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NTM: Transportation as a Catalyst for Strengthening Detroit
by Stephen H
NTM I-NetNews Team at the National Town Meeting
source: SolarQuest®

Detroit, Michigan •• May 24, 1999 •• SolarQuest® iNet News Service ••

National Town Meeting Learning Session Summary
Tuesday, May 4, 1999, - 4 pm
Cobo Center, Detroit Michigan
Approximately 70 attendees

Session Chair:
Mr. Stephen L. K. Hands, Transportation Advocate, Transportation Riders' Union

Panelists:
Ms. Gloria J. Jeff, Deputy Administrator, Federal Highway Administration
Mr. Albert A. Martin, Director, Detroit Department of Transportation.
Dr. Amory B. Lovins. Cofounder and Vice President, Rocky Mountain Institute
The Honorable George Cushingberry, Jr., Wayne County Commissioner

Using Detroit as a backdrop, the panel detailed how the economic viability and desirability of your city can greatly be improved, while congestion and pollution are reduced, through foresighted transportation planning. The key factor in developing improvements to public transportation is for the region to have a common vision for improvements. This session focused on understanding transportation problems and devising effective solutions, such as integrating commuter and light rail systems with downtown redevelopment plans. Panelists reviewed public transit history in Detroit and discussed innovations in Brazilian and European public transportation systems as potential models. Stephen Hands, a student at Grosse Pointe South High School in Michigan, developed this program.

The presenters were as follows:
Mr. Stephen L. K, Hands, Transportation Advocate, Transportation Riders' Union
Ms. Gloria J. Jeff, Deputy Administrator, Federal Highway Administration
Mr. Albert A. Martin, Director, Detroit Department of Transportation.
Dr. Amory B. Lovins, Cofounder and Vice President, Rocky Mountain Institute
The Honorable George Cushingberry, Jr., Wayne County Commissioner

Stephen Hands

  • History-Detroit had a world class public transportation system consisting of the Detroit Street Railway system with streetcars arriving every 90 seconds during peak periods and every 5 minutes during off-peak hours. This system was key to developing the city as it was in the 1950's with the large number of dense, full buildings downtown. Almost everyone used the system, few people drove, there were few parking spaces downtown.
  • Present-Detroit currently has two bus systems and only 2.9 miles of light rail (the people mover). Detroit Department of Transportation (D-DOT) the city system is a system with high usage and low cost per ride. The City of Detroit supports the system with a strategic investment from the general fund to meet operating costs. The other system Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transit (SMART) is the suburban system that also serves downtown. It has low usage and a high cost per ride. Most funding comes from state and federal funds. Downtown is struggling with only a fraction of the people downtown now as in the past with a multiple of scary, enclosed parking garages and a tremendous percentage of space taken up for car storage.
  • Future-The Michigan Department of Transportation in a joint study with Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) has determined that a commuter rail system consisting of 3 lines, 100 miles and 30 stations can be established for about $130 million. Trains would serve users during normal commuter hours. Detroit could also establish dedicated bus lane system (soft-rail, or a Curitiba-type system) down the major arterial roads that all have sufficient current capacity to dedicate center lanes to bus-lanes only. This could be very cost effective.

Gloria Jeff, Deputy Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration

  • Improving public transportation in Detroit is a political issue, not a money issue.
  • Get the political will to develop a good public transportation system and the money will come. The federal government has programs in place to support mass transit, given a good proposal.
  • Other amenities that are a factor in people using transit are things such as street lights, sidewalks, and pedestrian friendly bus stops.
  • The region must have a cooperative regional plan supported and embraced by the three local counties, Wayne oakland and Macomb as well as the City of Detroit.
  • SEMCOG is the appropriate forum in which to develop that plan.
  • Transportation is not just moving people, but also moving that goods that make it possible to live in unity.

Al Martin, Director, Detroit Department of Transportation

  • Public transportation is the "to" in "Welfare to Work."
  • Create a system that is clean, safe, reliable, and efficient and the people with a choice will use the system.
  • Public transit takes vehicles off the roads and increases the capacity of roads. As an example of how this affects our region, a daily 5 minute delay of a UPS delivery truck costs the company $40,000 per year.
  • An intermodel freight facility would do a lot to reduce truck volumes on our expressways and increase the freight transportation efficiency for the region.
  • Other amenities that are a factor in people using transit are things such as street lights, sidewalks, and pedestrian friendly bus stops.
  • A number of years ago, Detroit lost almost a billion dollars in federal transit money because we as a community could not agree on how to spend the money.
  • We, as a community, have to work together and develop a common vision for transportation in the Detroit Region.
  • The region can come together as they did to defeat making any significant regional change to develop cleaner air. Should not the region be able to come together for better transportation?

Amory Lovins Cofounder and VP, Rocky Mountain Institute

  • Curitiba, Brazil developed a visionary concept for development and public transportation. The city leaders looked at the city as a complete system and have had amazing success based on the value of personal capital and viewing the system as a whole. In Curitiba, with almost no money, the city was able to establish a dedicated busway system that looks and acts like a subway system, but at grade and at a fraction of the cost.
  • In addition, some interesting new technology is being developed to bring the hypercar type technology to public transportation (Cybertran.)
  • If the system is light, it is easy and inexpensive to develop with very light bridge and rail requirements.

George Cushingberry, Jr. Wayne County Commissioner.

  • We need to get the Southeast Michigan communities together to develop a common vision for transportation in Southeast Michigan. With a common vision, we can develop a world-class transportation system in the Detroit region that everyone in the region can be proud of. If there is no political will, there is no basis for testing new technology.
  • Other issues in the way include that we need to improve race relations.

Learning Toolkit

For additional information sources, review the following websites:

Stephen L. K. Hands
Transportation Advocate
Transportation Riders' Union
1067 Devonshire Road
Grosse Pointe Park, MI 48230
313.885.7588
fax 313.885.7883
slkhands@voyager.net

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