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Posts from the "Detroit" Category

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Man Walks 21 Miles to Commute Each Day Because of Detroit’s Awful Transit

A piece in the Detroit Free Press about 56-year-old factory worker James Robertson and his 21-mile round-trip walking commute to the Detroit suburbs is going viral this week. It is both an amazing story of individual perseverance and a scathing indictment of a failing transportation system.

Robertson’s total commute is actually a 46-mile round-trip, split between different buses and a marathon walk. He has been taking this route to reach his job in Rochester Hills from his home in Detroit since his Honda Accord died 10 years ago, he told the Detroit Free Press. Baldwin can’t afford a new car on the wages from his $10-an-hour job.

Despite this formidable obstacle, Robertson has never missed a day of work. ”I can’t imagine not working,” he told the paper.

Readers from around the country who were inspired by Robertson’s story have raised $72,000 for him (at the time we published), more than enough to get a car. But a crowdfunded car can’t help everyone who’s in a similar situation in Detroit.

CeCe Grant, executive director of Americans for Transit, says Robertson’s situation is “partially by cruel design.” Detroit’s suburban bus system, SMART, allows municipalities to “opt-out.” That “has always sported a sharp cultural edge, because it nudges up against the notion that some communities don’t want ‘those people,’ be they Detroiters or blacks or bus riders, coming through their locales,” she said. “Because Rochester Hills doesn’t participate in SMART, Robertson must walk the last seven miles of his journey to work — after taking a SMART bus as far as it can reach into Oakland County.”

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Michigan Gas Tax Hike Could Provide Some Relief for Detroit Transit Riders

Michigan state senators voted last week to approve a gas tax hike expected to net more than $1 billion annually to fix the state’s notoriously potholed roads, reports the Free Press. The measure, if it passes the House intact, could also be good news for Detroit’s woefully inadequate transit system.

A provision of the bill would allow Detroit to spend 20 percent of its portion of the proceeds on transit. Detroit has been funding transit only through its general fund — with no dedicated revenue stream — and it has arguably the worst transit system of any major city in the nation. With the city in bankruptcy, general fund revenues for transit have been in short supply. Riders report two-and-a-half-hour one-way commutes, or buses that never show, making it nearly impossible to hold down a job without a car.

Although the region is in the process of merging Detroit’s transit system with SMART, the suburban transit provider, establishing a seamless system has been fraught with political challenges. Regional planners, for instance, recently shifted millions of dollars in transit funding from Detroit to the suburbs. A new funding source would be huge.

Under the plan approved by the State Senate, Michigan’s gas tax would incrementally rise 17 cents per gallon over the next few years. Raising the tax to fix the state’s roads has been a top priority of Governor Rick Snyder, and Republican lawmakers apparently felt comfortable advancing it following the election.

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To Destabilize Detroit’s Fragile Renaissance, Go Ahead and Widen I-94

Several historic buildings, including Detroit's oldest recording studio, would be mowed down to widen I-94 for no reason. Photo: Mode Shift via U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group

Several historic buildings, including Detroit’s oldest recording studio, would be mowed down to widen I-94 for no reason. Photo: Mode Shift via U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group

A recent report by U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group, “Highway Boondoggles: Wasted Money and America’s Transportation Future,” examines 11 of the most wasteful, least justifiable road projects underway in America right now. Here’s the latest installment in our series profiling the various bad decisions that funnel so much money to infrastructure that does no good. 

Michigan highway planners want to spend $2.7 billion to widen Interstate 94 through the heart of Detroit, saying that the existing road needs not just resurfacing and better bridges, but also more space for traffic. State officials continue to push forward with the project despite Detroit’s rapid population loss and other woes, and despite the fact that traffic volume on the stretch being considered for expansion is no higher than it was in 2005. Expanding the highway might even make Detroit’s economic recovery more difficult by further separating two neighborhoods that have been leading the city’s nascent revitalization.

The proposal would widen a seven-mile segment of I-94 called the Edsel Ford Expressway, which runs in a trench through the center of the city between the Midtown and New Center neighborhoods. Those areas are important for the city’s revitalization because of their central location. Efforts there to boost arts and culture, retail and commercial space, and downtown living have been gaining steam in recent years.

