Tag Archives: transportation

Shared Responsibility for Detroit's Woes

Source: greatbigcanvas.com

As a Michigander for the past 21 years, I’ve heard my share of Detroit criticisms, jokes, and put downs, both from within and outside the Great Lakes State. While fingers can be  pointed at the lack of past civic and political leadership in Detroit, our collective actions (or lack thereof) can certainly share in the responsibility. Some may scoff at such a notion, but here’re a few reasons why:

  • As a nation we elected leaders who adopted a tax code and laws that advocated, promoted, and accelerated flight from cities and suburban sprawl. Many in this nation continue to support such policies. Granted, this affects every city, but that doesn’t mean it was beneficial for them unless they had scads of excess land for new subdivisions or the ability to annex freely.
  • As a nation, we collectively turned our backs on inner cities and the residents thereof many years ago, only seeing fit to reverse course when the notion of revitalization became profitable.
  • As a state, Michigan has some of the most arcane home rule laws that created thousands of 36 square mile “kingdumbs” (pun intended) that fight with each other like cats and dogs and seldom do the right thing.
  • This nation very nearly turned its collective back on the auto industry due to political self-interest.
  • As a state and nation we allowed expressways, poorly placed factories, urban renewal projects, sports stadiums, and other projects to carve up and displace perfectly healthy inner city neighborhoods, leaving a tattered and disjointed landscape.
  • Residents/politicians living in outstate Michigan from Detroit would short-sightedly say, act, and vote as if Detroit was not their problem too.
  • In Southeast Michigan, leaders and residents alike outside of Wayne County often could care less what happened south of Eight Mile.
Source: detroittransithistory.info
Source: detroittransithistory.info
  • One of the best interurban transit systems in the nation was torn up and replaced by diesel-belching buses that have as many endearing qualities as a lump of coal.
  • Corporations ran away from the city in the ’60s and ’70s…with some finally seeing the light of their actions and returning to Detroit in the ’00s and ’10s.
  • Half of Detroit’s professional sport franchises left for the ‘burbs with one, the Pistons, still playing practically closer to Flint than Detroit.
  • Far too many lenders and insurance companies red-lined inner city neighborhoods.
  • Shady lenders who offered inner city loans foreclosed on homeowners the first chance they got.
  • Absentee landlords let their properties decline into disrepair and blight.
  • Politicians shied away from making the tough decisions, and rhetoric replaced reason in far too many discussions and decisions concerning Detroit.
  • Too many people in Southeast Michigan acted like the city was an island unto itself, when, like it or not, their collective futures have been inexorably linked to Detroit’s fate.
  • Up until recent years, the national media tended to solely focus on the bad news  about Detroit. There are many great things about Detroit, and piling on does nothing to reverse problems: it only reinforces misperceptions and stereotypes.

Shall I go on?

– Rick Brown

 

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Filed under architecture, Crime, Economic Development, Featured, Great Lakes, Politics, Public Transportation, Race Relations, Real Estate, Sports, sprawl, The Media, U.S. Auto Industry, Urban Planning, Urban Poverty

Repurposing “streets with no name”

Source: flickr.com

In a number of cities, there are certain derelict streets that are nearly denuded of dwellings or businesses. Desolate and forlorn, these streets resemble something out of a post war apocalypse. Detroit may be the poster child du jour of such stark and sad emptiness, but there are many other examples across the Rust Belt and elsewhere. What to do with neglected streets has long been a source of planning discussion and conjecture. In some instances entire abandoned neighborhoods have or are being converted to urban agriculture or community gardens. However, this avid bicycle commuter has another suggestion for a few of these lowly streets without names – repurpose them to active transportation byways.

Quite often bicycle routes consist of abandoned railroad corridors, canal towpaths, or shared lanes in a sea of motor vehicles. I, like many other cyclists, am not necessarily enamored with having to pedal cheek-to-cheek with four-wheeled motorized metal missiles. Seems no matter the efforts to stave off accidents and injury, the metal missiles will always win the contest. The other problem is that there are a finite number of old railroad or canal corridors to choose from, so many populations go un or underserved.

