Category Archives: Transit

In which I discuss my new commute, which is going to blow

So effective late August, it appears I’ll be making the commute to work in Ann Arbor from Ferndale, 5 days a week.  (Well, probably from Ferndale — there’s a remote possibility we’ll stay in Detroit — but that’s a topic for another post.)  With the exception of the last time I lived in Ferndale, for a couple of months in 2007, I’ve never had a commute of more than a couple of miles and for most of my working life I’ve walked, biked or taken the bus.  It’s something I’ve prided myself on, low carbon footprint, etc.  I always secretly looked askance at my colleagues who commuted from far away — why didn’t everybody just pick up and move down the street from where they worked like I did?

Hence this lifestyle change has generated some major cognitive dissonance for me.  I already commute to & from work from AMD’s* place in Detroit from time to time and have got the routine down pretty well.  In the morning, I get on the road when it’s still dark, turn on Morning Edition, savor the coffee in my travel mug, and on clear days I get to enjoy the sunrise.  The afternoon is not as pretty, but I have the choice of All Things Considered on 2 different stations (Michigan Radio and WDET) to help me power through, and an excited welcome home from 2 Cairn terriers (and a more low-key kiss from AMD) to look forward to at the journey’s end.

So it’s not that it’s an unpleasant commute; far from it.  It just feels wrong.  Going back at least as far as Sex and the City, my generation has been trained by mass culture that young. childless people get to work by the subway or a similarly urbane method; that hippies, health nuts, and the environmentally conscientious get there by bike; and that a commute by car is reserved for old people with kids and responsibilities.  I’m going to be one of those old people with responsibilities, alone in my car for 90 minutes-plus each day, stuck in traffic, and it’s freaking me out.

*AMD = Astronaut Mike Dexter, aka Fang aka my boyfriend/partner/the old ball & chain.

Why I sometimes ride in the sidewalk

As I’ve noted before, I commute by bike in warm weather.  I take Washtenaw Avenue, which has no bike lanes, from my home all the way up to the Medical Campus.  Because of the aforementioned lack of bike lanes, the high speed limits, and the heavy traffic on this road during my commute hours, I ride mostly on the sidewalk along Washtenaw, contrary to the official state guidelines.

I understand the reasoning behind the League of Michigan Bicyclist’s rule that cyclists should ride in the road, because for various reasons, it’s generally unsafe to ride in sidewalks.  I try to comply with this rule in high-density, slow-traffic areas like downtown Ann Arbor, or in Detroit where the roads typically have plenty of empty lanes.

But I think it’s stupid to say bikes shouldn’t use the sidewalks on stretches of road like Washtenaw which have heavy traffic and high speed limits.  Yes, drivers are supposed to share the road, but on the few times I’ve rode in the street I’ve feared for my life.  Even when following the rules of the road, halting at red lights (which I always do) and sticking to the right hand lanes, I’ve encountered hostility from drivers who want to kill me.  Meanwhile, for most of Washtenaw, the pedestrian presence on the side walk is pretty light.  I slow down and look carefully for drivers whenever I reach an intersection, and halt if I’m not absolutely sure a driver will yield right of way.  When I do get stuck behind a pedestrian, I slow down and go around them, usually on the grass.  I don’t care what the official guidelines are.  They are simply not appropriate for the particular conditions of the route I take, and I don’t see how mindlessly following them makes any sense.

When & why road diets might not work sometimes

In my last post I questioned Ann Arbor City Councilman Mike Anglin’s votes on a couple of transportation-related items at City Council’s April 2 meeting.

For the vote on parking minimums in the Downtown Development Authority’s district, Dave Askins helpfully summarized Mr. Anglin’s objections in a comment.  Meanwhile, the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition shared a link to the an AnnArbor.com story on the proposed road diet for Jackson Road.  Out of curiosity, I clicked on the link and scrolled down to see what the site’s commenters were saying.

