INTRO: Local media are still covering the man who walked 21 miles to work every day. A Ford dealer gave him a new car. Donations to him won’t improve mass transit in metro Detroit. It will take a million voters paying for a new system. This Tuesday at the church at Woodward and Eleven Mile, you can learn more from the new CEO of the Regional Transit Authority, or RTA. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus has more. RSVP with Maureen Miller at the Harriet Tubman Center 313-285-9710 and www.mccmichigan.org.
St. John’s Episcopal Church is hosting Michael Ford, head of the RTA. The church is at Woodward and 11 mile road. Come at either 12 noon or 6 pm Tuesday. Michael Ford has run mass transit systems in Seattle, Portland and Ann Arbor. He’s been following the story of 56 year old James Robertson who walked every day for years from Detroit’s north end to Rochester.
“I think it’s more than just Mr. Robertson or Mrs Robertson. I’m sure there are a lot of other people in that same situation. What this does is shine a light on the issue. I think it resonated for a lot of people and it begs the question of what can we do to make these changes. RTA is here to help coordinate and create a plan for more robust transportation.”
The Harriet Tubman Center is a non-profit group. In November they brought together about 300 people to hear Michael Ford and other transit experts from around the country. 300 is no where near the million needed next year to vote for a transit tax. But it was the largest ever group of people in one place in support of buses and trains. The Tubman Center is also bringing Michael Ford to the church at 11 Mile and Woodward. I spoke with Ford at his office downtown.
“Do you go to politicians from Rochester and say the guy who is putting money into your city coffers has to walk 21 miles just to get to work?” I asked Ford.
“It’s about everybody working together. Yes there are opt out communities. one of the challenges is to show the value of everybody working together. Transit creates economic development, job opportunities, property values go up. So I think there’s a lot to be said about it. Our task is to help people understand that. We all have to be in this together so we avoid these situations. Mr. Robertson is an example of probably hundreds or thousands of people throughout this area. We’ve got to do a better job.”
Detroit is the most segregated big city in America. It has the worst public transit. The two problems are connected. For an explanation I called up the honorable Olivia Chow. She ran for mayor in Toronto. She moved to Canada from Hong Kong as a kid then and eventually was elected to parliament.
I asked her why Toronto boomed while Detroit has emptied out. She’s not boastful but could, if she wanted, boast about the success of her work in government.
“Be it children and youth, immigrants and infrastructure spending… those are my key areas.”
Olivia Chow says Toronto politicians promise investments instead of tax cuts. Just like Michael Ford will ask voters to do in 2016.
“If we’re missing the bus we’re missing out on prosperity. In any kind of city that is growing and growing well… they have a good transit system. It’s great that $300,000 have been donated. He can now drive his own car. But it only works for James Robertson. It doesn’t help others. So I think it’s really important to have good reliable transportation options.”
Olivia Chow says gridlock is costing Toronto $6 billion a year. She says investing in transit will eliminate that waste.
“People are stuck behind traffic jams. They’re not going to school. They are late for school. They’re not going to school. They are late for work. Products are not being transported. So it’s a $6 billion problem we have right in our region.”
“In the Detroit case there is not much traffic because it’s so spread out and depopulated,” I told Olivia Chow. “Maybe the Toronto strategy wouldn’t work here.”
“True,” Chow said. “You don’t have the problem of gridlock. But to get people to work if they don’t have a car how are you going to be able to ensure better employment opportunities for people?”
So would Detroiters trade their problems for Toronto’s problems? Do they we want to have a city of Detroit that resembles a city like Toronto is a city? If they don’t then they can keep moving away to Atlanta, Texas, Lyon Township or 32 Mile Rd.