Friends of Transit: Getting There Together Weekly

January 29, 2009

The Game On Edition

Filed under: Silver Line Rapid Transit System — friendsoftransit @ 9:16 pm


I hope you have been enjoying the quiet days in the world of transit advocacy in January, because this is about to change and in a big way.

Don’t know if you saw the local news yesterday but The Rapid Board voted unanimously to place the Bus Rapid Transit millage on the May 5 ballot. In addition, they gave the service its name: The Silver Line. For more information on this, check out:

· The Rapid’s website:

· The GR Press:

· TV 8:

· TV 17:–Rapid-Board-Approves-Millage-Req=1&blockID=197847&feedID=296

· TV-13:

So, first thing for you to do is bookmark this website: If you head there now, you’ll see the wrap up page from the millage back in 2007. Suffice it to say, Friends of Transit has already been busy doing some pre-planning in preparation for the vote of The Rapid Board. Their vote yesterday makes it official. Game on. You’ll see a new front page very soon for the May 5 election. As in the past, your support and efforts will make all the difference come election day. I won’t share all the campaign information with you today, but definitely check out one or two of the articles above and pay close attention to how some of the early responders are reacting to the news of a proposed tax increase (these are located at the end of the various articles on line). I, of course, think many of these folks are missing the full picture and we will be telling the story “early and often” over the next three months. But the economy will make our job tougher and the clocks running.

The second thing to do is to mark your calendar for May 5. There will be a party some where that evening celebrating all of our hard work. Oh, yeah, if you live in The Rapid service area, you may also want to make a note to vote before the polls close that day.

If it wasn’t enough to have to worry about The Rapid’s tax question on May 5, we can’t forget the transit issues still unresolved in Washington and Lansing. First, the potential good news.

If you’ve been boycotting the news over the past several weeks or on an extended silent retreat at a Trappist monastery, you may have missed the fact that we have a new president and, together with Congress, he is trying to get the U.S. economy stimulated. In last week’s edition, I had a small critique of his Inaugural Address and its lack of a call out for transit. Well, he quickly righted that wrong in his first weekly address which was focused on the proposed American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan: “Finally, we will rebuild and retrofit America to meet the demands of the 21st century. That means repairing and modernizing thousands of miles of America’s roadways and providing new mass transit options for millions of Americans.” There you go, equal billing for roads and new transit options.

So, Congress took this charge and got serious. The initial $9 billion for transit in this bill was increased to $12 billion on the House floor. Setting aside what I think about all the other parts of the package, I really like what the House did yesterday for transit ( Of course, this just means more work for us if the Senate goes along with the plans. Now we have to watch our transit authorities and MDOT to make sure they spend the money well and in ways that will have a lasting impact on our community.

So one half of Congress has ponied up for transit. Et tu, Senate?

Now, for the bad news. Remember last December when the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association (MITA) proposed a $1.5 billion plan to expand Michigan’s resources for all modes of transportation? Remember that this issue was not resolved during the lame duck session of the Michigan legislature? Well, Michigan still has a lot of work to do to get our transportation funding sources in order. While the federal stimulus package may result in dollars to build new transit options for Michiganders, I don’t see any operating dollars. And if we have to rely on the current $160 million or so in the bus operating line item, we may be in a world of hurt. Wouldn’t it be ironic if we got all these new buses and new capital expenditures but there isn’t enough state money to pay its share of local operating costs, that is to say, we won’t have the money to pay the drivers or the gas man. Ironic or just plan sad, either way, we need to get back in touch with our state legislators and ask what they are doing to move Michigan forward. If you’re looking for some really good insight into this issue, check out these dire words:

“I suggest that because our roads, bridges, rails and airports are the omnipresent symbol of the community’s solicitude for its own economy, an untended transportation infrastructure signals a community’s abandonment of hope for its economic future.” That is just a taste from a piece by David Honigman entitled: “The Signaling Function of Transportation Infrastructure: the Theory of the Broken Window.” Give it a read and then you’ll want to implore our legislators and your neighbors to care a bit more. (Full text at:

So, the game is on. In DC, Lansing and a city near you! Maybe even in a country, state or city under you right now.

