Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Blueprint America: Beyond the Motor City

Blueprint America: Beyond the Motor City, a new documentary directed by critically-acclaimed filmmaker Aaron Woolf (King Corn), examines how Detroit, a grim symbol of America’s diminished status in the world, may come to represent the future of transportation and progress in America. The film debuts nationally on PBS on February 8 at 10 pm (check local listings).

Narrated by Blueprint America correspondent Miles O’Brien, the 90-minute documentary asks whether it is time to fundamentally change the way Detroiters — and by extension all Americans — get around. Detroit is the crucible in which the nation’s ability to move toward a modern 21st century transportation infrastructure is put to the test. The documentary shows how investments in the past — beginning with the construction of canals in the 18th century — profoundly shaped Detroit’s physical layout, population growth and economic development. Before being dubbed the Motor City, Detroit was once home to the nation’s most extensive streetcar system. In fact, it was that vast network of streetcars that carried workers to the area’s many car factories. And it was the cars made in those factories that would soon displace the streetcars in Detroit — and in every major American city.

Detroit’s engineers went on to design the nation’s first urban freeways and inspired much of America’s 20th century transportation infrastructure system — from traffic signals to gas stations — that became the envy of the word.

But over the last 30 years, much of the world has moved on, choosing faster, cleaner, more modern transportation and leaving America — and Detroit — behind. Viewers are taken on a journey beyond Detroit’s blighted urban landscape to Spain, home to one of the world’s most modern and extensive transit systems; to California, where voters recently said yes to America’s first high speed rail system; and to Washington, where Congress will soon decide whether to finally push America’s transportation into the 21st century.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Ray LaHood

Ray LaHood
Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood discusses the rebuilding of America's infrastructure and the future of high-speed rail.

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Moving Minds: The Next Transportation Infrastructure

SMART undertakes research, demonstration projects, education, and global learning exchange on a range of issues related to the future of transportation in city regions around the world.

Action for sustainable transportation is especially important now, as accelerating urbanization, population growth, globalization, and demographic shifts reinforce transportation and development patterns that threaten climate, environment, biodiversity, energy security, social equity, productivity, urban economies, and the quality of our lives. Recognizing the complexity of the challenge and the sophistication of the innovation required, SMART takes a systems approach to urban mobility and accessibility. We work with local and international partners from diverse sectors and disciplines to understand and develop new theoretical perspectives, and to generate practical, innovative solutions that tell a holistic and hopeful story for the future of city regions and the people in them.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Detroit lawmaker to introduce bills

C class tram number 3017 at the St Vincent's P...Image via Wikipedia

Detroit lawmaker to introduce bills to establish regional mass transit authority
12:45 pm, December 16, 2009
By Bill Shea

State Rep. Bert Johnson will introduce legislation Thursday that would establish a regional mass transit authority for metro Detroit despite concern from Mayor Dave Bing’s administration.

Johnson, D-Detroit, said he wants the bills introduced before the Legislature leaves for the year at the end of the week, saying that federal transportation funding will be lost to elsewhere if action isn’t taken soon.

“I don’t think we can waste any more time, with other states and cities competing for those dollars,” he said.

Bills that would set up the authority to govern a system of improved and new bus and rail service throughout Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties, and in the city of Detroit, have been in the works for months.

The legislation sets up a board with members appointed by the Detroit mayor, the elected executives of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties, and the governor. In turn, the board would hire a CEO to run the system on a daily basis.

The bills also set up the authority’s ability to levy a tax to run the system, but only after voter approval.

The legislatively-approved legal authority is needed to qualify for federal transportation dollars to finance and operate the regional system, which is the brainchild of local transit czar John Hertel. His proposed system of more than 400 miles of buses and trains would cost $10.5 billion over 25 years, but elements would only be deployed as ridership demand dictated.

The mayor of Detroit and executives from the three counties jointly the Regional Transit Coordinating Council but dubbed the Big 4 hired Hertel in 2006 to run their regional mass transit effort.

In December 2008, they approved the initial plan and directed Hertel to develop ideas for governing and financing the system.

The three counties were able to reach an accord on the bulk of the proposed legislation, but the city objected because the 65-35 city-suburbs percentage split of federal transit funding set up in the 1980s would be replaced in the new legislation by tradition state and federal formulas.

“The city is right to be concerned for that. That’s a very valid point,” Johnson said, but added that it was something that needed to be worked out in the legislative process rather than delaying the bills altogether.

“These are imperfect ideas we hope to make more perfect” through negotiations during work group and committee meetings, he said.

Johnson has been negotiating with Detroit CFO Norm White, who still oversees the city’s transportation concerns. White couldn’t be reached for comment.

Hertel said he was “thrilled” the bills are finally being introduced, but much work remains ahead.

“I won’t feel satisfied, nor will be needs of the community be satisfied, until we get this signed into law,” Hertel said.

The regional transit system which includes but is still organizationally separate from a $300 million public-private effort to build a light rail on Detroit’s Woodward Avenue would be federally funded, with state and local dollars contributing to both capital and operational costs.

