Saturday, November 23, 2013

Transforming our transit system

As a part of our exciting week in rolling out this blog with the Urbane Life, we were invited to join a

Transportation For Michigan (Trans4M) Legislative Update Dinner at Atwater Brewery downtown. We decided to make a transit adventure out of it (of COURSE) and decided on the following bus/bike plan:

1. Meet up at a bus stop where we’d have a good chance of both getting our bikes on the bike rack (11 & Woodward). Note amazing bus stop art.

2. Bike over to Atwater after work

3. Bike back to Campus Martius to get to bus stop (beautiful views of the city & bike lanes on Atwater = whoo hooo!)

4. Take DDOT home – the Woodward 53 as far as the State Fairgrounds

5. Bike home from there (7 miles from the State Fairgrounds to home in Royal Oak)

So you can see – with our current system, surgical-level precision, planning and timing is key!

We were also very curious to see what this dinner would include. And no – we don’t mean the food (but it was catered by Slow’s and HELLO mac & cheese sent from heaven).

We arrive before the program starts and have the wonderful opportunity of being greeted by some fans of 2 Women 4 Wheels – and yes, there even was a fan photo. It was great to see all these awesome advocates of transit in one place, and to be a part of this community.

Onto the program peice of the agenda. Senator Bert Johnson and Representative Gretchen Driskell gave a legislative update, RTA Board Member R. Murphey discussed what’s going on with the RTA, Woodward Avenue Action Association gave an update on the Woodward Avenue Complete Streets Master Plan, MDOT discussed their study around the future of I-375, and M-1 Rail discussed progress on their public/private streetcar project.

Sounds really good, right? At a certain point, though, something hit us. We were listening to a question about how pedestrians were going to cross Woodward when the M-1 Rail is complete. This is a great question, no doubt. But the M-1 is slated to be complete…in 2016. And it’s a 3 mile start of (hopefully) a larger streetcar system up Woodward. All of these are great improvements, and we should be focused on progress & the big picture. One area of the big picture that we didn’t see presented in this meeting was the current system. What are some of the improvements that we can make NOW to the system? If the RTA could just navigate the politics between DDOT & SMART, working out those inefficiencies, we would have thought we’d died and gone to heaven (and there’d be Slow’s mac & cheese!).

We were also very tempted to ask the question – who here is planning on taking the bus home tonight? We were, but only because we had planned to do it in a very detailed way, as we highlighted. It involved a 7 mile bike-ride home from the State Fairgrounds, not ideal for everyone – but for us – biking is awesome & great exercise & worth it. Anyone else? Some folks were from Lansing and had a longer commute and, of course, in many instances, the system just doesn’t make sense. But, are there some things we can start working on today to help it make sense?

We think so. And these are the kind of incremental changes that are often the catalysts for bigger change.

Current bus route efficiencies.

SMART & DDOT become friends – or better yet – merge (that’s very specifically a ‘merge’ not an acquisition on either side. That wouldn’t be very friendly, right?!)

Round-the-clock service from DDOT/SMART (no more “peak”/”off-peak” hours).

Safety enhancements at the bus terminals – specifically the State Fairgrounds.

Regional transit pass.

These are the kinds of changes that would allow more people that were at that Trans4M meeting to ride the bus home with ease. More riders, more demand, ever BETTER service.

And then let’s start talking about how people will cross Woodward in 2016.

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