Friday, April 23, 2010

Transit Map 3

Let's call this the Western Wayne County corridor. I thought of 275 and places like Ford Rd and Ikea, Laurel Park, 12 Oaks mall, Rock Financial Center in Novi, and Lansing. This emerged from Aerotropolis and a way to alleviate traffic along 275, connect to another convention center in Rock Financial, and then connect to a regional corridor between Detroit, Lansing, and Grand Rapids. That way people from the western part of the state can get to Detroit Metro airport.

I think this was also inspired by the traffic coming east on 96 near the 275 juncture. What ridiculous gridlock. This might alleviate that if planned right with very connected car commuter centers at the north end of the corridor.

Transit Map 2

As a follow up to Transit Map 1, Transit Map 2 connects the Detroit / Oakland County transit line and loop to an east-west Detroit-Ann Arbor line. Like Transit Map 1, I assumed no cost or development boundaries, and built the system along rail, road, and interstate corridors between Detroit and Ann Arbor. You see there is also a spur that could be built going east from downtown Detroit out to Oakland County. At some point, I will post that long-winded graduate school paper that forms the basis of these designs.

These maps are just food for thought. They do not take into account costs, and they are not perfect in terms of the corridors. My approach to these transit maps is to connect people with destinations and existing clusters of development (like Ford in Dearborn). They all require strong integration with on-demand shuttles, commuter car lots, buses, and other forms of transportation that will allow users to reach their final destination. If you build the system smart and seamlessly integrate it with other forms of transportation, the more robust and useful the system could be.

Sorry for the poor quality. MS Paint isn't the best, and I'm looking for volunteers that have the capability to truly plot this all out.

Like always, food for thought.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Open Source: Regional Collaboration SWOT Analysis

With the help of some colleagues, I created this Powerpoint of a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) related to regional collaboration here in Metro Detroit. Thought I would share with others as food for thought (and nothing else).

Monday, April 12, 2010

Transit Map 1

I created this map a few years ago as a way to connect Oakland and Wayne County with a transit corridor that loops around downtown and defines the central business district. Ideally, the system would have "right-of-way" so that it was separate from traffic (like the Chicago "L" and would allow the trains to operate faster from Oakland to Wayne County.

While I support the M-1 rail, especially as a way of truly defining the central business district, I think that regional rail will require something more than simply putting trains along the main arterial roads (Woodward, Gratiot, Grand River, Michigan, etc.). In my opinion, the solution requires use of all rights of way including interstates, service drives, and existing rail corridors. And if it were maglev technology, it might be cheaper to operate in the long run. Wouldn't it be great if our auto manufacturers teamed up with a company like GE and built a system like this in Detroit with the support of citizens and governments?

Articles on Density, Transportation

As you may or may not notice, I am trying to create a dialogue about issues that are often ignored by our region's business and government leaders, mainly urban sprawl and the social, economic, and environmental impact of geographic sprawl. I see physical connectivity as crucial to economic sustainability and vitality in Detroit, and that our lack of regional planning as a central cause of our economic stagnation.

So when I post articles that have nothing to do with Detroit, there is still a message involved. For example, these articles from the Natural Resources Defense Council speak to the benefits of density and the impact of density on the overall cost of living. In Part II of the blog, the author shows examples of smart growth developments.

Now I'm not saying people shouldn't have choice in where they want to live. Yet there are things that our business and government leaders can encourage that will result in economic benefits and efficiencies without compromising market share (see automotive industry) or control (see government planning and zoning).

And since we have such a huge opportunity to rebuild in Detroit, we can incorporate connectivity and accessibility in how we develop our land and our transportation systems. Our citizens deserve these options if the outcome is a lower-cost of living, greater accessibility to the market, and more disposable time and income to spend in that market. We can make that happen here in Metro Detroit.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Urban Farming Articles and Thoughts

There was an Urban Farming event hosted by Crain's today. I didn't get to go, but I'm hoping that I get some feedback from someone who did go. Sounds from a couple articles that things got a little bit heated.

My take, as Al Fields (City of Detroit) speaks to in the article, we should explore all types of land uses, and Hantz talked to diverse ownership models: private, common, nonprofit. And we must recognize that all economic development and property enhancement is a positive thing at this point in Detroit. Why shouldn't we diversify how we commoditize abandonment in Detroit to generate more tax revenue for the city and the state (expanded services for residents), and generate disposable income for those who get jobs?

