Fri, 24 Dec 2010

Driving With Hood Up Part 2

Filed under: Behavior, Driving, Duh, Humor, Safety, Stupid car tricks — cynicalsynapse @ 8:57 am

A year and a half ago, I saw a guy driving down the freeway with his hood laying against the windshield. I wondered how that happened. Now I may have the answer. Driving with the hood up at highway speeds, it’s likely the air pressure will force the hood beyond its normal stopping point.

In a scratch-your-head moment, apparently this is more common than anyone would imagine.

Sun, 16 May 2010

Michigan Visionary’s Legacy of Unity

Filed under: Driving, Engineering, Government, History, Michigan — cynicalsynapse @ 6:27 am

Lawrence A. Rubin

One of Michigan’s great pioneers, Lawrence A. Rubin, died 11 May 2010. Gov. Granholm said:

Larry Rubin was synonymous with the Mackinac Bridge. You cannot think of one without the other and with good reason. As the first executive secretary of the Mackinac Bridge Authority, Larry was an advocate for the Mighty Mac before it was built, and he spent a lifetime committed to its enduring legacy as an icon for the state of Michigan.

Rubin spent years advocating for the Mackinaw Bridge, which connects Michigan’s upper and lower penninsulas. Before the bridge, which was completed in 1957, travelers depended on ferries between Michigan’s penninsulas. Rubin figured prominently in the Mackinaw Bridge’s financing and construction. The bridge cost $100 million in 1957.

Mackinac Bridge

As a result of his efforts and advocacy, Rubin became a bit of a legend in Michigan’s upper penninsula, commonly called the UP. Rubin headed the Mackinac Bridge Authority from 1950 until 1984. Since then, he’s lived in a St. Ignace MI house overlooking the straits. William Gnodtke, current Chairman of the Mackinaw Bridge Authority, said of Rubin:

[Rubin] said the last thing I see at night and the first thing I see in the morning is the light from the bridge.

An icon of Michigan, the Mackinac Bridge still remains an engineering marvel 53 years later. Even today, the Mackinac is the third longest suspension bridge in the world. “Big Mac” continues to have the third longest span in the US.

Mon, 05 Apr 2010

Detroit Homicide Rate Down 25%

Filed under: Detroit, Driving, Economy, Good job, Government — cynicalsynapse @ 8:48 pm

shooting investigation

Detroit doesn’t often have good news it can brag about. But Police Chief Warren Evans reports homicides in Detroit are down 25% for the first 3 months of 2010 compared to 2009. That’s pretty significant, especially considering Michigan’s, and Detroit’s, unemployment rates. Michigan’s unemployment rate in February was 14.1%. The Bureau of Labor Statistics breaks the Detroit metropolitan area into two divisions, including parts of the city and suburbs. This skews the real unemployment rate in the city, which has been estimated at 50%.

Chief Evans credits his “mobile strike force” concept, which calls for increased traffic stops in statistically high crime areas. He is committed to getting as much dope and weapons off the street as possible. The former may be a motive, while the latter an instrument, for homicide. If statistics tell the story, the Chief may be on to something.

Detroit Police Chief Warren Evans

Evans can point to reduced homicde rates to support his efforts. But critics claim the measures amount to racial profiling or other abuses. In a city that’s 90% black, how can there be racial profiling against the majority?

“We’re asking officers to make legal stops of cars that look suspicious that have broken traffic laws,” Evans said. “Is that too much to ask?”

The Chief’s commitment impresses 38-year-old Detroit resident Kevin Rice, who recognized Evans while the Chief was on patrol on the city’s northwest side. “To see him out here means he’s not just collecting a paycheck,” Rice said. “He’s actually trying to see what he can do to solve some of these problems.”

Fri, 12 Feb 2010

Michigan’s Bridges to Nowhere

Filed under: Budget, Business, Detroit, Driving, Economy, Environment, Government, Military, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 3:22 pm

Aerial view of the Ambassador Bridge

Never mind that taxpayers ponied up $230 million for the Gateway project to link I-75 and I-96 with the Ambassador Bridge. Presently, the project is incomplete because the Detroit International Bridge Co. (DBIC), owners of the bridge, failed to build their portions, even though there are contracts in place requiring them to do so. As a result, the ramps connecting I-75 and I-96 to the Ambassador Bridge Plaza and from the Plaza to I-96 and southbound I-75 remain closed.

Ambassador Bridge Gateway project

So, the project that shut down I-75 for 17 months is still incomplete because of Manuel “Matty” Moroun and his DIBC. Trucks are still using local roads instead of directly connecting to the bridge. Moroun and the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) have been, uh, contentious partners in the project. There are contract documents and involvement by the City of Detroit, Federal Highway Administration, Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, and concurrence by the Federal General Services Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Department of Homeland Security.

DBIC has simply failed to live up to its part of the bargain and its contractual agreements. In one of many law suits between Moroun and MDOT, the transportation agency prevailed recently. Moroun must tear down the duty-free store and gas station he built on illegally seized city of Detroit property. Many see this as a moral victory against the DIBC, which has had a rather adversarial relationship with the local community, at best.

