Category Archives: Quick Reads

“Bing will not seek re-election as mayor, eyes Wayne County executive position”

Since he has proven himself such an effective leader since he was elected mayor.

As with so much of Michigan political news in recent years:  You really can’t make this stuff up.

Back from the dead (The ghost of Christmas present)


It’s been since April 26, the datestamp tells me, that I last blogged here.

There’s been so much change, both in my life and in the communities I live, over those 8 months, too much to really cover here.  Some of the change has been really awesome (though it appears many of my fellow Ann Arborites would dispute that).  Some of it has been really, really awesome.  I got most of what I wanted this year, politically speaking — more than I could have hoped for.  Even the skyline of Ann Arbor has morphed rapidly this year, as a sequence of student high-rises sprouted from the southeast at Forest & South U north and west to William and Washington streets.  As I type this, a new development is finally going up on a long-abandoned brownfield across from Whole Foods on Washtenaw, one that will spawn perpetual Carmageddon and force UM workers to begin to re-evaluate their commutes.

In my own personal life, I went through a short but shattering break up, followed by a series of at least 3 minor nervous breakdowns.  Cumulatively they made me start to re-evaluate the status quo I’d built for myself since I came to Ann Arbor in 2008.  I still really love in Ann Arbor in some ways.  You don’t need me to tell you it’s a special place.  I think I could be happy here if circumstances were different.  But the closest thing I have to family in Southeast Michigan is in Detroit.  I hate living alone and, as my boo the incomparable Luther Vandross noted, a house is not a home.

I’m in the process of maybe/possibly/probably moving back to Detroit, in the process divesting myself of my cosy and charming condo* in Pittsfield Village (a delightful and welcoming community I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone).  So the focus of this blog, insofar as I bother to update it, might start to shift a bit to reflect that.

For those of you who left me in your Google Reader during the long hibernation of this blog, I hope you continue to follow along, give me a piece of your mind, and direct me toward worthy objects of commentary.

*PS it’s an end unit AND updated with 2 bedrooms less than a 10-minute walk from the #22 or #4, so you really ought to just hurry up and make me an offer already.

A few transportation policy updates

The theme of the day is state and local transportation policy, specifically focusing on roads, cars, and bikes.

STATE POLICY:

First, Todd Scott at M-Bike.org alerts cyclists to a couple of poorly conceived bills introduced in Michigan’s Republican-controlled state House:

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… (I)t has been a long standing goal of the County Road Association of Michigan to remove this requirement.

Todd writes of the second bill,

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… The City has already testified against this change.

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

I’m less than surprised than Todd about Rep. Tinsley-Talabi, who was one of Kwame Kilpatrick’s reliable supporters and, along with Martha Reeves & Barbara-Rose Collins, one of the dimmer bulbs when she served on the City Council.

Todd concludes,

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.

ANN ARBOR:

Turning to local politics, Ann Arbor city councilman Mike Anglin notably dissented from his colleagues on two automotive-related votes at Monday’s city council meeting.

According to the Ann Arbor Chronicle, he was joined only by Councilwoman Jane Lumm on one, “a request to the Michigan Dept. of Transportation to convert the segment of Jackson Road between Maple Road and South Revena from four traffic lanes to three”:

Benefits of the lane conversion cited in a staff memo accompanying the resolution include: (1) safe deceleration in the middle lane for left turns; (2) elimination of lane weaving; (3) uniform speeds and the resultant traffic-calming effect; (4) reduction in number and severity of crashes in a number of categories; (5) potential extra width for bicycle lanes; and (6) potential creation of additional marked pedestrian crossings.

The memo mentions several successful 4-to-3 lane conversions in Ann Arbor: South Main (Ann-Arbor Saline to Eisenhower); Platt (Packard to Ellsworth); Packard (Stadium to Jewett); Huron Parkway (Nixon to Plymouth); West Stadium Boulevard (Seventh to Pauline); and Green (Plymouth to Glazier Way).

In the second, he was alone in voting no on a change to downtown parking regulation:

At its April 2, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council approved the policy by which the minimum required parking component of developments in the downtown D1 and D2 zoning districts can be satisfied off-site from the development. The city is using the acronym CIL for “contribution in lieu” to describe the option. The idea could be familiar to some readers as PILOP, or “payment in lieu of parking.” The sole vote against the resolution came from Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

If not provided on-site, the policy allows some of the minimum required parking spaces to be provided with one of two basic strategies: (1) commit to a 15-year contract with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to purchase monthly permits in the public parking system at a rate 20% greater than the ordinary price; or (2) pay $55,000 up front before a certificate of occupancy is issued. [.pdf of parking payment in lieu policy]

From my perspective the ideal reform would be to eliminate the outdated and wasteful minimum parking requirements altogether.  While I’d like to think that was the motivation behind Mr. Anglin’s “nay” vote, his vote against the Jackson road diet suggests a rather old-fashioned protectiveness toward the perceived interests of motorists.  We’ll have to wait for the Chronicle’s full report to fully ascertain his calculus, however.  In the meantime, I’d like to recognize my own Ward 3 council reps, Stephen Kunselman & Christopher Taylor, for what seem like prudent votes on both these proposals.

