It’s been a fast-paced year for transportation policy and initiatives in 2014! As we look back on everything that has happened in Michigan, we’re proud to see Trans4M member groups leading the charge for a stronger, more vibrant transportation system for our state. Part I of our Year In Review series reviews our efforts in the fight for our state transportation funding and Part II takes a look at all the exciting and innovative transportation projects happening around the state.
The Transportation Odyssey is our biggest and most recognized event, and this year we shook it up a bit! Trans4M member groups traveled on our 3rd annual Transportation Odyssey on October 7-8. We visited six Michigan cities and towns to highlight good street design that promotes accessible, safe, and economically vibrant communities. Along the way we learned firsthand the value and challenges of good street design from city planners and engineers, locally elected officials, business owners, and others.
The Odyssey is our way of telling a different story each year regarding Michigan Transportation. Trans4M member groups have the opportunity to travel across the state or visit with us at our numerous stops, as we learn about different projects, victories, and needs of our transportation system. This year we wanted to focus on ways that transportation design and policy affect the quality of Michigan communities. For instance, how can bike paths, crosswalks, transportation policy, and trails contribute to a better place to live, work, and play? And how can community involvement, in the form of enthusiasts, advocates, or the informed public, shape our transportation policy?
We kicked off the Odyssey by participating with Detroit’s Slow Roll on Monday night. After a wet and cold ride, we started early Tuesday morning with a walking tour of Ferndale where we learned about bicycling and pedestrian safety innovations such as buffered bike lanes and mid-block pedestrian crossings. Next we visited Brighton to meet with residents, business owners, and engineers to hear about their downtown renovations to improve pedestrian safety, such as curb bump-outs and their wooden tridge. We ended our first day in Lansing with a presentation on community engagement around transit and nonmotorized projects for the capitol region.
Our second day began in Midland and a brisk walk on the Pere Marquette Trail, where we learned about accessibility and connectivity from the perspective of trail enthusiasts, individuals with disabilities, and Northwood University students. But, as with any good Odyssey, we hit a hurdle on our way to our final destination in Sault Ste. Marie when our bus required an unplanned stop for maintenance. Fortunately, our presenters were able to continue without us, and discussed various transportation projects in the region and their ability to connect diverse populations, such as students at Lake Superior State University and members of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.
To read more about our trip, read our blog: Odyssey Recap 2014. And stay tuned for a series of videos that tell the story of innovative transportation projects in these Michigan communities on our YouTube channel.
Regional Transit Victories
Not only was it a busy year for securing state funding for our complete transportation system, but communities across the state had resounding victories in supporting their transit agencies.
Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority
Nearly two years after the passing of legislation that created the Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority, the board secured a CEO. Michael Ford, formerly CEO of the Ann Arbor Area Transit Authority (AAATA), accepted the position in August and has already joined Trans4M members in multiple events in the region to promote the RTA. At the fall Transportation Riders United (TRU) meeting he spoke to transit advocates about his goals for making transit a more integrated part of the region’s economy and his commitment to meeting with community members to understand their needs.
Even as advocates celebrate the progress of the RTA in 2014, they’re looking towards the challenge of raising money to fund the Authority. The Build Transit, Build Business event hosted by the Harriet Tubman Center in November brought over 300 community members together to learn from Ford and Jason Jordon of the Center for Transportation Excellence about best practices for passing a 2016 ballot initiative that would dedicate funds to the operation of the RTA.
If you haven’t checked it out, take a look at the RTA’s new website, launched in December. It includes valuable information about how you can be involved through community engagement events, RTA meetings, and the Citizens Advisory Council.
Ann Arbor Area Transit Authority
If one is looking for a local model of a successful campaign to raise funds for transit, you wouldn’t have to look much farther than the spring “More Buses” campaign for the AAATA. In May, the Washtenaw Partners for Transit led a campaign to expand bus service for the region through a transit millage of 0.7 mills for five years. The vote passed by a resounding 71%!
In August, AAATA celebrated its expanded service which includes more hours on week nights, extended weekend hours, redesigned routes and expanded Dial-a-Ride services. These services affect all three of the jurisdictions serviced by AAATA, including Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Ypsilanti Township.