Hence, if a street is already underutilized and virtually desolate, then why not just finish the job? Why not consider purchasing or re-accessing those land uses that have currently sole access to the particular street and then repurpose the entire street into an active transportation byway serving bicyclists, pedestrians, joggers, roller-bladers, Segway users, and others?

In certain instances, “streets with no name” could be converted to mass transit corridors akin to busways. Needless to say, not every desolate street or remnant neighborhood would be appropriate for such a transformation, but I would be willing to bet that in certain cities and in certain locations, there are some excellent opportunities just waiting for foresighted leaders to actively pursue this idea.

Source: flickr.com

Converting an existing street would also seem to be an easier/effective/efficient/economical way to expand a city’s active transportation infrastructure rather than wholly design, acquire, and build a completely new route. Given the extent of economic decline that would precipitate a “street with no name,” it would be hard to imagine any land acquisition costs being a significant impediment. Lastly, necessary public utilities along the byway along the could remain accessible for care, maintenance, and serve the revitalized

areas.

The short-term goals of establishing active transportation byways are to:

· enhance the city’s and region’s active transportation resources;

· reduce the city’s and region’s carbon footprint;

· improve overall community health and fitness;

· reinvigorate the sense of place;

· to rebuild community pride; and

· infuse economic energy and cultural vibe.

Source: phillyrecord.com

In the longer-term, the goal of such a repurposing enterprise would be to effectively stymy and then to reverse the decline found along these desolated streets and their adjoining neighborhoods by utilizing active transportation corridors as the conduit.

Am I missing or overlooking something here? Any thoughts or feedback on these ideas would be appreciated.

– Rick Brown

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Are Michigan and Wisconsin missing a golden opportunity?

Since reading the book Aerotropolis several months ago, the topic of intermodal logistics has been on my mind. One logistical issue that routinely comes up in the Great Lakes Region is the congestion and delays that take place in and around Chicago. Being a chokepoint for numerous rail lines and highways at the south end Lake Michigan, the Chicago Region is critical hub for cross-country freight movements. With the rapid growth in just-in-time delivery, containerization, container ports, and intermodal facilities over the past few decades, any bottlenecks and/or delays here can spell big trouble for those firms depending on their goods being transported by rail or truck through Chicago.

Source: transreporter.com

As a result, it seems to me that Michigan and Wisconsin may be missing a golden opportunity to take advantage of the routine bottlenecks in Chicago by developing a set of bypass container ports on either side of Lake Michigan for the un-congested transport of those goods moving cross-country. The container ports could be constructed at either Milwaukee, Racine, or Manitowoc on the Wisconsin side of the lake and in Muskegon or Ludington on the Michigan side. Granted this option would not be practical for all goods moving through Chicago, but those items moving towards the Eastern Great Lakes, Northeastern United States, and Eastern Canada could easily flow through these lake ports, be off-loaded onto rail cars, and/or and then be shipped eastward from there by rail or truck. Likewise for goods shipping westward to the Western Great Lakes, Northern Plains, Rockies, and Pacific Northwest. The trans-shipment across Lake Michigan could also serve as a back-up in case of a national emergency.

Some may scoff at this notion and issue of low water levels would need to be resolved, but I believe there is real merit in at least considering it as an economic development option. One only need to look at the growth of container ports across the globe to see the huge potential. Where rail cars were once shipped across the lake, could containers be a 21st Century option?

Source: clark.cmich.edu

Consider this:

  • According to a recent (2012) New York Times article, trains are delayed by as much as 30 hours when passing through the Chicago bottleneck. For some of the 1,300 freight and passenger trains, this extent of delay could provide an open door to the cross lake option, if planned and designed properly. According to answers.com and wikipedia.org, a fully loaded, medium-sized container ship can be loaded and unloaded in mere hours (10-12). Combined with the four hours for the lake crossing itself and you have a total of
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    14-16 hours. Many corporations would be thrilled to get their goods 15 hours earlier than if they went through Chicago.

