Posts Tagged ‘Good Roads’

Troy opposes transportation investments… again

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Troy, the “City of Tomorrow… Today” has been in the news lately with their recent rejection of federal funding for a transit station.

Now Brian Dickerson’s Free Press column, “In Troy, an all-too-familiar fear of the other” drops an H-bomb by calling them “hicks.”

To be a hick in 2011, then, is to be in a state of denial — which is why “hicks” is precisely the right word to describe Troy Mayor Janice Daniels and the like-minded elected city leaders who’ve sent Troy reeling backward in time, grasping for a past that is not so much racist or unsophisticated as it is, well, past.

But their real motive was transparent: the fear that outsiders currently disinclined to visit Troy may do so if enticed by a modern train station and convenient parking, at an incalculable cost to Troy taxpayers and their way of life.

This reminds us of a speech given by Horatio Earle in the late 1890s. Earle led the Good Roads committee for the League of Michigan Wheelmen — the state’s cycling body. He was in Troy to promote government investments in building good roads.

From his autobiography:

One night in Troy Township Hall, in Oakland County, where I was holding a meeting, it almost became a riot. I told them that they showed lack of intelligence, and gave me less consideration than would be shown a man in the center of Ethiopia; that some time they would be ashamed of themselves. And they have been; since then, they have made profuse apology.

The farmers said the muddy roads were good enough for them. They felt they were taxed enough already and they didn’t want city folks, especially bicyclists riding through their community.

Sound similar?

Now to be fair to Troy, Earle garnered the same negative reaction in nearby Royal Oak.

Then again, it’s likely that federal funding to improve the Royal Oak transit station would be greeted with celebration rather than controversy.

We should also mention again that Troy also created a citywide plan for non-motorized paths and Good Roads, now called Complete Streets. That plan also appears to be going nowhere.

Detroit’s Edward Hines: cyclist and road doctor

Friday, November 4th, 2011

One of Detroit’s most famous cycling and Good Roads advocate received a posthumous award from Amsterdam: The Paul Mijksenaar Design for Function Award 2011.

White lines down the middle of the road: What could be more obvious? And yet they were once – in 1911, to be exact – a brilliant new idea. In Michigan, Edward N. Hines, a member of the Wayne County Road Commission, saw a leaky milk wagon leaving a liquid trail on a dusty roadway. It made him think of painting white lines down the centre of the road to create lanes that would clearly separate traffic moving in opposite directions.

The Detroit News and Free Press also acknowledged his award, but left out many of his other accomplishments which this 1914 article in Motor Age magazine sums up well.

Like scores of other notables whose names you will find in the “Who’s Who” of motordom, Edward Hines unknowingly rode out on a bicycle to meet Fame. This was two score and 4 years ago when he was an enthusiastic cyclist and a three-ply executive, serving simultaneously as vice-president of the League of American Wheelmen, chief consul of the Michigan division of the L. A. W. and president of the Detroit Wheelmen. He pedaled through the mud and mire and hurdled the bumps of the Wayne county highways until his leg muscles went on a strike and his vertebrae demanded shock absorbers. Sore and exhausted, he decided to turn reformer and take the initiative in an attempt to improve the highways radiating from Detroit.

In 1890 he formed a good roads organization which petitioned the state legislature to amend the constitution, make the counties instead of the townships the units for the building and maintenance of the highways and give the counties the privilege of adopting the county system. Three years of missionary work and lobbying elapsed before such a measure was passed. In the meantime, Hines superintended the construction of 3-foot wide bicycle cinder paths built with money raised through popular subscription by the Detroit Journal. He also coaxed through the legislature a bill protecting these paths from the roving kine and devastating wagons of the Michigan farmers.

County System Gradually Adopted

The county road law was passed in 1893. Its adoption by the various counties was certain and gradual. At the present time fifty-eight of the eighty-three counties of Michigan have seen the benefits to be derived from building their roads under skilled and intelligent supervision and have condemned former township road supervisors to the oubliette.

When Wayne county adopted the county system of road supervision 8 years ago, Hines was made chairman of the highway commission. Henry Ford, whom Hines knew as an ambitious young man and whose famous 999 he had timed in its first trial on the ice of Lake St. Clair, was a member of the county board and an ally of the road doctor of Detroit in his fight for the use of concrete in highway construction.

