INTRO: You probably didn’t know that The Michigan Department of Transportation has asked your opinion about its 20 year plan. Public comment started August 1 and ended Friday. MDOT’s budget is $3 billion. But it spends only $280 million on public transit. Highways get priority over trains, bikes and people on foot. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus has spoken with transit advocates who want change.
The Transform Michigan Coalition chose Woodward Avenue and I-94 to tell Michiganders to pay attention to transportation planning. Bob Prud’Homme is an architect and board member of Transportation Riders United. He believes that the state department of transportation is out of date.
“Our problem in Michigan is we equate transportation, or MDOT equates transportation, to more roads. I mean the numbers say it all. The vehicle miles traveled they are projecting going up which I think are very false when in reality the vehicle miles traveled are going down not only here but nation wide. That’s projected to continue. People don’t want to be dependent on a $10,000 a year investment in a steel box. They would rather get out and walk or bike or get on the train or public transportation. We didn’t make that option available here. We need to start investing in that. “
MDOT is in one of many drab state office buildings that might fit in Soviet Russia or Ceaucescu’s Romania. He loved concrete. In MDOT’s lobby is a series of photos of men who were old when the shots were taken 40 years ago. It’s a hall of fame of road planners lauded for their stretches of 1-75 or i-96.
“MDOT, like any other state transportation department, was born as a highway department.”
Spokeswoman Barbara Hicks says the culture is changing though around every department in the country.
“Right now in 2012 they are all multi modal. They are all looking at providing services for all users whether they be driving a car or pedaling a bicycle or walking. We like to say we’re not your father’s highway department.”
Hicks’ department was one of the nation’s first to adopt complete streets policies in 2010. The point is road design that allows the small vehicle and the vulnerable school child to stay safe. Michigan’s mass transit advocates like complete streets. But they want more money. Joel Batterman works in Ferndale at the Michigan Suburbs Alliance.
“You know the inner ring suburbs that my organization represents are really feeling the same effects of urban disinvestment and continued sprawl. Smaller cities like Saginaw and Bay City you go there too you find downtowns that have suffered as business moved out, people moved out. All of our communities were originally designed without them have to have a car.”
A study by the US DOT bureau of statistics shows Michigan spending $19 per capita on transit. Pennsylvania spends $67 per capita. Alaska spends $90 per capita. Massachusetts spend s $190. So Michigan spends 10% of what other states spend for transit.
Bob Prudhomme of Transportation Riders United says:
“There’s a phenomenon called reduced demand. As you widen a highway you increase congestion even more. But if you stop widening it then people would stop using it so much and congestion will actually decrease. That’s been proven if you give them an alternative.”
That’s supposed to be multi-modal transportation.
Nancy Krupiarz is with the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance. They’re part of the transit advocacy coalition funded by the Kresge, C.S. Mott and other foundations.
“you know it’s a matter of talking to people to see what they want. And transform has been conducting community conversations across the state. What we are finding when we ask them what kind of percentages would they put into the formula there would still be some money put into road widening but an awful lot more put into these other transportation options. That’s what we’re hearing from the people. “
MDOT’s public hearings this month haven’t been jammed with people. But remember state workers themselves can’t pass laws nor set budgets. MDOT’s Barbara Hicks says go bug the legislature for that.
“Locally, if you’re passionate about bicycling or walking or light rail or whatever your passion is, you need to pick up the phone or email your local representative and let them know that’s what you want them working on as a state body.”
You could also click on detroittransit.org and fill out a petition. You could tell MDOT what should be in their plan from now until 2035. For Michigan Now I’m Chris McCarus in Detroit.