Archive for the ‘Funding’ Category

A cycling perspective on the Detroit Consent Agreement

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

With a 5-4 City Council vote, it appears the City has at least temporarily kept Governor Rick Snyder from appointing an emergency finance manager.

That vote was for a “historic” consent agreement, according to the Detroit Free Press:

In the historic consent agreement between the city and state over the management of Detroit, the city agreed to give up — at least temporarily — a good deal of sovereignty over its financial affairs.

So aside from the hope of future solvency, what does Detroit get in return?

A modest amount of increased state spending — and an array of promises.

The 53-page agreement does keep City Council in charge of policy, which is a positive for our Complete Streets efforts. Detroit’s road money is separate from the general budget. We’ve argued that our Complete Streets ordinance wouldn’t add to the city deficit. It just divides up the road funding pie in a slightly different way.

The agreement also contains some state promises which affect Detroit cyclists to varying degrees.

The Positives

The state vows to:

  • Improve public lighting by working with the city to create a separate authority to manage and finance streetlights.” Working street lights can reduce crashes.
  • “Move ahead with the New International Trade Crossing project.” The bridge plans do include a bicycle pathway.
  • “Invest in a regional, multi-modal system including BRT, bike paths and walkability.” We’re not sure if this means more state investment or just continued funding.
  • “Assist the market in applying for a federal TIGER grant to create a seamless trail system from the Riverfront through the Eastern Market, Brush Park, and Wayne State University areas.” It’s a little late. Detroit already applied.
  • Riverfront – Develop the Globe Building, expand Milliken State Park, dedicate a new launch for citizens near Riverfront Park and assist DEGC with resources and talent to transform Hart Plaza.” The latter likely refers to an expansion of Hart Plaza over land that was previously used for the Ford Auditorium.
  • Belle Isle – Create park funding for Belle Isle while ensuring continued City ownership by designating Belle Isle as a part of a cooperative relationship with Milliken State Park. This would include a long-term lease that would accrue the cost of the park’s maintenance and improvements out of the Park Endowment Fund. We will partner with Belle Isle Conservancy and the City to implement a master plan for the Island.”

The Belle Isle item is among the more interesting. Unfortunately the Free Press already got it wrong with an article titled, “Belle Isle likely won’t be free anymore.

If the island is managed like other Michigan State Parks, there will only be an annual $10 fee for arriving by motor vehicle. One can walk or bike into state parks for free and the same would likely be true with Belle Isle.

While some cheer that this small fee will keep out the less desirable elements, those elements won’t disappear. They’ll find another location, just like they do now when the island closes at 10pm. A fee is not a total solution.

The Big Negative

It can’t all be positive for Detroit cyclists, right? The state vows to:

  • “Accelerate a capacity improvement project for I-94 from I-96 to Conner Avenue, supporting more than 13,000 jobs between 2012 and 2020.”

This outdated, mostly unnecessary MDOT project will wipe out 9 bridges over the expressways, including some pedestrian bridges, Third Street, and John R. It effectively widens the I-94 scar through the community.

The Governor needs to get involved in this project since the cost/benefit numbers just don’t add up. It’s “benefit” is from a 1980’s frame of reference that put a priority on reducing rush hour congestion irregardless of the effects on the local community.

Fortunately some local activists are started to pull together some project opposition.

Legislation would eliminate 1% bike/walk funding

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

A group of bills were introduced in Lansing earlier this year that change how Michigan generates and distributes road funding.

These bills as written have many opponents. Bicyclists, pedestrians, trail users, and Complete Street supporters should be among them.

Here are three reasons.

Eliminates bike funding requirement

First, House Bill 5300 would transfer funding from the current Michigan Transportation Fund (MTF) to the Commercial Corridor Fund (CCF) over an 8 year period. The MTF and CCF distribute funds to counties, cities, and villages. The MTF requires 1% of the funding to be spent on non-motorized facilities like bike lanes and sidewalks. The CCF has no such requirement.

So rather than remove the 1% requirement in law, legislators are simply creating a new fund without the requirement and shifting the money. We’re not sure how intentional this change was, but it has been a long standing goal of the County Road Association of Michigan to remove this requirement.

Increases funding for sprawl

The current road funding is generally distributed based on the miles of roads. House Bill 5303 would change that to distribute funding based on motor vehicle miles traveled or VMT.

Counties and cities that require people to drive more and longer distances will be rewarded. There will be a financial disincentive for counties and cities to promote public transit, biking and walking as they’ll receive less money.

Forecasts from MDOT show the city of Detroit would see some devastating funding cuts as a result. Even if the fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees are raised significantly, the City will still lose 8% of their road funding. And since those tax and fee increases may not even occur, the loss will be even greater. The City has already testified against this change.

Ironically enough, the bill’s sponsor is former City Councilwoman Alberta Tinsley-Talabi.

Promotes speeding

Granted this is the weaker of the three sins, but it deserves a mention for its sheer stupidity.

House Bills 5301 and 5302 require counties, cities, and villages to time traffic lights but not for the speed limit. On a road that has enough speeding cars, this legislation requires road agencies to time the traffic lights for them, which will likely induce more speeding.

We’ve already heard of MDOT doing this on a local state trunkline. Now this practice will be enshrined in law.

Recommended action

We recommend you contact your state representative and state senator to let them know you oppose removing the 1% requirement and oppose distributing road funds according to vehicle miles traveled.

These bills have been out for more than a couple months now. We can’t afford to keep sitting on the sidelines.

With ever rising fuel prices and increasing public interest in Complete Streets, it is unacceptable that we change road funding that takes us back to the 1970s mind set.