In fact, better connecting the neighborhoods is one reason for a $140 million streetcar project that broke ground this July. Officials have already begun calling for expansion of that project, but funds are currently lacking.

The proposed expansion of the highway would have the opposite effect, widening the physical trench between the neighborhoods and removing 11 bridges across the freeway that would not be replaced. As a result, walking and biking in the area would become much less convenient, forcing people to travel as much as six blocks out of their way to reach destinations.

Transportation officials say many buildings would have to be removed to make room for the wider road. The project requires displacing or demolishing 12 commercial buildings, 14 single-family homes, two duplexes and two apartment buildings with 14 units between them, as well as three buildings either on or eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, including the city’s oldest recording studio.

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Connecting Detroit Neighborhoods With Better Streets and Public Spaces

This intersection redesign would incorporate bump-out parking, bike lanes, crosswalk, landscape improvements, and sidewalk bordering techniques to make it more comfortable for pedestrians. Image: Economics of Place

This intersection redesign calls for sidewalk extensions, bike lanes, high-visibility crosswalks, and landscape improvements to make it safer and more comfortable. Image: Economics of Place

Can safer streets and livelier public spaces help knit Detroit back together?

The Michigan Municipal League thinks so, and it is working hard to show southeast Michigan how. Recently the organization teamed up with some partners to address a problem area in southwest Detroit, or Mexicantown.

Sarah Craft at the Economics of Place blog explains:

Vernor is Southwest Detroit’s main street and is populated with densely packed storefronts, restaurants, and independent businesses. Due to Southwest Detroit’s proximity to Canada and the international bridge crossing, the area unfortunately has quite a bit of industrial land use and suffers from a high volume of truck traffic.

Vernor’s vibrant commercial district is divided by about a half mile “gap,” created by complicated intersections, a former industrial complex, wide one-way roads, a viaduct, and an unnatural bend in the road. In an effort to better connect the east and west sides of Vernor, the League partnered with Southwest Detroit Business Association (SDBA) and Archive DS to collect resident ideas, concerns, and desires to reduce the gap and better connect the community.

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7 Photos Show How Detroit Hollowed Out During the Highway Age

While searching for images of highway interchanges in urban areas, I came across these historic aerial photos of Detroit on a message board, showing how the city fabric has slowly eroded. It’s a remarkable record of a process that has scarred many other American cities.

1949: Here’s what the east side of the city looked like right at the middle of the century, with Gratiot Avenue forming the diagonal. Detroit was a big, bustling city.

1949

1952: Just a few years later though, urban renewal and other city-clearing initiatives were already leaving their mark.

1952

1961: Almost a decade later, you can see a large space south of Gratiot had been cleared to make way for Lafayette Park, a neighborhood of high-rise residential towers.

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Talking Headways Podcast: A Butterfly Flaps Its Wings In the Metro

At around 800 people per square mile, places go from voting red to voting blue. Image: ##http://davetroy.com/posts/the-real-republican-adversary-population-density##Dave  Troy##

At around 800 people per square mile, places go from voting red to voting blue. Image: Dave Troy

The metro is coming to Loudon County, Virginia. Eventually.

The Silver Line expansion that opens this summer will only go as far as Reston, but by 2018 it’ll be in Loudon, one of the nation’s fastest-growing — and wealthiest — counties.

As the county’s population continues to grow — especially among communities of color – will its density hit 800 people per square mile, which is the threshold at which places magically turn from Republican to Democrat? And if it does, will it turn Virginia from purple to blue? And with such an important swing state shifting solidly to one camp, does that change the national political balance? And what is it with the number 800 anyway?

We try to figure it all out on this week’s Talking Headways. Plus, Stephen Miller, my colleague from Streetsblog New York, joins us to talk about what is — and what isn’tmoving forward as part of the city’s Vision Zero plan.

And: Detroit is tearing down more than 20 percent of its housing stock to reduce blight and still splurges on roads. Is that the way to revitalize a city? The comments section awaits you.