It requires a diverse set of ownership models, and a master plan for maximizing the benefit to residents who invest in their community. We should explore enhancing the position of neighborhood nonprofits as direct subunits of government, and give them tools and direct incentives to execute a plan that is developed in common with city planners.

The master plan will drive organic development that maximizes accessibility to goods and services. In other words, Detroit (and Metro Detroit) has a huge opportunity to plan itself right so that the cost of accessing goods and services for our residents is decreased (leaving more money for enrichment).

Again, its all about plugging people into a system that they see direct value back from. As long as the system is audited against fraud, and there is strong communication and network building, everyone - citizens, nonprofits, and residents- should be able to plug into the redevelopment and ownership of Detroit and realize direct economic benefits. It takes a master plan so that people know where to invest, what they own, and put their money and energy into taking ownership of our community.

Great cities were not created by a single person - they are a collective expression of the will of their people who chose to locate around and support one another. Individual + Family + Community = City, and the citizens of Detroit can recreate the city together. Private investment (in the case of Hantz farms) is a positive variable in the equation.

A few more articles on urban farming:

Policy side thoughts:

Side thought 1: Could neighborhood nonprofits and citizens be incentivized in some way that would result in a tax increment returned directly to the community (a defined geographic area, perhaps to pay for say mowing the law, recycling)? (inverse property tax break). What could be done in real time that has positive community benefit and results in direct monetary reimbursement?

Side thought 2: Governments and nonprofits need to share common informational and accounting tools and build networks for real time communication (see nonprofits). The city of Detroit should work with the private sector to build a Detroit-customized nonprofit ecommerce system that will also serve as an informational network for nonprofits. Peoplemovers may be it if it can take on a true tool for government ecommerce. Trust is key, and auditing is crucial.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Free Press Editorial Supporting New State Constitution

The Detroit Free Press published an editorial today urging legislators to start planning for the possibility of a Constitutional Convention to rewrite Michigan's Constitution. Good for the Free Press for raising the issue. Too bad our legislators are on vacation.

We need a new constitution in Michigan. If the past has taught us anything it's that our laws produce regional fragmentation and too much dependency on the State government. Our regions must be empowered to forge their own economic destiny, period.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Detroit in 2020

Some excellent articles / editorials today in the Detroit Free Press about the future of Detroit. It's great to see things visualized. All we need to do now is connect the dots, fill in the space between, and allow all stakeholders to plug-in to the larger vision.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Schematic - A new MPO for Metro Detroit

As a follow up to my blog entry from January called Why Metro Detroit needs a new MPO, I decided to share this schematic which attempts to lay out a very bold vision for what this might look like. Again, this is somewhat modeled after Portland, OR which has the only elected Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) in the United States. We may not need an MPO that is this robust or comprehensive (hey, I will take a regional transportation district like Denver at the very least), but if we want to get toward some sort of regional institutionalization where decisions are made with the region in mind, this is what it might look like. I put the feds at the top of the chart as the source of matching funds, and I laid out how a regional sales tax might be incorporated and allocated.

Just food for thought, and nothing else.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Articles (4/2): The New Urban Landscape

There was a great article that appeared on yesterday called Americans Rebuild for the new urban century that talks about how transit-oriented urban centers and shorter car commutes are becoming more popular, and endless sprawl is becoming unpopular. I think one interesting thing to note from the piece is that Charlotte, North Carolina realized that suburban growth was unmanageable 30 years ago, yet our region still struggles with that notion.

The article was linked to PBS's series Blueprint America which created an excellent piece about Detroit a few months ago.

I was really happy to see an article on called Washtenaw County officials question worth of investment in SEMCOG. The article says "Washtenaw County Commissioner Conan Smith said he thinks SEMCOG needs a change in leadership and governance reform."

Thank you Conan for being bold. I nominate you to lead and reform SEMCOG.

A few other articles about dealing with sprawl in Los Angeles, in Tampa, the growth in poverty in the suburbs by the Brookings Institution, and a good article from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Welcome to

I created this blog as a means to express my opinion and potential policy solutions for Metro Detroit and Michigan. The blog discusses issues from transportation, to taxation, to sustainability, to governance, and more. The blog also includes several links to organizations and initiatives in Detroit, so I hope it provides a resource to the different projects going on in Detroit. So remember when you want to read and learn about Detroit.