Apocalypse temporarily averted

It wouldn’t be Detroit if they didn’t all wait til the last possible minute to  do what had to be done.  A new era dawns?

In which I propose a moratorium

… on the use of the word ‘disingenuous’ by elected officials.

In particular, by Detroit elected officials (although it has been wildly and increasingly popular among members of Congress for the past several years).

The mayor used it last week to refer to the Governor’s proposed consent agreement.

Now Councilman/former acting mayor Ken Cockrel used it in the following context:

City Councilman Ken Cockrel said the administration has not presented Council with a decertification resolution because, Cockrel said, he believes the mayor is hoping Council with move forward with a resolution on their own.

Cockrel, who believes reforming the troubled agency doesn’t require decertification, called that move “disingenuous.”

In neither case was it used in a remotely appropriate context.

Enough already.  If you use this word, you are lazy and need to re-acquaint yourself with the richness of the English language.  Find another adjective, which is probably more suited to your intended meaning (which usually is ‘something I don’t like’).

Oh, Sh**: Excretion, the forgotten public services issue?

This weekend, a friend in Pontiac posted to his blog,

While I was getting ready for work this morning, our trusty dog Gus started barking furiously during his morning yard exercises. I took that as a sign that someone was passing by on foot, followed his sounds to the west side of the house and peeked out of the bedroom window.

Lo and behold, there was a gentleman defecating on a tree in the city lot next to our house…

I contacted the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department and put in a complaint, but the scatological scofflaw had already departed on foot by the time they drove through the Union Court area between Union and Mechanic Streets.

It was the second time in the past week this particular issue had crossed my radar.  A subscriber to the (wonderful) Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition Google Group shared a thought-provoking post:

I suspect, that in most of the world’s “walkable cities” you’ll find public toilets at the ready and the way-finding in place to leave little confusion of where they are located…

Here in the U.S… the norm is avoidance of the topic.
We apparently prefer to subsidize the storage of people’s automobiles (MW) over providing for bodily requirements that impact everyone’s ability to be a
fully functioning human.

Here in Ann Arbor you often read of locals’ impassioned lobbying for more “green space” and parkland downtown.  I can’t recall a single instance of any of these well-intentioned citizens suggesting the city invest in what strikes me as a far more urgent investment, a few simple pay toilets.

Details of implementation are crucial, of course.  Recall the scandal a little over a year ago over the horrendous conditions in the bathrooms of the otherwise lovely new Rosa Parks Transit Center in Detroit (a classic example of “Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”).   Meanwhile, the unbelievably patient staff at the Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown branch struggle on a daily basis with downtown’s ample homeless population, which likes to use the library’s bathrooms to wash up and launder their clothes.

In the event that City Council or the DDA decided to extend the right to void with dignity to pedestrians, the Atlantic Cities suggests emulating Portland and its eponymous loo, which “includes a variety of bells and whistles meant to keep in check the most degenerate of bathroom users”:

• No running water inside: “Some people, if they’re homeless, use a sink to wash their laundry,” says (city staffer Anna) DiBenedetto. So there’s no sink, just a spigot on the outside that pours cold water.
• No mirror: People tend to smash mirrors…
• Bars at the top and bottom of the structure... Cops can peep in near the ground to make sure there’s no more than one set of feet inside. The openings also help sound flow freely, letting pedestrians hear the grunts and splashes of the person inside and the person inside hear the footsteps and conversation of pedestrians…
• A graffiti-proof coating…
• Walls and doors made from heavy-gauge stainless steel: “It’s built with the idea that somebody could take a bat to it,” DiBenedetto says. “And if they did damage it, we could replace that part.”…

These PSYOP-worthy features are outlined in U.S. Patent No. D622,408 S, which Leonard received in the summer of 2010. The toilet has the dubious honor of being the city of Portland’s first patent.

I personally don’t think see anything dubious about the honor.

I’ll also note that there’s no reason the Portland Loo or similar such investment need necessarily be undertaken by the local government or DDA.  Could it perhaps prove a lucrative undertaking for a private sector actor, whether an entrepreneur or an established company?

The November 2011 BLS report

While everyone else is busy gnashing their teeth and tearing their hair about Detroit’s insolvency and the cancellation of light rail plans and the myriad other bleak Ghosts of Christmas Yet To Come, let me instead point you to a cheerful Ghost of Christmas Present, in the unlikely guise of the BLS’ latest state unemployment report.  Here’s a rundown of the 11 states with the highest unemployment rates in November 2011:

  • Nevada – 13%
  • California – 11.3%
  • District of Columbia – 10.6%
  • Mississippi, Rhode Island – 10.5%
  • Florida, Illinois, North Carolina – 10%
  • South Carolina, Georgia – 9.9%
  • Michigan- 9.8%

That’s right.  No fewer than 7 Sunbelt states (8 if you count D.C.) have higher unemployment rates than Michigan including two states that were until very recently economic development darlings, North Carolina and Georgia.  Also for the first time in many years, to my knowledge, we’ve moved ahead of Illinois. This remarkable progress was driven by the biggest drop in unemployment of any state, -0.8%.

