Thursday, May 21, 2009


Lou Glazer said it. The Fortune 500 say it. Arts and culture really count. Yesterday, Tamara Real from Ann Arbor's Arts Alliance made a presentation at WATS (Washtenaw Area Transportation Study) to highlight that importance.

Just a minute. What does WATS have to do with the arts? More than we might guess, apparently. Here's the connection...

A recent survey looked at the hiring criteria of Fortune 500 companies, and found that they're using a rather unexpected predictor of success for their young applicants: their involvement in creative and cultural activities in high school. The reason? They've discovered drama, music, and art develop creativity and problem-solving ability. Sure, the math, science, and language - all that is important. But what businesses are looking for is adaptability, problem-solving skill, ability to think their way through novel situations. And what they've found is that so-called "cultural activities" are the best way to tell whether someone will demonstrate the necessary quickness on their feet.

The obvious application of this is for our schools, facing tough decisions about what to cut in lean times. Usually the first things to go are arts and culture programs. "They're optional, aren't they?" Of course, the best answer is, "Don't cut anything: invest in our kids!" - but these aren't the best of times.

So where's the tie-in to transportation? Well, it seems schools are cutting back on school bus transportation to museums, music venues, and other "enrichment" activities. Since many of the kids don't have their driver licenses, or perhaps the family lacks a spare automobile, they don't get to the arts and cultural things they need to make them attractive to employers. Well, I guess they're fine for flipping burgers or scanning UPC codes at the registers.

And the thing is, other parts of the country - and other countries - offer their citizens convenient , reliable, frequent public transportation, which their kids can use to enrich their lives and their résumés. So in addition to not cutting our school budgets, investing in public transportation can help our kids catch up with the rest of the world. Not to mention giving a break to the hard-working moms and dads who now try to ferry their kids around everywhere. It's a transportation connection I hadn't thought about, so here's a big THANK YOU to Tamara, Angela, and Cindy from the Arts Alliance.

AA-Detroit Commuter Rail

SEMCOG'S Carmine Palombo was at the the WATS meeting yesterday morning. In addition to explaining the Transportation Asset Management program, he had a quick report on east-west commuter rail progress. "It's like those Christmas presents you give your kids sometimes," he said. "When they open the box, they find another box inside. Inside the second box is a third, and so on. I keep thinking I've opened the last box, and finding another one." So what's the next box - "The last one, I hope!"

SEMCOG and Canadian National Railway have agreed on usage fees, and are now discussing scheduling and dispatching - in other words, who gets to send their train through first. This one is really critical, folks. Without priority for passenger trains, reliability is down the tubes. Without reliability, you lose most of your commuters. Without commuters... curtains for the whole project.

Good News from the AATA Board

At last night's AATA Board meeting, Chairman David Nacht (who had just announced proudly that he rode his bike to the meeting) got a question from a concerned Ypsilanti resident: "I heard service to Ypsilanti will be discontinued, and I just wanted to find out when that will be discussed." Nacht's answer: "We are not planning to discuss cutting service to Ypsilanti at this or any other meeting. We will stand by our POSA (Purchase of Service Agreement) partners."

AATA had requested an increase in the service fee to all districts outside of Ann Arbor, because they pay for only part of the cost of their service. Ypsilanti was the first to say they wouldn't be able to up the ante, but of course the townships are financially just as badly off. So here's a big THANK YOU to David Nacht for his willingness to be flexible.

Thank you also to Ann Arbor residents, who are subsidizing the outlying areas through their millage payments. Please be patient with us. Washtenaw County can either be a successful whole, or a bunch of squabbling, failing jurisdictions. Though we don't all have equal financial muscle, we will all fail equally if some of us fail. Let's be ready to support the unified county transportation plan as soon as it's unveiled.

Brief Summary

This summary of Michigan's transportation system from an official who is in a position to know, but shall remain nameless to protect his or her effectiveness: "Things suck, and they're getting worse. I try to keep the message that simple to get the point across to our legislators."


  1. Your comment about public transit allowing young people greater freedom to take advantage of our cultural resources is right on the money. In my late teens (before owning my first car), I remember having to scramble sometimes to secure transportation for trips to Ann Arbor and elsewhere.

    I also remember the sense of freedom I felt when a group of friends and I took our first train trip to Toronto - we were bus and trolley hopping the whole time we were there.

  2. Nice posts - first time I've had a chance to look at them.