Some of you have already read some of my policy posts in my Notes section on Facebook, many of which I have incorporated into this blog. Some of you receive daily news items from me via email. My attempt will be to post some of those in here as well. I really invite people to read, share your ideas and, if you would like to contribute, send me an email. This blog is designed to be a resource to policymakers, the media, and others who want to read about different options on how to move our region forward in a positive manner.

Again, this blog is about ideas and solutions, and not about assigning blame. At times, we all need to express our frustration about how things are, and I am not innocent in this regard. I just continue to remind myself that we are all in this together, and that if I plan to stick around this region the rest of my life, I'm determined to help leave it a better place. For me, that comes through sharing my ideas with others, being bold in my convictions, and being compassionate for those who are also frustrated by the "hand they were given."

The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the views of my employer, coworkers, or colleagues, and should never be understood in the context of "right" and "wrong." These are just ideas and opinions, and nothing else. Nobody is to blame for the struggles of our region. Things are just the way they are, but that doesn't mean that we can't change it.

I want to thank Landmark Education for inspiring this endeavor. I want to thank those who have listened to my ideas (and rants) in the past, and for those who have taken a stand for me in my life - my family, my friends and my fiance, my bosses, coworkers, and colleagues, and everyone else I have the pleasure with interacting with on a day-to-day basis.

Thanks for taking the time to read and contribute. "We're all in this together..."

Why Michigan needs a New Constitution

This fall, Michigan voters will be asked if we should have a constitutional convention to rewrite Michigan's Constitution. Michigan voters are asked every 16 years if we should rewrite our constitution, but this measure has failed several times. Michigan's current constitution was written in the 1960s.

I wholeheartedly support a NEW Constitution for Michigan. Some of my reasons include:

1. Home rule: The economic inefficiencies resulting from strict and explicit "home rule". Home rule in Michigan means local governments control just about everything including land use planning and zoning. As a result of strict home rule, planning is uncoordinated, land and buildings are underutilized, local governments are more competitive with one another, which has led many to build infrastructure to lure new business and residents without doing a long-term cost benefit analysis on whether the infrastructure costs more than the tax base produced from building the infrastructure.

2. Regional self-determination: Counties and regions, especially those with an urban/suburban makeup, need greater control over their economic destiny and greater ability to raise money to invest in regional assets. This not only includes the Metro Detroit, but also the regions around Flint, Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Ann Arbor. These regions have different needs that the rest of the State, and should be less dependent on state funding mechanisms and the existing taxation mechanisms to invest in common assets.

These are just the two main reasons why we need a new State Constitution. Others include the provision that mandates that 90% of all transportation funds spent in Michigan must be spent on roads (I'm guessing this one was put in by the auto industry).

It is time for Michigan to reinvent itself, and that means reinventing our laws to confront the challenges of the 21st century. The past 50 years of an up and down economy along with slowing population growth shows that we are not always set up to succeed. It's not that Michigan was dealt a bad hand. It's that we are playing the wrong game. Our citizens deserve better options and our counties, regions, and our citizens deserve more options in controlling our economic destiny.

I invite others to share their ideas in support of a new Michigan Constitution.

Ann Arbor - Detroit Regional Rail Project Delayed Indefinitely

When I first started graduate school back in the fall of 2005, I attended an event hosted by SEMCOG at Washtenaw Community College. The topic was the proposed Ann Arbor to Detroit commuter rail service, and SEMCOG presented several different corridor designs. SEMCOG promised that service could be operating within a couple of years.

Well, a couple of years past, then another year, then another year. They then said that service would begin in 2010.

SEMCOG recently announced that the Ann Arbor to Detroit regional rail service would be delayed indefinitely due to lack of funds. Other articles -, Crain's.

SEMCOG has been openly criticized by Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick for spending several million dollars on studying the project without results.

Here's my take on this whole situation.

1. If you read my earlier post about SEMCOG, you will know that I have issues with SEMCOG's role in our region. I think it either has to be empowered and given real authority, replaced with a type of regional governance structure with more direct accountability to the elected people, put directly under the oversight of our region's existing government leaders (counties, large cities), and/or shrink its geographic scope (from 9 counties to fewer) so that the tri-county, Metro Detroit region has greater control over its own destiny as an urban-suburban region.