I’ve found the commenters on AnnArbor.com, as with most other mainstream news sides, are predominately right-leaning in their politics, which in turn carries with it a bias toward single-occupant driving and against alternative forms of transportation.  As I anticipated, there were plenty of commenters who, like Mr. Anglin, opposed the road diet for various reasons.  The strongest argument against was one I hadn’t considered — namely, that this stretch of road is a bus route, so traffic would no longer be able to pass on the left in either direction when the buses stopped, as they do frequently.

Depending on the frequency of the bus, I thought that was a pretty reasonable objection.  While I ride the bus myself, I drive Washtenaw Avenue often enough to understand the significant delays drivers experience when driving behind a bus.   It turns out the Jackson route, the #9, only runs every half hour during peak weekday & Saturday traffic hours, and only hourly on Sundays.  On this schedule, a road diet would probably be disruptive to 9-5 weekday commuters, but minimally so for drivers during the rest of the week.

Conceivably, this could be a feature of the road diet rather than a bug:  that some rush-hour drivers, frustrated by the delays, would be able to switch to alternate routes or schedules, reducing the congestion.   Even more likely, the addition of the bike lanes could make people more likely to consider cycling along this route and leaving their cars at home.   However, if you are the kind of person who spends a lot of time commenting on AnnArbor.com (i.e. an older person who considers himself a “conservative”), you are also likelier to depend entirely on driving to get around, and hence will not be convinced that you’d benefit from these alternatives.

An alternative to bike lanes that popped up on the comment thread was the idea that cyclists should ride on the sidewalk in the absence of a bike lane.   I’ll devote my next post to recounting my own philosophy on that topic.

Why Michigan’s roads suck

According to a Free Press/WXYZ-TV poll last week, 58% of Michiganders would rather continue whining about their roads than fixing them.  I don’t find this terribly surprising.

It is conventional wisdom in Michigan that the condition of our roads is among the country’s worst.   I’ve read a number of different theories for why this may be.  One is that we have unusually high weight limits for trucks.  Another is the freeze-thaw cycle that results from our harsh winters.  Another is American road construction standards, which generate cheaper bills but demand more frequent repairs.  Presumably each of these factors contributes to our bumpy rides, to some extent.

What I almost never hear cited as a factor is how incredibly overbuilt Michigan is.  (Credit due to Urbanophile, who has written at length about this phenomenon elsewhere in the country, and Charles Marohn, whose theory of the “growth Ponzi scheme” I’ve praised.)  And by Michigan I primarily mean metro Detroit,  with Genesee and Saginaw counties also shouldering significant amounts of blame.  Is it any coincidence that these areas also have some of the most segregated populations, auto-centric layouts, depressed home values, and dysfunctional inner cities in the entire country? The Detroit, Flint and Saginaw metropolitan areas are the poster children for autocentric sprawl, and have reaped their just desserts for it. Among the consequences of the sprawl is that, of course, we can’t afford to pay to maintain the countless miles of asphalt laid to service it.  And MDOT, unbelievably, responds to this situation by proposing expansion projects like adding lanes to I-94 in the city of Detroit.  You can’t blame respondents to the Free Press poll for thinking that the last thing we need to do is throw more money at the imbeciles running our state’s transportation policy.

In the spirit of problem-solving, here’s my proposal to help solve two problems at once:  our threadbare roads and our decimated industrial inner cities.   Restrict all state dollars allocated toward road construction and maintenance to the oldest paved segments.  Earmark the majority of road dollars toward the core streets that serviced central cities and inner suburbs before, say, World War II, giving an edge to fiscally struggling older communities across the state like Detroit, Grand Rapids, Ypsilanti, Pontiac, and Saginaw, as well as dense and walkable older communities like Plymouth, Rochester or Brighton.