Seems that an intermodal operation could be a golden opportunity for some savvy shipping firms, Lake Michigan harbor communities, businesspeople, and states of Michigan and Wisconsin to consider more fully. While shipping rail cars may not be competitively feasible as it once was (see photo above), moving shipping containers across Lake Michigan could be a whole other story. Just a thought that perhaps both states ought to at least consider and analyze, if not pursue.

Rick Brown

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Boxed In: The Limits Of Rust Belt Airports

Pittsburgh - Source: allairports.net

The following list identifies 55 commercial aviation airports in the Rust Belt in order by land area (or footprint). Pittsburgh International is far and away the largest airport in the region and is one of the largest in the United States. The average size among these 55 airports is 2,613 acres, or just approximately 4.1 square miles.

For some of these cities, the small footprint of the local airport presents challenges for future growth and expansion. This problem is particularly acute for Erie, Chicago (Midway), and Harrisburg. Even some of the larger airports in the Rust Belt (by size and/or traffic) are hemmed in by development, including Minneapolis-St. Paul, Chicago (O’Hare), St. Louis, Columbus, Cleveland, and Rochester, NY. As the aviation industry changes, these site limitations could result in the need for pursuing expensive options to remain competitive, such as land acquisition or construction of a new airport on a greenfield site or perhaps at a former military base.
  1. Pittsburgh – 12,900 acres
  2. Indianapolis – 7,700 acres
  3. Chicago (O’Hare) – 7,627 acres
  4. Cincinnati – 7,000 acres
  5. Detroit (Metro) – 6,400 acres
  6. Dayton (Cox) – 4,200 acres
  7. Peoria – 3,800 acres
  8. Madison (Truax) – 3,500 acres
  9. Fort Wayne – 3,351 acres
  10. Cedar Rapids (Eastern Iowa) – 3,288 acres
  11. Saginaw (MBS) – 3,200 acres
  12. Baltimore (BWI) – 3,160 acres
  13. Grand Rapids (Ford) – 3,127 acres
  14. Duluth – 3,020 acres
  15. Minneapolis-St. Paul – 2,930 acres
  16. Rockford-Chicago – 2,900 acres
  17. St. Louis (Lambert) – 2,800 acres
  18. Allentown (Lehigh Valley) – 2,629 acres
  19. Des Moines – 2,625 acres
  20. Waterloo-Cedar Falls – 2,583 acres
  21. Sioux City – 2,460 acres
  22. Green Bay (Straubel) – 2,441 acres
  23. Hartford (Bradley) – 2,432 acres
  24. Toledo (Express) – 2,345 acres
  25. Akron-Canton – 2,300 acres
  26. Springfield (Lincoln) – 2,300 acres
  27. South Bend – 2,200 acres
  28. Columbus, OH (Port Columbus) – 2,221 acres
  29. Milwaukee (Mitchell) – 2,180 acres
  30. Lansing, MI (Capital Region) – 2,160 acres
  31. Marquette (Sawyer) – 2,100 acres
  32. Quad City – 2,021 acres
  33. Syracuse (Hancock) – 2,000 acres
  34. Cleveland (Hopkins) – 1,900 acres
  35. St. Joseph, MO (Rosecrans) – 1,707 acres
  36. Appleton – 1.638 acres
  37. Flint (Bishop) 1,550 acres
  38. Terre Haute (Hulman) – 1,475 acres
  39. Youngstown-Warren – 1,468 acres
  40. La Crosse – 1,380 acres
  41. Huntington, WV (Tri-State) – 1,300 acres
  42. Evansville – 1,250 acres
  43. Dubuque – 1,240 acres
  44. Binghamton – 1,199 acres
  45. Rochester, NY – 1,136 acres
  46. Providence (TF Green) – 1,111 acres
  47. Traverse City (Cherry Capital) – 1,026 acres
  48. Albany – 1,000 acres
  49. Buffalo-Niagara – 1,000 acres
  50. Burlington, VT – 942 acres
  51. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton – 905 acres
  52. Charleston (Yeager) – 787 acres
  53. Harrisburg – 680 acres
  54. Chicago (Midway) – 650 acres
  55. Erie (Tom Ridge) – 450 acres
Rick Brown