All for today.


January 23, 2009

The Inauguration Edition

Filed under: Michigan Transportation, Transit Opportunities — Tags: , — friendsoftransit @ 3:47 pm


I hope you had a moment to take pride in our nation on Tuesday. Like or dislike the new president or his political views and principles, you can’t help but marvel at the peaceful transfer of power. Most every commentator noted the remarkable fact that we have been doing this for over 200 years from one president to the next.

But once the marveling was over, the critiques began to fly. What could have been said or done or the tone in which something was said or done, the substance or form of a pageant or the color of a dress—all topics are fair game and every person with a critical eye or cynical thought is ready to play the pundit for any who will listen.

And since my wife is already tired of my punditry, I will risk inflicting some on you and you could guess it may be about transit, or the lack thereof.

You see, in the midst of the Inaugural Address, President Obama said,

“The state of our economy calls for action: bold and swift. And we will act not only to create new jobs but to lay a new foundation for growth.

We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.

We will restore science to its rightful place and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality…


… and lower its costs.

We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.” (Full text at:

I listened to the speech as it was given and I surveyed the full text.

Where’s transit?

I understand giving roads and bridges their due—most transit vehicles use these as much as cars and trucks. But transit gets set aside for electrons and photons speeding through copper wires and fiber optic cables? Come on, Mr. President, will transit ever get its rightful place on the marquee with roads and bridges? The facts and figures clearly point out that transit is all about supporting the economy and is a critical piece of our economic infrastructure (check out: You don’t want to make me start quoting Rodney Dangerfield on behalf of transit!

I guess a new president can’t please all of the listeners.

In light of my displeasure in the lack of transit’s place in the inaugural address, I have hopes that it may get some love in the State of the Union address or an upcoming speech or two. And if Mr. Obama needs any other elected officials to look to for encouragement and advice, he need look no further than Grand Rapids’ mayor. Last Saturday, Mayor Heartwell delivered his State of the City Address and, boy, did he knock it out of the park for transit! (Full text at:

“Young people and empty-nesters are returning to cities. They find a multitude of affordable housing choices there. But more important they find walkable communities, efficiency of operation, good transit services, plentiful and varied entertainment, stimulating social networks and interesting neighborhoods, parks and streetscapes.

“Public transit is yet another way that we can both create a vital urban environment and improve the quality of the air we breathe. Our ground-breaking Master Plan and zoning ordinance intentionally focus on “transit-oriented development.” Since I stood before you here last year both the federal and state funding for capital investment in the Grand Rapids, Wyoming, Kentwood Bus Rapid Transit line have been approved. A local funding component will be required and the [Rapid] Board is exploring options at this time.”

You go, Mayor Heartwell! Now that’s the kind of respect I like to see for transit in a speech.

And speaking of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Line, you may be pleased to know that the Rapid board is getting ready to act on the options it has been exploring. At its next meeting, Wednesday, January 28th, the Rapid Board is likely to vote whether to take the next step towards making this new kind of transit service a reality. The board will be voting on whether to put the required millage increase on the ballot this May. As Mayor Heartwell noted, the feds and the state have committed $40 million in capital costs. Now it is time for us to secure the local operating support. So, if you are like me and want to see the BRT take off and begin to help spur development along South Division, join me at the Rapid board meeting next Wednesday, 4:00pm at the Rapid’s Administrative Offices (300 Ellsworth SW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503). We need to be there to speak in support of our community’s need for more transit and this new kind of service.

Transferring power peacefully is one marvel. Think how marvelous rapid transit in our community can and will be.

All for today.


January 16, 2009

The Computer Virus Edition

Filed under: Economic Stimulus — friendsoftransit @ 8:20 pm


Thanks to a small grant from a state level partner, Disability Advocates is able to send two staff members to a conference next week.  I swear one of them told me that she was flying via Northwest. And the e-mail looked so real.

Yes, this morning I received an e-mail confirming an e-ticket with NWA.  Since the company credit card is in my name, I thought this must be the airline ticket for next week.  My gut said check it out further, but my haste said it must be the ticket for Monday.