This will never happen, of course, because Michiganders continue to overwhelmingly choose exurban isolation over city life, and dependency on car travel to the exclusion of any other form of transit.  They will continue to do so, even as the roads they travel disintegrate to rubble and eventually, one by one, revert to gravel.  They will continue to lament the potholes and the flat tires because they’d rather complain than pay a nickel more in gas taxes.   Their leaders will continue to subsidize greenfield development over infill, convinced that for their particular community at least the bill will never come due.

It’s the Michigan way.

PS 2-8-12:  I also want to make it clear that I think the proposal, introduced by State Sen. Howard Walker, to scrap the state’s gas tax in favor of paying for roads with a sales tax increase is insane.  The gas tax should be increased, not scrapped, and we should not be shifting the burden of paying for roads from heavy users (people who drive a lot) to light users (people who bike, walk, carpool or ride the bus).   This bill idea deserves to die.

Requiem for Woodward rail

Wow.

A sample of early reactions:

Early reaction

I can understand Megan Owens’ reaction, since the ‘six years of work’ she refers to are, in large part, hers.  And I certainly won’t dispute her characterization of the mayor as  ‘a moron,’ since he’s proven it over and over again more or less since his first day in office (but that’s a topic for another post).

But as readers of this blog may recall, I’m not terribly surprised by this news given that Detroit as an independent political and fiscal entity will likely not exist in its current form within six months.  Nor does it necessarily entail a worse long-term outcome for metro Detroit’s transit riders, especially the vast majority that do not live or work along Woodward south of 8 Mile.  The governor has made it clear that his vision for a new regional transit system centers on bus rapid transit, and that vision, along with the loss of control over its own finances the city will shortly face, was the controlling factor here.

If light rail does eventually come to Michigan, it will makes its debut in one of three places:  1) Ann Arbor (between UM’s North & Central Campuses), 2) the Woodward corridor in southeast Oakland County, or 3) Grand Rapids.

A couple of upcoming protests


Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun

The sleeping giant of pinko activism is finally stirring after 2 years of numb paralysis in the face of Tea Party dominance.  At some point, college students, the long-term unemployed and others who have the time to spare to dedicate to sustained hell-raising finally gathered the motivation to start organizing and demonstrating to protect the interests of what has become known as the 99%.

I’m too busy these days to post on this blog, let alone demonstrate in my class interest, but I’m pleased to see a critical mass of people emerging who are willing to do so.  Here in metro Detroit we have plenty to get riled up about.  While I personally think it would make a lot more sense for Occupy Detroit to be occupying, say, the Oakland County administrative campus in Pontiac or the State Capitol, there are a couple of upcoming events in the D that I thought worth publicizing:

1) Action Against the Detroit International Bridge Company,  October 27 (today!), 5-6pm, at 18th and Lafayette  near Ste. Anne’s Church.  Further details available at the Facebook event page.  The event is organized by BridgeWatch Detroit.  Here’s some background, if you need it, on why the DIBC is perhaps the most pernicious organization in Detroit.

2) Rally Opposing Bus Cuts, Friday, 10/28, Grand Circus Park, 3:30pm.  Transportation Riders United Executive Director Megan Owens writes that participants will:

(M)arch to the Rosa Parks Transit Center, handing out action alerts along the way, then over to SMART HQ and the Spirit of Detroit at the C.A.Y. Municipal Center for a short rally around 5pm where bus riders, advocates (including me) and others will speak.

It should be a great opportunity to keep the pressure on Mayor Bing to improve DDOT service and remind the legislature why they need to follow the Governor’s recommendations…   (on public transit)

Really, you don’t have to be a raging lefty like myself to get behind either of these causes.   Please post a comment or email me if you end up attending either and report back on your experience!

Cycling as activism

I started biking home from work last fall, & this spring I started making it a round trip.  It’s about 3.7 miles each way, & a year ago, the thought of making that trip twice each day would have been overwhelming to me.