Transit agencies around the state took up transit millages in the August ballot, with nearly each ballot measure passing increased funding for bus service. The nation also took up transit millages with 18 states putting 61 different funding measures before the people in 2014. Passage rate was 69%. Most notably in Michigan, the three counties served by SMART all passed a renewal and increase from 0.59 mills to 1 mill.
In a time when the future of transportation, and specifically public transportation, funding is at risk from the federal to the local level, it’s promising to see so many efforts to increase money for our bus agencies succeed. And most importantly, these were done through the power of people coming out to vote and overwhelmingly agreeing that these services are worth the extra expense from their personal finances! Congratulations to all the agencies with victories in 2014.
Michigan is often criticized for being behind the times when it comes to innovative transportation solutions. In the automobile capitol of the world, Detroit suffers from a lack of efficient and reliable transit options. But though we may be fighting for small victories today, we’re also looking towards a future of a strong system that transports people and goods within our large urban areas and between our rural communities. Here are just a few of the great things that happened in Michigan transit in 2014, with many more exciting projects coming our way!
Michigan’s First Bus Rapid Transit
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is recognized as a cost-effective solution for congested urban transit. It’s cheaper than rail, but sleek, modern and efficient in ways that a traditional bus services isn’t. That’s why so many communities in Michigan, including Detroit and Lansing, are looking towards their own BRT. But Grand Rapids came first, with the opening of the Silver Line in August.
We rode with volunteers from Trans4M member group Disability Advocates of Kent County (DAKC) on opening day and got to experience the exciting first trips of the BRT. With designated lanes and signal priority, the Silver Line runs approximately every 10 minutes during peak hours. Additional perks include the well lighted, elevated stations which make boarding simple, especially for passengers with disabilities. It’s a great first step for new transit technology and innovation for Michigan.
The long-awaited M-1 Rail to run down Woodward Ave in Detroit made headway this year, with the first phase of construction completed on time in November. The first quarter mile of track has been laid, funding has been secured through public-private partnerships, and excitement is growing around Detroit’s long awaited streetcar. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until 2016 to take our first ride, but we’ll be there!
The Future of State Rail
Passenger rail gained new interest this year with speculation on rail projects around the state. From a new exploratory study on a tourist train in Traverse City to the beginning of a technical study for the WALLY Commuter rail between Howell and Ann Arbor, there’s a lot of interest in bringing passenger rail back as a strong contender for preferred means of travel in Michigan.
Top of this list is the proposed Coast to Coast Passenger Rail which would connect Detroit to Holland via Lansing and Grand Rapids. Though still in the early stages, the project made strong ground this year with a federal grant award, a long list of local supporters, and the release of the proposal for a consultant to conduct a feasibility study.
Nonmotorized and Pedestrian
More Michiganders are embracing biking and walking as viable options for commuting, as we saw in 2014. Trans4M member group League of Michigan Bicyclists (LMB) is a strong leader in these efforts, and made great strides this year towards making our state a safer place for bicyclists and pedestrians.
In February Trans4M and LMB launched a new campaign, Share MI Roads, which asks both bicyclists and drivers to take a pledge to be safer on the road. In less than a year, nearly 1,200 individuals have made this pledge! It’s an important first step in raising awareness about the dangerous actions taken by both drivers and bicyclists who share the road. But it’s just a first step, and LMB, in partnership with Trans4M member groups PEAC and Michigan Trails and Greenway Alliance, held the annual Lucinda Means Advocacy Day to speak with legislators about important policy changes that can improve safety on the roads. As a result of their efforts, the Nathan Bower Act was passed in October, and now requires that all driver’s education includes information about bicycle and motorcycle awareness.
Despite progress and several other bills, such as the Vulnerable Roadway Users package, being introduced, there is still a long way to go to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety. A report issued by the National Complete Streets Coalition in May, ranked Detroit as the 11th most dangerous metro area for pedestrians in the country. Though over 90 Michigan communities have adopted complete streets policies aimed towards increasing pedestrian safety through street design, there’s still a lot of work to be done to implement these designs.
Trans4M members have been at the front of so many important issues this year, whether its supporting bus agencies at the local level, educating the public and our legislators about the value of a complete transportation system for all users, pushing for stronger rail and trail systems to connect our state, or fighting for increased transportation funding. We’re proud of the work we’ve collectively accomplished this year, but there’s still more to be done.
We’ll see you in 2015!