Long story short, two hours of productive time this morning was lost in the repair mode.  Thank goodness we have awesome computer support or the two hour switch over to a new computer (and all the necessary network connecting) could easily have lasted into two or more days.  Who would have ever thought that one simple click could do so much damage.

But it looked so real.

Earlier this morning, as the virus was beginning to take over my former computer, I read a few more details on the proposed stimulus package that was proposed in the House of Representatives.  Yikes, there’s a lot of money in there!  (  It looks so real.  Its promise to “jump start the economy” sounds so inviting.  How could we say no?

Well, the economist who spoke at the Econ Club on Monday of this week said we should be saying no.  Alan Beaulieu of The Institute for Trend Research ( said that, in his opinion, the stimulus package looks real enough but it will likely cause the eventually coming recovery to be not as long or as vibrant primarily because we’ll have all this borrowed money to pay back to ourselves.  His advice: weather the storm; recessions are a normal part of the economic world and recoveries will come.

But the stimulus looks so real.

Especially the part supporting increased transit spending.  The multitude of shovel ready projects have literally been years in the planning.  Why not move the projects forward?  I can’t speak to all the other parts of the stimulus plan, but I can tell you that it’s high time we get the shovels in the dirt for increased transit options.  The American Public Transportation Association ( is a great place to start looking for additional support for the transit components of the plan.  Yes, they may be a bit self-interested on behalf of their members, but check out the many well thought out perspectives on the great benefits transit is providing today and the ones we could be taking advantage of tomorrow with just a few billion in stimulation.  In addition, if you’d like to keep posted on the federal level, sign up for APTA’s bi-weekly update, called Passenger Transport (  This excellent e-newsletter provides a great deal of timely information on the federal government’s efforts to support (or hinder) local efforts to expand transit.  See how real it looks to you.

My gut’s telling me to click on the fast forward button for transit.  Decades of positive evidence and thorough planning can’t be wrong.  All the other things in the stimulus package?  Now my gut is saying I best check it out a bit more before I click.

All for today.


January 10, 2009

The Deep Freeze Edition

Filed under: Michigan Transportation — friendsoftransit @ 8:10 pm

A happy, cold Saturday to you!  The new year is ten days old and it looks as if the economic news will mirror our weather news for the foreseeable future.  The deep freeze on tap for this coming week continues to grip the Michigan economy.  Yesterday morning, the Michigan House and Senate met with members of the administration to discuss our state’s economic outlook.  If you think below zero temperatures are scary, you may not want to read on.

“State economists predict $1.6-billion deficit in 2010”$1.6-billion+deficit+in+2010.  Yikes!  “The state budget is almost $200 million out of whack now and faces an estimated $1.6 billion deficit in 2010 unless spending is cut, according to state economists Friday.”

And the more one reads, the worse the news gets since the true deficit for this fiscal year is much worse than the $200 million noted above.  “The state will take in $917 million less in revenue this fiscal year . . ..  The drop in tax revenue is offset by more than $700 million left over from last year’s budget.”  So a little bit of savings ($700 million worth) will keep us out of deep trouble this year but how do we avoid cuts to transit next year when the state faces another massive deficits?  Since the Michigan recession began many years ago, transit funds have consistently been raided to balance the budget.  Well, we’re going to have to keep watch in these tough times to see what are proposed as “solutions.”

Of course, many are suggesting ways for Michigan and our nation to get out of the economic freezer and, which comes as little surprise, transit takes a prominent role in many of them.  Take one example: “A Pitch for Mass Transit”

The American Public Transportation Association echoes these sentiments in its “Letter to President-Elect Obama on Economic Recovery Legislation”

And Congress is getting the transit bug: “New Congress and President-elect Obama Begin Negotiations on Economic Recovery Legislation; Oberstar Proposes $12 billion for Public Transportation and $3.4 billion for High-Speed Rail”

So, as the new year and new congress and new presidency begins, time for us to take a deep breath, dress warm and getting ready to talk to our elected officials about transit and the role it can play in our economic sustainability.

All for today.


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