Now I can’t imagine living any other way.  It’s possibly the best decision I’ve made all year, and one of the most significant & rewarding lifestyle changes I’ve made in several.  It’s been key to helping me control my waistline and finally start to lose weight, not to mention build stronger legs.  It’s made it easier and safer for me to make it home after a beer or two (not advocating drunk cycling, of course!).  And it’s helped me become a safer and more conscientious cyclist.  I’ve even decided to try biking into the winter months this year, purchasing a cycling cap at REI to wear under my helmet when it gets cold for that very purpose.

In light of the many benefits that biking has bestowed upon me, I want to give a shout out to a few organizations and colleagues:

  • Tour de Troit, which my man* & I are riding in for the second year in a row this coming Saturday.  It’s one of an ever-increasing number of organized rides taking place in Detroit.  My first time around last year, it was the longest ride I’d undertaken to that point and it helped show me I could not only ride that far, but enjoy it too.   In every neighborhood we passed through, the residents universally gave us an enthusiastic welcome.  It’s a great way to see the city, including parts many of us would probably never explore on our own, and I can’t wait to do it again.
  • The Washtenaw Bicycling & Walking Coalition, which has an active listserv I recently subscribed to.   It’s filled with insightful commentary and plenty of debate.
  • The Streetsblog Network, which serves as a clearinghouse for the interests of pedestrians, cyclists and anybody else who values safe streets and alternatives to motor vehicle transport.  Streetsblog tirelessly publicizes these issues on the national level and by helping to alert and engage readers in advocacy, most recently when Senator Coburn briefly (and, in part thanks to Streetsblog, unsuccessfully) held the federal transportation funding extension hostage solely for the purpose of stripping funds for bike and pedestrian safety projects.
  • Local blog M-Bike.org, which does a great job of publicizing and promoting rides in southeast Michigan.  It also offers diligent political advocacy similar to Streetsblog’s but focused on the state and local level.
  • And, last but not least, this blog’s dear colleagues at Damn Arbor, who introduced me to the novel genre of bike porn.  (Speaking of which, I can attest that there is nothing that drives pageviews through the roof more than casually including the word “porn” on your blog from time to time.  This was by far my most-visited post until my Richard Florida piece.)
There are plenty of people who hate cyclists and resent our presence on the roads.  I’m impressed by how effectively we are mobilizing and educating ourselves & others in response.  It’s one of the few bright spots of popular activism in today’s USA and has truly transformative potential for public health, transit, our economy, and the environment.  I encourage all able-bodied readers who aren’t already biking to take the plunge and start incorporating it into your daily routine, whether it be to work, to school, or for errands, and everybody else to check out the blogs and groups I’ve mentioned above.   I suspect that, like me, you’ll be glad you did.

*I’d be remiss if I did not acknowledge my boyfriend, who first suggested we get bikes and register for Tour de Troit.  Without his encouragement all those months ago, I wouldn’t be writing this post.

Our Fat City: the epidemiology of Metro Detroit’s roads

Another week, another vapid ranking from Richard Florida, in which he proves again that rich cities are healthier, fitter, and more “innovative” than poor, fat, unhealthy metros like Detroit.  Florida never seems to tire of flogging this particular horse.  Pretty much every ranking he produces reinforces that a handful of rich metros are full of innovative, well-educated, secular, skinny, tolerant, creative class people — and that Detroit is not one of them.

Enough already.  I get it.  As I noted before, Ann Arbor does pretty well on Florida’s rankings, when it’s included.  But its metro area, as defined by the Census Bureau, only includes Washtenaw County.  So it rarely make these kind of lists, which tend to be confined to the country’s largest metros.

Unfortunately, another new ranking of metro areas reinforces Florida’s fitness findings from a different angle.  This past week, the nonprofit Transportation for America released a report called “Dangerous by Design,” analyzing pedestrian safety across the U.S. and ranking the 52 metropolitan areas with more than a million residents by how dangerous those metros are for pedestrians.   Detroit ranks as the twelfth most dangerous, the worst outside the Sunbelt by 11 places.

