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: http://www.ridetherapid.org/about/great-transit
· The GR Press: http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2009/01/the_rapid_proposes_new_south_d.html
· TV 8: http://www.woodtv.com/dpp/news/Rapid_board_to_vote_on_millage
· TV 17: http://www.wxmi.com/pages/news_landing_page/?UPDATE–Rapid-Board-Approves-Millage-Req=1&blockID=197847&feedID=296
· TV-13: http://www.wzzm13.com/news/local/story.aspx?storyid=104746&catid=48
So, first thing for you to do is bookmark this website: http://www.rapidyes.org/. 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 (http://www.apta.com/government_affairs/washrep/2009january28.cfm). 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: http://www.drivemi.org/news/bulletinDetail.php?x=221.)
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.