City of Detroit submits TIGER IV grant

Monday, March 19th, 2012

We mentioned Detroit submitted a TIGER III transportation grant that would have extended the Dequindre Cut and Midtown Loop. built bike lanes from Eastern Market to the planned Hamtramck Trail, and made major street improvements at Eastern Market.

That grant wasn’t funded though the city was told by one congressional office that it scored near the top.

The City is submitting an improved version of the grant request this round.

Competition?

One interesting wrinkle this time is it appears the M1 Rail group is applying for a $25 million TIGER IV grant as well. Even though it would be from the transit portion of TIGER IV, it’s unlikely two big grants would come to Detroit.

From the Detroit News:

[U.S. DOT Secretary Ray] LaHood said in January the government will consider awarding Detroit’s light-rail project up to $25 million on top of $25 million awarded for a bus rapid transit system.

LaHood told The Detroit News he is willing to offer additional government money if the M-1 light rail coalition can show it is financially viable.

Congressional aides said the M-1 plan assumes it will win the $25 million grant, which the FTA says is not certain.

The Detroit News is reporting the the U.S. DOT has “serious concerns” about the M1 Rail’s viability. The Detroit Free Press reports a more moderate response.

…while no decision has been made, there is skepticism in Washington, including concerns that the M-1 plan’s cost estimate — at $125 million — is too low and that the group of private investors won’t pull together enough private financing to qualify for a $25-million federal grant for the project.

Of course the other issue with M1 Rail and bicycling is their plan to run the street cars along the curbs. As we’ve said before, curbside alignments are problematic for cyclists and Complete Streets advocates.

Seattle cyclists sue

The street car tracks are a major safety issue and liability. At least a half-dozen Seattle cyclists have lawsuits against the city for crashes due to street car rails. We spoke with an attorney handling these cases and they said this would be a class action lawsuit if their office had the capacity to organize such an effort.

Does MDOT really want to open themselves up to that?

MDOT should know it’s a hazardous design for bicyclists — it’s mentioned as such in Detroit’s Woodward light rail reports.

There are safety concerns for bicycle users with [the curbside designs] due to the potential for bicycle tires to be caught within the rail flange space in the road. While alternative rail types may reduce this potential conflict, it cannot be fully mitigated.

Of course the odds are that neither project will receive the funding. It’s a hyper-competitive grant source.

Then again, Michigan’s only successful TIGER III grant was a road to a landfill, so anything is possible.

Greenway mini-grants available in Detroit

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

From the Healthy Environments Partnership:

Detroit residents who want to create a more beautiful and physically active environment in their communities are in luck. The Healthy Environments Partnership (HEP) Greenway Mini-Grant program is funding projects, up to $1000, that will take place along the Conner Creek, Brightmoor Lyndon, and Southwest Detroit Greenways. HEP will be accepting requests for proposals from Detroiters engaging community residents, building local ownership, and promoting social and physical activity along the greenways. Some examples of the types of projects that will be funded are: creating youth artwork along the greenways, planting community gardens adjacent to the greenways, or hosting walk & talk programs that bring policy makers out where residents can share their local concerns.

For more information contact Julia Weinert at 734-763-0741, weinertj@umich.edu or go to the HEP website at www.hepdetroit.org and click on ‘Community Activities’. Mini-Grant materials will also be available at neighborhood development corporations in Eastside, Northwest, and Southwest Detroit. The application deadline is April 13, 2012.

The Healthy Environments Partnership, established in 2000, is a partnership including the Brightmoor Community Center, Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation, Friends of Parkside, Rebuilding Communities Incorporated, The Detroit Department of Health and Wellness Promotion, Henry Ford Health System, and the University of Michigan. It is funded through the National Institute of Environmental Science and is an affiliated project of the Detroit Community-Academic Urban Research Center.

House transportation bill: a disaster for biking and walking

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Since 1993, biking and walking transportation have been better supported with each new transportation bill: Safe Routes to School, Transportation Enhancements, Bike/Pedestrian coordinators at the state DOT’s, and more.

That’s could end soon.

Today the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee voted on a new federal transportation bill — an 800-page bill that none of the legislators admitted to reading since its release just two days prior.

Current U.S. DOT Transportation Secretary and form Republican congressman Ray LaHood told Politico:

“This is the most partisan transportation bill that I have ever seen. And it also is the most anti-safety bill I have ever seen. It hollows out our No. 1 priority, which is safety, and frankly, it hollows out the guts of the transportation efforts that we’ve been about for the last three years. It’s the worst transportation bill I’ve ever seen during 35 years of public service.”

Oregon’s Representative Peter DeFazio called it “a transportation bill with an ideological wish list – drafted with Big Oil companies in mind – that will prevent Congress from passing a measure that could provide real transportation improvements.”

The League of American Bicyclists have put together this top 10 list of problems. For example, rail trails could not be funded by Transportation Enhancement dollars. The Dequindre Cut, Clinton River Trail, Macomb Orchard Trail, and other area rail-trail projects were largely built with Transportation Enhancement dollars.

A bipartisan amendment was introduced to restore dedicated biking and walking funding. It failed to pass, 27 to 29.

Michigan Congresswoman Candice Miller, a longtime support of the Macomb Orchard Trail, voted against the amendment.

What’s next? According to this America Bikes timeline, the bill should hit the House around the week of February 13th.

Meanwhile the Senate is working on its own version of the transportation bill which not only maintains current biking and walking funding, it has some level of bi-partisan support.

Tomorrow the House Republican leadership has proposed killing dedicated public transit funding.