A cycling perspective on Detroit’s EFM

Detroit EFMOn Friday, Governor Rick Snyder announced his plans to install an Emergency Finance Manager or EFM in the city of Detroit.

There are many varied opinions on this, but we’ll just look at it from a cycling and trails perspective just as we did with the earlier consent agreement.

The Mayor’s office and City Council have been very supportive of making the city more bike friendly and more walkable. There’s not another city in Metro Detroit that’s doing more. So from a high-level perspective, an EFM reduces their influence and could potentially derail some of this positive momentum.

Will that happen? Probably not.

The EFM will likely focus on general funding issues. Most of the bike and trail work is funded through grants, philanthropy, and the city’s road fund, which comes from the state and federal government. General funds are not used to build bike lanes or trails. The state and federal road funds cannot be spent on anything but transportation according to Michigan’s Constitution.

However, general funds are used to maintain city parks, through which some trails pass. Those park services were severely cut after the failed Belle Isle lease proposal. The park closure most directly affecting trails is Maheras-Gentry. The Conner Creek Greenway would remain open, but the park entrance maybe closed to motor vehicles.

According to the Detroit Free Press, public transit, lighting, and public safety are more likely to be affected. Certainly these all affect bicycling and walking as well. Deeper cuts to public transit could force more people to seek alternative travel options, like biking. And, Detroit surveys say that adequate lighting and public safety are key requirements for residents to walk and bike more, especially at night.

One area of concern is will key city employees seek other employment during this tumultuous time. Traffic Engineering recently lost two designers to other opportunities. At least one will be able to be rehired. But again, Traffic Engineering doesn’t rely on the general fund. Filling other vacant staff positions under an EFM might not be challenging.

There is one EFM rumor that we know is false. Detroit’s EFM will probably not be the young cyclist with training wheels shown on the Governor’s EFM brochure.

What are your thoughts?

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3 Responses to “A cycling perspective on Detroit’s EFM”

  1. Andrew Mutch Says:

    I wonder if some of those city services will be outsourced to outside engineering firms? Even though those people apparently are not funded by general fund dollars, I’m sure they all have an impact on the city’s bottom line through benefit costs for pensions, etc. and outsourcing would allow an EFM to reduce those costs by eliminating or reducing the long-term legacy costs.

    Also, I would be concerned about a lack of focus on alternative forms of transportation. As you know, the biggest obstacle to implementing improvements is a lack of focus by communities on these needs. In those communities without advocates, often these issues fall by the wayside.

  2. Todd Scott Says:

    Traffic Engineering has suggested they may have to contract some of the design work if they can’t get additional staff as you suggest.

    Aren’t transportation staff benefits payable through road funding as well? I believe the Michigan Legislature has passed a bill requiring road agencies to switch from pensions to employee-contribution funds as a prerequisite for receiving road funding.

  3. Andrew Mutch Says:

    I think it depends on the community and how they fund these positions. Road commissions typically only get funding via Act 51 dollars. But local governments often have multiple funding sources for roads including general fund dollars, millages and Act 51 dollars. In those cases, often times those benefit costs are allocated elsewhere. That’s a question someone inside the City of Detroit could best answer.

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