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Detroit Has a $2 Billion Vacancy Crisis But the Region Still Splurges on Roads

On Tuesday, the results of a federal report on Detroit’s vacancy crisis made jaws drop: The pricetag for tearing down and cleaning up the city’s abandoned properties would be $1.85 billion, the report found.

Tearing down Detroit's abandoned residential and commercial structures would cost $1.85 billion -- far less than widening two highways in the area. Photo: Wikipedia

Transportation agencies are planning to spend billions on road projects that will only exacerbate Detroit’s vacancy problem. Photo: Wikipedia

Where the money will come from is a wide open question at this point. So is the more basic issue of whether tearing down dilapidated houses and factories is the best way to spend close to $2 billion to help Detroit.

But to put the figure in context and add a touch of irony, consider this: The Detroit region is moving forward with major highway expansion projects that will cost more than twice as much over the next decade as the proposal to address the vacancy problem.

Last year the Detroit regional planning agency approved close to $4 billion in spending to rebuild and expand I-94 and I-75 in the city and its nearby suburbs. These projects are moving forward despite widespread protests that they will further disinvestment in the urban core — a major factor in the city’s vacancy crisis.

This is a classic example of how the state, the regional planning agency, and the federal government have failed Detroit. It’s not that there’s no money flowing into the region — the money just can’t be used for what the city really needs. Instead, the big transportation bureaucracies just keep pumping money into the same kind of thing they’ve been doing for 50 years.

You’d think 40,000 vacant buildings would be a wakeup call that business as usual has failed. What will it take for the Detroit region to reexamine the planning policies that helped land it in this position?

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Parking Madness Elite Eight: Rochester vs. Detroit

The last spot in the 2014 Parking Madness Final Four is at stake today, as Rochester faces off against Detroit.

The pictures of these two places, below, really speak for themselves. So without further ado, we’ll leave it up to you guys to tell us which city has the worst parking crater.

Here’s Rochester:

rochester

This soulless, unlovable area, reports submitter Matthew Denker, used to be the town square for Rochester, where the annual Christmas tree was raised. That was before the Inner Loop freeway came along and decimated the place.

Can Detroit beat that?

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Parking Madness: Detroit vs. Atlanta

parking_madness_2014_2

Yesterday, Chicago’s United Center parking lots bested Denver’s Court Place parking crater in the first match-up of Parking Madness 2014. Today, two heavyweights are facing off: It’s the motor city versus sprawl city in a bare-knuckle brawl of car infrastructure run amok.

Without further ado, here’s the Detroit entry. Warning: This could get ugly.

detroit_madness

This picture really needs no further elaboration. Submitter Gerald Fittipaldi says these lots are only used infrequently, during sporting events, and that there’s potential here for mixed-use development.

On to Atlanta:

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To Revive Detroit Transit, One Resident Takes Matters Into His Own Hands

Detroit, the country’s 18th largest city, has seen its transit system shrink to the point where few people can rely on it to get to work. The situation got so bad that one young entrepreneur stopped waiting on the region’s dysfunctional government agencies and started running private buses.

In this video by Dark Rye (an initiative of Whole Foods), Detroiter Andy Didorosi explains how his frustration with the city’s transit system inspired the Detroit Bus Company. Didorosi started DBC in 2012 with $50,000 to buy and paint six used school buses. With support from local foundations, the company started transporting kids to after-school activities. Now DBC is testing service to the airport and a commuter route from nearby Royal Oak to downtown Detroit. Riders pay $5 for an all-day pass; airport service is $12. Paid fares subsidize free rides for people in need, through a program DBC calls “WeRide.”

Didorosi says he was motivated by the cancellation of the M-1 Rail project in late 2011. (The project has since been revived as a three-mile streetcar proposal.) But Detroit’s transit system has been in a downward spiral for some time. The latest blow came earlier this year, when planners arbitrarily cut the city’s transit budget by $7 million. Still, the recent creation of Detroit’s first regional transit system, replacing separate suburban and city systems, should lead to better transit service in the years ahead.