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Improving Bicycle Safety in Traffic: Lessons from Michigan

Source: flickr.com

I have long felt that bicycle commuting during the evening rush hour was more stressful and perilous than my morning ride. While motorists tend to be more wary in the morning due to the presence of school children and buses, the evening commute tends to feel a bit like a free-for-all, as if all motorists were trying to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 at the exact same time. Well…now I have definitive data to back my up my intuition. It turns out that 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m IS the most dangerous time period of the day to be a bicyclist out on the roadways.

On April 30, 2012, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) released a detailed and comprehensive report on roadway safety that was prepared by T.Y. Lin International and Western Michigan University (WMU). Entitled, Sharing the Road: Optimizing Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety and Vehicle Mobility, the report with appendices is several hundred pages long, but contains a wealth of information from the 2005-2010 time period that is useful to bicycling advocates and others. Here are a few juicy tidbits pertaining to bicycling:

  • Youth (ages 5-15) involvement in bicycle crashes in Michigan is higher than national statistics: 32.4% compared to 26.8%.That means nearly one-third of all young people in Michigan are involved in a bicycle crash and one-forth of those (25.3%) are fatal/serious.
  • In all other age classifications, Michigan’s rate is lower than the national data, except for those 65-74 years old.
  • Men are involved in 81% of all fatal bicycle crashes in Michigan.
  • Bicycle crash locations are nearly evening spilt between intersections and non-intersections (49% to 51%).
  • Despite the perceived safety of a signalized intersection, almost half of all fatal and serious injury bicycle accidents (48.9%) took place at signalized intersections.
  • More than half of all fatal/serious injury bicycle accidents took place on two-lane roads (56.6%), followed by five-lane (13.8%); four-lane (12.9%) and three-lane (9.7%).
  • Together, 25 and 30 mph streets (neighborhood and downtown streets) accounted for 75.5% of all bicycle crashes, but the majority of fatal bicycle crashes took place on streets/roads with a speed limit of 45 mph or greater even though they comprised only 19% of the crashes.
  • Between 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m., 27.2% of fatal and serious bicycle crashes took place, followed by 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. (21.8%); and 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. (18.5%).
  • The day of the week made almost no difference for fatal and serious injury bicycle crashes in the 2005-2010 time frame, ranging between a low of 151 on Sundays to a high of 220 on Wednesdays. The average is 192 and the weekday average is 205.2.
  • More than two-thirds (71.2%) of all fatal and serious injury bicycle accidents took place during daylight hours and 89% where when the pavement was dry.
  • Alcohol was not involved for the motorist or bicyclist in 70% of the fatal and serious injury crashes.

Now that the sad and sorrowful crash data have been accumulated, what next? To MDOT’s credit the report also identified and studied many possible solutions at length. Some of the results of this analyses may be a bit disappointing, particularly for road diet advocates like myself. Among the improvements analyzed related to bicyclists at intersections were bulb-outs, roundabouts, bicycle signal detection, bike boxes, two-stage bike left turn, combined bike/turn lane, and bicycle signals. Along corridors, improvements considered included paved shoulders, road diets, raised medians, bike lanes, shared lane markings, buffered bike lanes, colored bike lanes, contra-flow bike panes, left side bike lanes, and cycle tracks.

  • Roundabouts showed an overall decrease in all types of crashes by 35%, injury crashes by 76% and fatal crashes by 89%. They also are one of the most expense improvements, costing between $250,000 and $500,000.
  • Road diets reduced all crash types anywhere from 14% to 49%.
  • Raised medians reduce all crashes by 40%, and by as much as 69% at unsignalized intersections.
  • Bike lanes can reduce bicycle crashes by 50% and are most appropriate on streets with average daily traffic volumes exceeding 3,000 and posted speeds between 25 and 35 mph.
  • Buffered bike lanes are preferable on roadways with speed limits exceeding 35 mph.
  • Shared lane marking (sharrows) were found to increase bicyclist visibility to motorists, reduce the occurrence of wrong-way riding, and riding on sidewalks.
  • Green, high-visibility bike lanes will be added to the next version of the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).  Where tested, these have been shown to improve safety through a variety of measurements.