The estimated annual base operating cost of the system, if built entirely, would be $293 million. The plan, the product of a $400,000 regional transit study by Kansas City-based transportation consulting firm TranSystems Corp., is 406 miles of improved buses and routes, light rail and commuter trains.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, during an October speech to the Detroit Economic Club, said metro Detroit needed to set up a regional system if it truly wanted to compete for federal money a fact Johnson said fuels the urgency to get the bills introduced.

“We have to get out regional act together, then get federal money,” he said.

A message was left for Oakland County’s Patterson, who has expressed concern about the proposed legislation in the past.

The RTCC acts as a pass-through for federal money for the Detroit Department of Transportation and the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation bus systems, but it is not the type of legal entity needed to manage a regional transit system.

Hanging over the regional system effort is the memory of the Detroit Area Regional Transportation Authority, which died after legal challenges by local transit unions. The Michigan Supreme Court in May 2006 declined to hear an appeal of a 2005 Michigan Court of Appeals ruling that found DARTA was not legally established.

Hertel has said organized labor has been part of the current system’s discussions in an effort to ensure there isn’t a repeat of the DARTA situation.

© 2009 Crain Communications Inc.

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Time for Justice, Time for Jobs

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Time for Justice, Time for Jobs
Webinar and Congressional Call-In Day: Dec. 17-18
The presidential administration is urging the House of Representatives to pass a job creation bill before Dec. 22. President Obama has said that transportation infrastructure spending will be a significant part of the bill.

Your experience and our studies have shown that the jobs the stimulus produced did not go to the people who need them most disadvantaged people: low income people, people of color, women and homeless/formerly homeless people.

Now is the time to take action to guarantee that any new jobs bill contains strong workforce equity requirements.

On Thur., Dec. 17th from 2-3pm ET, join our Webinar online or by phone for analysis, talking points, and training with:
· Judith Bell, PolicyLink
· Dr. Todd Swanstrom, Public Policy Research Center
· Rev. Paul Slack, ISAIAH

To register for the webinar, click here.

On Fri., Dec. 18th, join our National Congressional Call-In Day targeting Rep. James Oberstar and Rep. David Obey, the House members who have the most say over who will get the jobs. Visit the Take Action page at for more details.

· Rep. James Oberstar - Chair, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee - (202) 225-6211
· Rep. David Obey - Chair, House Appropriations Committee - (202) 225-3365

For more information, visit or write
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Friday, December 11, 2009

Funding for Woodward Avenue light rail project clears political hurdle

Detroit’s Woodward Avenue light rail plans have cleared a key hurdle, with an agreement struck in Washington on matching funds that can qualify for the project.

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Detroit, announced that she got an amendment added to a federal omnibus appropriations bill that will allow $125 million that privately funded M1 Rail Inc. will spend on a link between Detroit’s Hart Plaza and New Center to be used as local matching funds for a publicly funded further extension of the line.

The city of Detroit plans an estimated $300 million extension of the line, from the New Center to Eight Mile Road.

Crain’s had previously reported the funding match provision had run into objections from U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar, D-Minn., whose concerns included that bill language failed to require the private project to meet federal requirements for projects receiving federal funds.

Kilpatrick, however, said in a news release she was “able to forge a compromise” that will allow the $125 million to be applied toward the local match for the Woodward light rail project.

The provision was in the final version of the federal transportation budget that’s part of a multi-department appropriations bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday.

The measure is expected to also pass the U.S. Senate and be signed into law by President Obama, Kilpatrick said.

In a statement, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing called it “an important development for the future of mass transit in our city. This legislation would allow once and for all a true public-private partnership to be formed for light rail on Woodward Avenue.”

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Deal with city gives Detroit’s light-rail backers green light

Monday, October 26, 2009

White House on board to fix Detroit's bus mess


Federal officials are coming soon to figure out what can be done to help Detroit's struggling bus system, the Obama administration's top transportation official said Tuesday.

"It's the most common thing I've heard," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Tuesday, after a two-day visit to Detroit. "We need to figure out what they need. Is it more money, more equipment?"

The city -- facing a budget deficit -- has cut bus routes and 113 jobs in the Detroit Department of Transportation, leaving some bus riders stranded. LaHood met one of those riders, a King High School student struggling to find a way to school after his bus route was canceled.

Ed Cardenas, spokesman for Mayor Dave Bing, said the city looks forward to working with the Obama administration, "and we appreciate the offer of support."

Transit is going to be a federal priority as President Barack Obama pushes for pedestrain-friendly communities.

"One of the most critical aspects that we'll be looking at is there has to be a regional collaboration," he said. "There isn't enough money to do these things single-handedly."

In the late 1970s, the region walked away from $600 million in federal money to help build a light-rail system from downtown Detroit to Oakland and Macomb counties because city and suburban officials couldn't agree. In 2002, Gov. John Engler vetoed a bill that would have created a regional transportation authority.

"You all have to get your act together on this. It's not that complicated," LaHood said.