These numbers resonate with me personally, too.  I’ve had two friends in recent years get hit and severely injured by cars while walking.   I’ve had a number of other friends who have been hit by cars while biking, some requiring hospitalization.  Who doesn’t know someone who’s been injured in recent years under these circumstances?  Our legislators and planners are not taking this seriously enough.  It’s a failure most of all of our planners and our traffic engineers, who should be held accountable for designing unsafe roads and intersections, choices that can kill.

There is a connection between Detroit’s place on both the Florida and the T4A rankings, insofar as only 1.4% of metro Detroiters walk to work.  By comparison, the four metros on the T4A ranking that score highest for pedestrian safety have respective rates of 2.4%, 4.6%, 6%, and 3.6% —  nearly double, triple, or quadruple Detroit’s.   Metro Detroit also has one of the highest shares of workers who commute alone by car, ninth among the 100 most populous metros, according to the Brookings Institution.  Slate’s Annie Lowrey reminded us this week of the toll commuting by car exacts on our health:

The joy of living in a big, exurban house, or that extra income leftover from your cheap rent? It is almost certainly not worth it…

(P)eople with long commutes are fatter, and national increases in commuting time are posited as one contributor to the obesity epidemic. Researchers at the University of California–Los Angeles, and Cal State–Long Beach, for instance, looked at the relationship between obesity and a number of lifestyle factors, such as physical activity. Vehicle-miles traveled had a stronger correlation with obesity than any other factor.

Again, it’s a story that the media has documented and reported ad nauseum;  I’ve been reading these studies for years, and have taken the research to heart in a number of ways.  While I’m a big fan of and advocate for the Ride, aka Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, I also am a big fan of not getting any fatter than I can help, though it’s a battle I’ve been losing the past couple of years.  So since winter tapered into spring, I’ve started commuting to and from work by bike.  It’s allowed me to combine my commute with forty minutes of exercise, twice a day, killing two birds with one stone.

Metro Detroit’s planning is killing us, through injury, stress, and obesity.  It is a public health disaster with many symptoms, but one underlying cause:  the region’s leaders allowed planners and developers to shape it around a mid-twentieth century auto-centric paradigm.

The good news is that it’s not at all suburbs-versus-Detroit thing, as many suburbs have preserved or cultivated “complete streets” to degree far beyond anything you see in Detroit itself.  By addressing pedestrian safety, job sprawl, and mode of transit as issues of public health, and by demanding that our planners, traffic engineers, and transportation officials make it safer for non-motorists to get around, everyone can win.

At the very least, shouldn’t we be motivated by the opportunity to lose a few pounds?

No silver bullet: Managing expectations for light rail on Woodward

As I’ve acknowledged before, I succumb pretty easily to my own pessimism when it comes to mass transit projects in southeast Michigan.  So I haven’t been hanging my hat on the Woodward Avenue light rail line.

First, there’s the typical delay associated with rail plans in Michigan.  SEMCOG’s Carmine Palumbo blogged back in February,

I am worried that the unrealistic expectations that some heap on transit can have more of a negative than a positive impact. What do I mean? Well for example if groups are spreading the word that construction will begin later this year and the earliest it can begin is mid 2012, then it looks like the project is behind schedule. “Behind schedule” can be code for some to mean more expensive and other unforeseen problems.

Sure enough, the Metro Times reported last month that the opening of the line has been postponed from 2013 to 2015 (as it had “ been determined that the project should be constructed in a single phase instead of the two that had been planned”). 

Furthermore, M1 Rail’s funders, who are footing the bill for the lower segment of the line, are causing trouble with their demand that it run curb-side instead of down the center – an idea that makes no sense, as Yonah Freemark explains in a recent post for the Transport Politic.

And DDOT is causing trouble with their demand that the line loop around to the Rosa Parks Transit Center on Cass. Freemark laments, “The fact that this route would parallel the People Mover almost directly — eliminating its very limited raisons d’être — should be bothersome to anyone who is paying attention.”