Unfortunately, specific numerical data for some of the options listed above were not provided (perhaps due to a low number of previous studies). Instead summary charts were utilized that rated improvements with terms such as “reduce,” “no difference,” “better,” and “worse.” A separate column rated the estimated cost for each from “low” to “high.” The review also did not appear to judge improvements in combination, but instead each on it’s own merits.

The preparers of the study did make a number of useful recommendations to MDOT and provided a terrific document entitled Best Design Practices for Walking and Bicycling in Michigan. Here is a list of the most bicycling-pertinent recommendations from the report (not as many as I had hoped for):

  • It is suggested that this could be the basis for a separate Michigan Design Guide chapter dedicated to accommodating bicycles (instead of under “Miscellaneous Structures”).
  • It is recommended that this guidance (shared lane markings) should be incorporated in the Michigan Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MMUTCD).
  • It is recommended that MDOT should permit the establishment of target speeds as a potential solution when conducting speed studies, using the ITE proposed recommended practice Context Sensitive Solutions in Designing Major Urban Thoroughfares for Walkable Communities.

All in all, the report is very comprehensive and does address most, if not all safety issues raised by bicyclists. At the same time, it would have been useful to include data on the effects of combined improvements and consider the mobility challenges that bicyclists and pedestrians face with same degree of importance that is given to motorist mobility. There always seems to be an inherent default towards the motorist, when in fact the term “transportation” is meant to apply all forms, not just cars.

by Rick Brown

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Is the Rust Belt Starting to "Get It" on Bicycling?

Photo: Flickr user DewCon, LaCrosse, Wisconsin

At the conclusion of this post is a list of Rust Belt metropolitan areas where clusters of bicycle-friendly organizations (communities, colleges, and businesses) have agglomerated. The numbers are based on those organizations which have been recognized as “bicycle-friendly” by the League of American Bicyclists. These clusters are important for several reasons:

  • The data shows that more places are “getting it,” not just “progressive” enclaves.
  • They show that coordinated efforts are taking place in a variety of metropolitan areas, and broadly within each metropolitan area, not just in lone islands of bike friendliness.
  • They show healthy participation by the public sector, private sector, and by non-profits.
  • The data shows that one smaller Rust Belt metropolitan area deserves extra special recognition for the extent of bicycle-friendly organizations in their community compared to much larger urban areas – La Crosse, Wisconsin. On a per capita basis, La Crosse is definitely the most bicycle-friendly metropolitan area in the Rust Belt and may be in the entire country.

Source: cityoflacrosse.org

If your Rust Belt metropolitan area is not included in the list, consider contacting your local public officials, area business leaders, and local educational institutions or non-profits and ask them if they have considered becoming a bicycle friendly organization. If not, then ask them why not?

There is a good possibility that those metropolitan areas that fail to act soon will be left in the proverbial wake of the active/non-motorized transportation revolution. We are at an important crossroads in the Rust Belt, working to remain competitive in the 21st century. Being left behind from a dynamic trend of active transportation could spell the difference between future economic growth or gradual economic decline. Fortunately, those cities listed below, such as La Crosse, Wisconsin have taken the important steps necessary to define their future in a positive (and healthy) manner.