Metro Detroit leaders have agreed on a master plan, but they still must get the Legislature to create a regional transit authority, said John Hertel, executive director of the Regional Transit Coordinating Council.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Jobs and Transit Money Needed in Stimulus Bill, Groups Say National Coalition

Jobs and Transit Money Needed in Stimulus Bill, Groups Say
National Coalition Warns That Huge Package Must Help The Needy
Mass Transit Systems Are In Crisis in Many Cities, Coalition Claims

The stimulus bill must result in more funds for mass transit and more jobs for women and minorities essential, according to a national coalition of more than 300 groups called the Transportation Equity Network (TEN). The organizations are working to get Congress to make sure the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) includes
- increases in operating funds for public transit systems,
- pledges for hundreds of thousands of work hours for low-income people on construction projects, and
- significantly more funds for job training.

ARRA is being debated in the Senate this week.

"We believe that public transit is in crisis. Just in St. Louis, the transit system is laying off 600 workers and mothballing 165 buses. How are people supposed to get to work?" said Ron Trimmer, a TEN board member in the East St. Louis area. "New York, Washington, DC, Atlanta and Denver are all considering raising bus and train fares and slashing service. We must fund the operating costs for public transit in the stimulus bill."

"The package must also include more low-income people in its construction jobs. It can be done - you can have a large project, include low-income folks, and get it done on time,"
said Dr. Todd Swanstrom of University of Missouri - St. Louis.
In Illinois and Missouri, TEN worked with local groups like Metropolitan Congregations United and United Congregations of the Metro East to create a model jobs project on the rebuilding of Interstate 64. Now, 27 percent of the people who are working on the project are low-income folks, women and minorities.

"The Road to Good Jobs", authored by Swanstrom,
examined minority and female employment in 25 metro areas and found that white males dominate construction work, regardless of the racial and gender makeup of the local workforce as a whole. Though representing half of the population, women held only a small percentage of construction jobs, ranging from a high of nine percent in Cincinnati to a low of one percent in Cleveland. This was true despite the fact that construction has become increasingly mechanized. The authors contend that a female share of 25 percent would be an appropriate level of participation.

"With ARRA, we have an extraordinary opportunity to ensure that women and minorities receive a fair chance at this opportunity to earn a decent wage," said Laura Barrett of the Gamaliel Foundation and the Transportation Equity Network. "A signficant percent of the construction jobs funded by ARRA must be reserved to those who need them most. Also, we have a chance to protect the original 'green job,' driving buses and trains, from being cut in city after city. We must ensure that these 'green' and union jobs do not disappear while the need for mass transit is greater than ever."

More information is available at

THE INTERSECTION OF TRANSPORTATION, HEALTH, AND EQUITY How bold transportation policies can make all communities healthier and stronger

Traditional transportation policy has been crafted to move cars faster and further. Missing from the equation is how transportation, or lack thereof, affected people’s quality of life: their health, their opportunities and their vitality. The consequences of these policies are felt today with high levels of air pollution, injury, and lack of access to critical goods and services. Also, given our focus on cars, non-automobile related transportation options have been neglected; a lack of walking and biking infrastructure such as sidewalks, crosswalks and bike paths have added to the alarming increase in obesity in the U.S. All of these impacts are felt particularly strongly in low-income communities and communities of color adding to rampant health disparities in our nation.

The Transportation Prescription: Bold New Ideas for Healthy, Equitable Transportation Reform in America, a report by PolicyLink and Prevention Institute, commissioned by the Convergence Partnership, is a policy guide that analyzes the intersection of transportation, health and equity. This report provides key policy and program recommendations that can improve health outcomes in vulnerable communities, create economic opportunity, and enhance environmental quality.

This report also features a foreword by Rep. Jim Oberstar, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and one of the primary authors of the upcoming federal transportation bill -an over $500 billion investment that will set transportation policy and funding in the United States for approximately the next six years.

"For too long now, our transportation decision-making has failed to address the impacts that our infrastructure network has on public health and equity," Rep. Oberstar said. "The asphalt poured and lane miles constructed enhanced our mobility and strengthened our economic growth; but too often, this auto-centric mindset took hold and crowded out opportunities to invest in a truly sustainable inter-modal transportation system, in particular a system that meets the needs of underserved communities."

The Transportation Prescription outlines 11 key policy proposals, including:

  • Encouraging and funding healthy and environmentally responsible transportation options like buses, light rail, subways, biking, and walking;
  • Targeting transportation investments to low-income communities and communities of color in order to provide much needed access and lower health disparities;
  • Opening up the transpor tation planning process by involving local residents and committing to accountability and transparency so community members can have a say in what their needs are;
  • Promoting the health benefits of reducing injuries from traffic crashes, encouraging physical activity, and improving respiratory health.

The Transportation Prescription provides a summary of an in-depth review of the intersection of health, equity and transportation, by key academics and advocates in the field. The nearly 200-page analysis will be published separately in August in a report called Healthy, Equitable Transportation Policy: Recommendations and Research.