Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Yesterday evening (December 19), I attended a gathering of transportation, research, and government people at the Michigan League of the University of Michigan. The U of M and its sponsors are conducting a tremendous amount of research to transform transportation and accessibility around the world, and is putting it into place with excellent results in places like South Africa, Pakistan, India, and the Philippines.

But not in Michigan.

Although the state of Michigan supports research and assistance for others, it doesn't make use of it for its own benefit. Instead, politicians make decisions that ignore research findings supported by Ford Motor Company, ALCOA Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation, not to mention the citizens and tuition-payers of Michigan. In addition, Michigan politicians overrule Federally-mandated procedures designed to insure that community members and stakeholders have a voice in their own transportation decisions.

I'm speaking of SMART, the University of Michigan, and the United States Department of Transportation's own procedures for establishing transit systems. And I'm referring, of course, to last week's decision by three men to implement a transit system for the Detroit metropolitan area that bypasses all the resources provided for sound decision-making, and all the community stakeholders. (All links below)

The three men are Dave Bing, Mayor of Detroit; Rick Snyder, Governor of Michigan; and Ray LaHood, United States Secretary of Transportation. Their decision to replace a light rail system with rapid buses ignores the experience and research findings of those who truly know about public transportation options. The decision also overturns the multi-year information gathering process that citizens paid for, as the process went through several iterations of the painstaking Federal Transit Administration's requirements, designed to link the best engineering knowledge with the most cogent local interests.

Citizens, stake-holders, investors, and engineers all agreed: the best option for Detroit is to begin with light rail on Woodward in combination with better connecting bus service. In a post to this blog in July 12 of this year, I debunked criticisms of the process with detailed references to how the light rail decision was arrived at. Light rail is the Locally Preferred Alternative.

Yesterday's gathering at the University of Michigan was notable for who was there. It was even more notable for who was not there. Present: sponsors from Ford, Rockefeller, and ALCOA; interested citizens and advocates from Washtenaw County, Detroit, and Lansing; researchers from U of M and Michigan State; the CEO of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority; the Chair of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners.

Absent: anyone from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration, the office of Governor Rick Snyder, the Michigan Department of Transportation, the office of Mayor Dave Bing, or the counties of Oakland or Macomb. In other words, nobody who needs information to make sound transportation decisions was there.

I'm really glad people in Cape Town, Chennai, and Manila are benefiting from research conducted by the University of Michigan. What a shame it doesn't benefit Michigan itself.

To learn more:

  • SMART, Sustainable Mobility & Accessibility Research & Transformation
  • Detroit Mayor Dave Bing's Op Ed in the Detroit Free Press, 2011-12-18
  • "Smearing Woodward Avenue Rail" in this blog post.

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