2. The Ann Arbor to Detroit service was only really supposed to operate 8 train rides per day: 2 in the morning and evening from Detroit and from Ann Arbor, and 2 in the morning and evening from Ann Arbor to Detroit. Well, what about people that have a business meeting mid day in Detroit and may stay for dinner or a baseball game? What about people who have a flight in the middle of the day or late afternoon at Detroit Metro airport? How would this service accommodate them?

The reason for this lack of regular service is

a. lack of funding
b. Norfolk Southern owns the track along Michigan Ave.

This corridor would not only serve the commuter rail service, but also Norfolk Southern freight and existing Amtrak service.

This begs the question - why not use a different corridor?

In my own opinion, I think the corridor selection was done on the cheap, and that a better method would be to not only utilize the right-of-way of Norfolk Southern, but transform road corridors into transit corridors. Grade separation (meaning the train doesn't have to slow down or stop for car traffic) and dedicated track is the real long-term solution, although there are increased cost involved with such infrastructure development. And if we were to consider total grade separation and right-of-way, we should think of this corridor in the same context of high-speed rail between Detroit and Chicago, and perhaps Detroit and Toronto.

3. While SEMCOG's website speaks of a stop at "Metro Airport," the stop would actually be along Michigan Avenue, which is 4-5 miles NORTH of the Airport terminals. So if you wanted to access the airport and you didn't have a car, and you didn't want to pay $50-70 or more for a cab or Metro Car, you would have to find a way to get the commuter rail line (walking, bus, car drop off, commuter lot), get on the rail, and then transfer into a bus to get down to the airport.

The question here is why can't we have a transit line that allows you to walk out of the airport terminal and get right on the train? That's the situation in Atlanta, Chicago, Amsterdam, Dubai, Washington D.C., and countless other cities across the world. We have a world-class airport - why not connect it the region with world-class transit service? And when you do the cost benefit analysis, a half hour trip to the airport in a car has to be compared to an hour and a half trip to the airport, so what is the value of your time?

4. MONEY - The federal government New Starts program, designed for new transit systems, is a smaller pool of money than the general transit funding mechanisms (which support the transit lines of New York, Chicago, D.C., and elsewhere). So our chances of getting that money, or getting a different appropriation from the federal government are somewhat small. The pilot Ann Arbor to Detroit project was supposed to demonstrate demand along this corridor so that we could receive regular federal funding, but again, we are still somewhat dependent on the federal government for transit in this region.

Cities like Denver, through RTD (the regional transit authority), forged their own economic future by putting down money through a .4 cents (that's 5 cents on $10) regional sales tax. Unfortunately, Michigan law doesn't allow a regional or local sales tax. Instead, we are dependent on property taxes, which we all know are decreasing due to the economic downturn. So we don't have the mechanisms as a region to invest in this project on our own. We are also hurt by not having a regional transit authority, which lawmakers are working on in Lansing through new legislation.


Representative Kilpatrick, who championed the huge allocation from the federal government to study the Ann Arbor - Detroit line, has now taken a different view on the project, stating that she thinks that the corridor should be considered alongside high-speed rail development, a priority of the Obama administration. I agree that this corridor should be considered in a larger mega-regional context, but that if we do go that route, we must still be able to provide more frequent and unique service offerings along this corridor. Flexibility will ensure that the system is operated with economic efficiency, offering service based on demand.

Yet the potential for this project to happen lies behind the will of the public and our political leaders and business leaders. We need to come together and establish a regional transportation authority, and ask Lansing (and D.C.) for greater self-determination in raising capital for these projects. But it doesn't stop there.

GE recently set up shop out in Van Buren Township to build energy systems for alternative energy and home appliances (they are also setting up a new operation in Ohio that focuses on aerospace). GE is playing a greater role in the high-speed rail business. The idea is that GE could partner with auto engineers and suppliers to build and demonstrate the next generation of high-speed trains (or even maglev).

If our region's political leaders and business leaders could come together in partnership around the development of a new generation of transit service - operated in a more profit-driven, public-private model - we might see the kind of investment in Ann Arbor-Detroit as we saw in the M-1 rail project.

Bottom line

This isn't to say that the Ann Arbor-Detroit line may not be successful under the current model (if it ever gets going), but the lack of progress on this project suggests that the direction and approach may be flawed. If we, as a region, want this and other transit projects to happen, we need be bold in our conviction for it, creative in our vision for it, and be willing to pay for some of it. In my opinion, it is a worthwhile investment for the future of this region.