Building a second Detroit River bridge has been under consideration for years to help ease trade along North America’s busiest international border crossing. Moroun wants to twin the present Ambassador Bridge. Neighborhoods near the bridge on both sides of the river oppose the idea. In fact, even though his permit was revoked, Moroun’s already built approaches for the twin span on the Detroit side. DBIC needs part of the city property ordered returned for the second span.

Approaches to planned twin span

The freep reported February 10th Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) director Kirk Steudle wants a second Detroit River bridge. MDOT’s plan is a span about 2 miles south of the Ambassador Bridge. It’s a great concept, but Moroun has been blocking it with myriad lawsuits. He’s even said cross-border traffic is down due to the economic slowdown and recent GM and Chrysler bankruptcies. Odd Moroun still wants to twin the Ambassador, however.

DRIC concept

In fact, the US and Canadian goverments and Ontario and Michigan transportation agencies have been working on this for some time now. Planned for about 2 miles downriver from the Ambassador Bridge, the Detroit River International Crossing project environmental studies are done. There’s a rare garter snake along the route in Ontario, but officials say they’ve got solutions to the problem.

When DRIC proponents get through all of Moroun’s law suits, how will they pay for the new bridge, estimated to cost US$2.26 billion? Michigan turned back $475 million in Federal road money because it couldn’t spare the $84 million state matching funds. The state cancelled road projects last year, too. Yet, Gov. Granholm including DRIC funding in her 2010-11 budget proprosal. MDOT and Transport Canada jointly Request for Proposal of Interest for the project with an eye toward a public-private partnership.

One other item of interest in the DIBC/Moroun legal arena. The company is used to operating as though it is above the law. So much so that Barbara McQuade, newly appointed US Attorney in Detroit, filed a brief stating DIBC is not a federal instrumentality. “DIBC is not a federal instrumentality, of any kind, or any other type of arm, appendage, servant, or agent whatsoever of the United States,” she wrote in the brief.

Sat, 30 Jan 2010

Transportation in Michigan Kicked to the Curb

Filed under: Budget, Driving, Economy, Government, Life, Michigan, Politics, Railroads, Stimulus — cynicalsynapse @ 7:28 pm

Kicked to the curb

This has not been a good week for transportation in Michigan. Between the feds and the state, Michigan has lost a lot of traction on improving transportation. First, the US Department of Transportation only gave $40 million to Michigan, far less than the requested $993 million. Then the Michigan Transportation Commssion cut 243 road projects because the state doesn’t have the matching funds to get Federal money.

On the high speed rail initiative, Gov. Granholm (D) had signed an 8-state cooperation agreement to support the Midwest High Speed Rail Corridor, with Obama’s home town of Chicago as the hub. Granholm claimed the Stimulus money for high speed rail would create 7,000 permanent jobs and hundreds of temporary ones. How did she figure that? Whether trains from Detroit to Chicago go 79 mph or 110 mph, unless you add additional trips, there’s no change in permanent jobs. And even if you add another round trip trainset, how many jobs is that? 20? 50? Certainly not 7,000. I don’t understand.

High speed rail grants

But Granholm’s guesses on new jobs is all mute anyway. Obama’s Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, announced a Michigan’s share in high speed rail is a paltry $40 million. That money’s going to pay for new Amtrak stations in Troy and Dearborn, as well as renovations to the Battle Creek station. It’s far less than Michigan’s requested $993 million and hardly shows up on the radar screen in the overall $8 billion Stimulus bill high speed rail program. The only good news here? Illinois and Indiana got $204 million to upgrade the Detroit-Chicago corridor.

I’ve ridden the Detroit-Chicago (actually Pontiac-Chicago) line several times. I can verify the Indiana segment is a real problem with conflicts between freight and passenger rail, despite this being the great “Broadway”, an area of great competition between the New York Central and Pennsylvania railroads. But no track upgrades in Michigan, which is the bulk of the run, means no real high speed for this corridor any time soon. Once again, Michigan loses out.

Bad roads

Besides the bad news in high-speed rail, which also affects efforts on starting commuter rail in southeast Michigan, Michigan’s highways also got dissed this week. Since the Governor and State Senate and Representatives decided to apply Stimulus money to the general fund, there’s none left for road projects. Rather than admit this and do the right thing, many are claiming the gas tax isn’t adequate to meet Michigan’s needs. Thus, they’re calling for tax increases. The net effect of canceling the 243 road projects is the loss of hundreds of millions of Federal funds. Penny-wise and dollar foolish.

I won’t argue about whether roads are adequately funded or not, but I will tell you there’s no need to increase the gas tax. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Many use the current economic climate to argue for more taxes, but Michigan’s tax system is faring very well compared to most others. As a result, the imbalance must be on the spending side of the equation, since no once questions the state has a definite problem with income and expenses. While there are certain government services I expect to receive as part of my taxes, I expect them to be provided efficiently and prioritized over non-essential services, such as legislative staffs or state bureaucracy. Unfortunately, there seems to be a growing interest in raising gas taxes to pay for roads when the real issue is deciding on priorities for spending. Michigan is not revenue deficient; rather, it’s over spending.

Politicians usually like to slash public safety for their desired effect, but this week transportation is on the chopping block. Has anyone figured out slow trains and lousy roads will negatively impact trade in and through Michigan?

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