Even the financing is a mess.  The Free Press’ Jeff Gerritt spoke to the frustration of rail supporters in a column this week:

Meeting with the Free Press editorial board in mid-April, the mayor told me he needs investors to commit within 30 days. Thirty days have passed and nothing definitive has happened. A spokesperson for the M-1 Rail leadership team declined to comment through an e-mail on Friday, other than to say “they are not comfortable commenting on something the mayor said in a meeting they were not present at.”

Here’s an even bigger problem: Detroit’s application for federal assistance must explain how the city will pay to operate light rail. Fares will bring in maybe $3 million a year, but running the system will cost at least $10 million more. Facing a $150-million deficit, the city can’t do it alone. For now, there is no plan for a regional transit tax…

Worst of all, perhaps, is the nagging existential question of whether a huge, expensive investment in rail even makes sense in a Detroit that is slowly returning to nature.   Consider Ed Glaeser, who blasted the project in an editorial for the Wall Street Journal.   Now, I took major issue with Glaeser’s column on a number of counts.  He failed to note the Woodward line has plenty of support from local transit riders who want an alternative to the car; nor that a substantial section of the line is to be funded privately; nor that the line would actually extend up Woodward into the Oakland County suburbs, if it weren’t for the fact that L. Brooks Patterson is allergic to mass transit and that the City of Detroit is still paranoid about having to surrender any of its autonomy.  I’m increasingly disillusioned by Glaeser for this kind of laziness; he seems to have made up his mind a long time ago that because Detroit has lost its manufacturing base, it should no longer exist.  He consequently seems to oppose any investment in the city as a waste of resources.

Freemark addressed the same question Glaeser raised, but in a much more informed and sophisticated fashion:

In a city that lost 240,000 inhabitants between 2000 and 2010, the necessity of this project must be evaluated. The city is overbuilt … What is the point of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a new transit project in a place that has few issues with traffic congestion and where transit ridership has declined from 136,000 daily users in 1996 to 121,000 today…?

Those who doubt the importance of new infrastructure for Detroit have a point — there might be some value in simply redirecting the funds appropriated for the rail line towards poverty alleviation. Yet there is no clear mechanism by which to do that… So transportation improvements like the light rail line act as an indirect approach in an attempt to remediate this city’s ills…(S)everal areas along the Woodward rail line actually gained population between 2000 and 2010.

Regardless of what happens with the project, there are a number of fundamentals that will not change:

For one, Midtown will continue to thrive compared to the rest of the city.

For another, even if it is built, the Woodward line would only serve a tiny fraction of Detroit, let alone the metro region whose sprawl dwarfs it.  Bus service will continue to be the primary mode of transit for the majority of public transportation riders in the region, and the primary means of connecting workers to jobs, services, and shopping in the suburbs. As Gerritt writes:

 (T)he Federal Transit Administration won’t allow Detroit to weaken its already inadequate bus system to build a rail system — nor should it. More than 25% of Detroiters don’t have vehicles. Their needs come first. Besides, a rail line needs decent bus service to feed it.

Fortunately, Transportation Riders United has done an excellent job of continuing to press for bus service (and it paid off last week, when TRU managed to forestall cuts in state funds for public transit).

Detroit will remain a great city to bike in, with its flat geography and its empty streets.

And regardless of what happens to Woodward rail, the other major rail service improvement in the region – Detroit to Ann Arbor – will benefit from the recent influx of federal money for that route.

The bottom line is that we shouldn’t think of Woodward rail as some kind of silver bullet.  Nor should we get too discouraged by the myriad roadblocks it faces.  We need to manage our expectations, while still dreaming big.

Transit & job sprawl: the Brookings “Missed Opportunity” report

I haven’t had time to read much of it yet, but I am mightily intrigued by the Brookings Institution’s new report, Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America.

Findings of note from the first few pages:

  • Midwestern cities in general, save for Chicago, do pretty abysmally in terms of the share of population with access to transit.  A pleasant surprise:  metro Detroit appears to beat Indianapolis, Columbus and Madison on this measure (see map, page 7).
  • Also surprisingly, LA and San Jose do better than San Francisco & NYC with respect to the share of residents with transit access.
  • Metro Detroit actually does pretty well wrt typical transit frequency (page 11).