The usual caveats apply:  this just reflects a change in how many people are actively seeking work and doesn’t reflect all the poor souls who just gave up and left the labour force.  No one will deny we have plenty of those.  I’m not by nature an optimist.  But I’ll take the good news where I can.

A bar is born (& an old one reborn)

The old ball & chain & I headed out to Backstreet this past Saturday night.  Arguably the city of Detroit’s flagship gay bar, it closed a couple of years ago but was recently reopened by the owners/managers of Ice.

The new Backstreet holds a special distinction: According to their website, “no other gay bar in Michigan has a 4am dance permit.”  We were gone by 2, as I’m in bed by 1am most Saturday nights.  But if I were 18 again, I imagine I’d be pretty excited about it.

They redid the interior nicely (although the potted palms are a bit much).    Cocktails were overpriced ($9 for a Sapphire & tonic, no lime) & I’d advise against the $15 pitcher of Long Islands, which tastes like poison.  The DJ played an unusual amount of hip-hop for a gay bar, which, hey, not really my thing. The parking lot appeared to be well-patrolled, which is welcome given the neighborhood.

The place was crowded with guys of a wide range of ages; although skewing slightly to the young & twinky, again, not my bag, there were a lot of good-looking men as well.

They also have a lot of special events lined up in the next couple of months, including lots of top-tier porn actors, which to me suggests it’s being managed well.

***

Meanwhile, just around the corner from my condo in Ann Arbor, a new neighborhood bar just opened.  The Village Pub is, to my knowledge, the only bar in the vast expanse of strip mall that straddles Washtenaw Avenue from Stadium to east of US 23.  (There are restaurants with liquor licenses but it’s not quite the same.)  I haven’t made it over yet, but I want to make it over soon to check it out.  Even if it ends up being mediocre I suspect I’ll be a regular, just to keep the place open as an option within walking distance.

If you’ve visited either the new Backstreet or Village Pub, share your experience in the comments section.

What are you thankful for about your city?

I’m hijacking Aaron Renn’s (Urbanophile) idea for a blog post to re-purpose here.   He asks, “What are you thankful for about your city?” and writes:

For Chicago, I’m thankful for the positive changes that have been coming to the city in Rahm’s administration. I was no Daley hater, nor do I agree with everything Rahm’s done, but clearly there has been progress on a number of fronts: 8,000 new jobs downtown announced, bringing in Gabe Klein to run CDOT, putting together a budget that doesn’t rely on gimmicks, etc. We’ll see how things develop from here, esp. as Chicago is a city and region with massive problems, but so far so good.

What I’m thankful for in Ann Arbor & Detroit:

  • Tree Town:  Mary Morgan & Dave Askins, founders of the Ann Arbor Chronicle, who’ve labored for many years to build an alternative local news source.  The greenbelt millage; the strong (for a metro its size) transit system;  the generally tolerant citizenry; the tremendous support for the arts;  the natural beauty of the area.
  • Motown:  The amazing riverfront, showcased thanks to the efforts of the Riverfront Conservancy.  That so many of the city’s architectural treasures remain intact and occupied.  The way the Feds have been cleaning house in city and now county government ever since 2008, giving Detroiters the chance for less corrupt, more accountable governance.  The grassroots leadership of people like State Rep. Rashida Tlaib & Transportation Riders United Executive Director Megan Owens, who have advocated for the disadvantaged in their city.  The reporting of M. L. Elrick.

Leave a comment to share what you’re thankful for in your city.

Updated Williams Institute data

The Williams Institute has taken a second crack at counting our gays.  This one is based on “adjusted data.”  What, you may ask, does it mean to adjust the data?  The Institute explains:

The Census Bureau preferred estimates adjust original Census tabulations… to account for the likelihood that a small portion of different-sex married couples miscode the sex of a spouse and are incorrectly counted as a same-sex couple.

The Census only releases adjusted state-level data, so for the county-level estimates the attempt at adjustment was performed by Williams Institute demographer Gary Gates & his team.

So, did the process change the results?  A little bit.  First, we have updated national maps of the distribution by county, which based on a cross-check of Michigan counties with the previous county map, appears to reflect slightly more intuitive distributions.    It’s still interesting how sparse the gays seem to be in the Midwest compared to the Coasts & the Sunbelt.  South Dakota and northern Wisconsin have particularly odd distributions which, to me, suggest there is still some weird statistical stuff going on in this data for rural areas, which have very low denominators.Looks like adjusting has moved MI up a few spots in the state rankings (4, from #43 to #39, to be precise):

It also pushed Lansing and Ann Arbor further up the list of mid-sized cities ranked by same-sex couples per 1000 households.  Lansing moved up 4 spots to #15, and Tree Town moved up 3 to #20:That’s all I got for now, folks.  The Williams Institute’s website appears to be down today, so I can’t check for additional updates to the data.