When first organized, the commission followed the accepted practices and started in to build bituminous macadam roads, but after a year’s experience in noting the wear upon them, foreseeing a constantly increasing maintenance charge and weeping as flotillas of motor cars scattered the so-called good roads into particles, it decided that a change was not only desirable, but imperative, and set out to find a material that was more permanent and durable and no more costly than macadam.

Edward Hines found such a material. It was concrete.

Hines thought roads were more than just concrete. He was an adamant supporter of road beautification efforts, which is why Hines Drive in Wayne County is named after him.

“I may want too much, I may be too visionary,” he said, “but I am going to have a road beautiful even if I have to spend my own money to satisfy such a desire.”

So don’t be surprised if in the future while touring in the vicinity of Detroit you suddenly run head-on into a mass of trailing arbutus, daffodils, chrysanthemums, lilies of the valley, orchids and forget-me-nots.

When Edward Hines wants something, he gets it.

If Hines were around today, he would probably “get” Complete Streets and Transportation Enhancements as well.

Congratulations on your award, Mr. Hines.

Bicyclists don’t pay their share of road taxes

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

Some have vehemently claimed that bicyclists don’t pay road taxes and therefore shouldn’t benefit from good roads. Oh, and cyclists are arrogant.

Sounds like 2011? Try 1893.

The Michigan Legislature was about to pass the County Road Law which, upon a vote of the people, would amend the State Constitution to allow counties to levy taxes and construct roads. Some anti-tax farmers from Genesee, Michigan would have no part of that. [Ed. emphasis ours]

To the Honorable the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Michigan, Lansing, Michigan:

We, the undersigned, farmers of the county of Genesee, Michigan, learning that there is a bill now before your honorable body the object of which is to repeal our present system of highway laws and enact in its stead laws making all highway taxes payable in cash, thereby depriving us of the privilege of paying a portion of our taxes in labor, and looking to large and expensive improvements on the highways of this State, would most respectfully and earnestly remonstrate against the passage of such an act. We as a class feel that our present system is sufficient for all practical purposes, and being a class of citizens upon whom the taxes of our State fall most heavily, do most earnestly protest against the passage of this or any other law that will tend to increase the taxes of the hard worked and already tax-burdened farmer, for the benefit, as it appears to us, of a comparative few non-taxpaying, arrogant wheelmen. And your petitioners will ever pray.

Linden March 2, 1893

The farmers didn’t win the argument. County Road Law of 1893 passed and the people amended the Michigan Constitution in 1894. This law was passed with leadership from the Good Roads movement, including Detroit bicyclist Edward N. Hines.

And as for today’s cyclists, yes, they do pay their share of taxes for roads. A recent Pew Charitable Trust study found that fuel taxes and vehicle license fees paid for 51% of road costs. The remaining 49% comes from other sources such a general funds and millages, which cyclists pay. That doesn’t include the external costs of motor vehicles which is borne by the general population.

Arrogant cyclists? Some. Freeloaders? Not at all.

Further Reading: The History of Roads in Michigan

Oakland County puts window salesman on road commission

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

Blame the cyclists from the 1890s.

Back then, counties weren’t involved in building roads, but farmers were. That was a problem for bicyclists. These roads weren’t well engineered, didn’t drain properly, and were hub deep in mud during the spring.

But the roads were good enough for horses.

And at that time, a popular sentiment was that county government had no role in building and maintaining roads.

Cyclists began the Good Roads movement and one of their first victories in Michigan (thanks to Edward Hines) was an 1893  state law that allowed the creation of county road commissions. These commissions were separate from county government and had enough autonomy so that they could ignore the naysayers in the farming community and improve the roads.

By the 1920s, according to Horatio “Good Roads” Earle, the cyclist who founded MDOT, the debate over the importance of good roads was over. Even the farmers agreed that building good roads was a good investment.

However, the road commissions that were separate from county government remained.

Unified form of government

All but Wayne and Macomb Counties operate on what’s called a “unified form of government” which is defined by state law. This law allows Michigan counties to hire a county manager to oversee departments for planning, economic development, health, environmental protection, parks, libraries, sewage, airports, garbage collection, human services, and more.

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