Some other Detroit-specific findings:

  • Metro Detroit’s job sprawl can only be described as horrific — it is below the average for the 100 largest metros by every measure.
  • The interactive map is particularly helpful.  It confirms transit coverage & access is best in Detroit and in the inner suburbs, especially the Woodward & Gratiot corridors.
  • Travel time is best in the centrally located near-west/northwest sides of Detroit.  Job access is atrocious except for Ferndale and certain chunks of Detroit (Palmer Woods, Palmer Park, & the area just across 8 Mile from Southfield).

Bloggers at the New Republic have posted several insightful analyses on this particular report.  Adie Tomer asks, “Do metro areas with well-established transit systems provide the best access to jobs?”

 (W)e were surprised to find uneven results in these places. Well-known rail systems in Chicago and Philadelphia trailed overall access levels in Los Angeles, the archetypal auto-oriented metropolis. Boston’s classic T system doesn’t match the access in mostly bus-reliant Seattle. What’s going on here?

One explanation is that many of the largest metros face serious job sprawl.

As Tomer notes in another TNR post, Brookings’ mapping tool is ground-breaking, and potentially useful for everyone from employers deciding where to locate an office, to social workers, to prospective realtors and prospective homeowners:

For the first time, people across the country have the opportunity to compare how transit serves their neighborhood versus others in and outside of their metro.  We have no doubt it will be useful in all sort of decision-making within the public and private sectors.  And that utility extends to households, too.  As Morgan Clendaniel from Fast Company noted, it’s a great tool for workers moving to a new residence.

In a third TNR post, Alan Berube observes that the data helps illustrate why “we shouldn’t celebrate transit for transit’s sake”:

Great, you’ve got a bus that goes through your neighborhood–where does it take you? How long does it take to get there? In particular, can it get you to your job … or the job that you want to have? That’s hardly the only reason people use transit, but it’s arguably the most important for the economic health of metro areas.

And this is where the letdown occurs. We found that even if you give the typical metropolitan commuter a very generous 90 minutes to ride transit in one direction, she could reach less than one-third of the total jobs in her metro area. If you’re a less-skilled service worker–the type of person who might rely on transit–you can reach an even lower share of metropolitan jobs in the industries most likely to employ you. Whoops, dropped call…

You can have lots of transit, and still fail to reach a lot of regional jobs within a reasonable amount of time (Chicago, we’re looking in your direction). Conversely, you can have modest, unsexy transit and deliver workers from their homes to a majority of regional job centers efficiently (hello, Tucson).

Transit simply must be part of a successful 21st century metropolitan economy… transit can and should do much more to promote access to jobs. In part, that means coordinating much more closely between transportation, housing, and economic development planning…

Bottom line–transit can’t be all flashy apps and high design (Take light rail to the ballpark! Live in a condo above a streetcar!). In an era of constrained fiscal and natural resources, we need to focus on how transit can best contribute to economic growth. Simply, it’s about jobs.

Berube’s warning is especially timely here in Detroit, in light of the Detroit Dept. of Transportation’s (DDOT) recently proposed service cuts.   As much as I love the idea of expanded rail service in Detroit, it is perplexing for the city to commit to operational costs for the new Woodward light rail system at the same time it is slashing its bus services (and for that matter, its entire budget, as Mayor Bing and City Council are advancing the most radical fiscal overhaul the city has ever seen.)  There’s plenty to debate about the Woodward rail project, but I’ll save that for another post.

Another recent report I’ve been meaning to get around to, but have not yet, is Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) and Employment from the Center for Transit-Oriented Development. (HT Streetsblog)  Given this wealth of analysis for me to sift through, stay tuned for more posts on the Woodward rail, job sprawl, and other transit-related topics.