Here is the list:

  • (29) Twin Cities, MN – two communities, one university, and 26 businesses
  • (18) Pittsburgh, PA – one community, one university, and 16 businesses
  • (15) Indianapolis, IN – three communities and 12 businesses
  • (15) Madison, WI
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    two communities, one university, and 12 businesses

  • (14) La Crosse, WI/MN – one community and 13 businesses
  • (11) Chicago, IL/IN/WI – three communities and eight businesses
  • (10) Philadelphia, PA/NJ/DE – two communities and eight businesses
  • (6) Bloomington, IN – one community, one university, and four businesses
  • (6) Cedar Rapids-Iowa City, IA – two communities and three businesses
  • (6) Columbus, OH – one community, one university, and four businesses
  • (5) Champaign-Urbana, IL – one community and four businesses
  • (5) Detroit-Ann Arbor-Flint, MI – one community, one university, and three businesses
  • (5) Grand Rapids, MI – one community and four businesses
  • (5) South Bend-Elkhart, IN/MI – two communities and three businesses
  • (4) Burlington, VT – one community, one university, and two businesses
  • (4) Greater Lansing, MI – one community, one university, and two businesses

Rick Brown

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Filed under Brain Drain, Economic Development, Featured, Good Ideas, Green Jobs, Politics, Public Transportation, sprawl, the environment, Urban Planning

"Bicycle Friendly Communities" of the Rust Belt

Source: ribike.org

At the end of this post is a list of those communities in the Rust Belt that have been designated by the League of American Bicyclists as a “Bicycle Friendly Community” on its 2012 list. A total of 210 communities have received this honor nationwide, including 47 (22.4%) here in the Rust Belt.

Nine communities that are shown in italics were added to the list in the past year.  Another 11 communities in the Rust Belt where named honorable mentions. Please note the list does not include several communities in the Boston, New York City, and Washington, DC metropolitan areas. Some feel these cities should not be considered part of the Rust Belt.

More details about criteria and how your community can be designated a “Bicycle Friend Community” and are available through this weblink to the League of American Bicyclists website.  The five categories (or E’s) which are used for judging a community’s bike friendliness are:

  • Engineering
  • Education
  • Encouragement
  • Enforcement
  • Evaluation and Planning

Separate designations are possible for states, college campuses, and businesses.  Congratulations to all those communities so designated, especially to those in the Rust Belt.

PLATINUM (0)

  • None (only three communities nationwide – Boulder, CO; Davis, CA; and Portland, OR)

GOLD (2)

  • Madison, Wisconsin
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota

SILVER (5)

  • Ann Arbor, Michigan
  • Bloomington, Indiana
  • Burlington, Vermont
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • La Crosse, Wisconsin

BRONZE (40)

  • Baltimore, Maryland
  • Brunswick, Maine
  • Carmel, Indiana
  • Cedar Falls, Iowa
  • Cedar Rapids, Iowa
  • Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Columbus, Indiana
  • Columbus, Ohio
  • Dayton, Ohio
  • Des Moines, Iowa
  • Eau Claire, Wisconsin
  • Fort Wayne, Indiana
  • Franklin, Pennsylvania
  • Goshen, Indiana
  • Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • Greater Mankato, Minnesota
  • Houghton, Michigan
  • Indianapolis/Marion County, Indiana
  • Iowa City, Iowa
  • Keene, New Hampshire
  • Lansing, Michigan
  • Marquette, Michigan
  • Morgantown, West Virginia
  • Naperville, Illinois
  • Newark, Delaware
  • Northampton, Massachusetts
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Portage, Michigan
  • Rochester, Minnesota
  • St. Louis, Missouri
  • St. Paul, Minnesota
  • Schaumburg, Illinois
  • Sheboygan County, Wisconsin
  • South Bend, Indiana
  • South Windsor, Connecticut
  • State College, Pennsylvania
  • Traverse City, Michigan
  • University Heights, Iowa
  • Urbana, Illinois

HONORABLE MENTION (11)

  • Detroit, Michigan
  • Dubuque, Iowa
  • Elmhurst, Illinois
  • Gahanna, Ohio
  • Hagerstown, Maryland
  • Huntington, West Virginia
  • Middleton, Wisconsin
  • Monroe County, Indiana
  • Portland, Maine
  • River Falls, Wisconsin
  • West Des Moines, Iowa

Rick Brown

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