What's this RTA thing I'm suddenly hearing about, and what does it mean for Washtenaw?

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Edited to add, Jan 7, 2013: The original framing of this post was inflammatory -- unnecessarily so -- towards the Ann Arbor City Council. I saw them on the brink of taking an action that I perceived to be itself pretty inflammatory towards some of our regional partners, potentially hurting our (Washtenaw County transit supporters') interests, whether the action had its intended effect or not. City Council, to their great credit, did modify their stance to more clearly focus on their actual interest and ask, and I specifically thank Mayor Hieftje and Councilman Warpehoski for their leadership here.

In turn, I'd like to turn off my flamethrower, and acknowledge that we are all in fact on the same side here: we're champions of our transit system, AATA, and want to see it continue to grow its ability to serve our residents; we want to see better connections into the rest of metro Detroit, especially in the form of the proposed commuter rail connecting Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti to Dearborn, DTW, and Detroit; and we want to make sure that the transit system meeting our train on the far end is adequate to get our riders to their ultimate destinations.

We have had some differences on the best ways to reach those goals, but I'm looking forward to finding agreement on our shared interests that we can work together on. Specifically, I have been named as one of Washtenaw County's appointees to the RTA Board since I originally wrote this post, and am committed to using my background and knowledge of the situation to ensure the RTA is advancing, rather than hindering, our interests. I've struck-through the original, hostile framing text below, but leave it readable for the historical record.

This past week, the Michigan legislature passed bills to create a Regional Transit Authority for metro Detroit—Oakland, Wayne, Macomb and Washtenaw Counties. This long-overdue legislation has been under discussion and in the news for over a year, and received statewide, bipartisan support. While it’s not perfect, it will address many of the thorny issues that have held back transit in metro Detroit for years and years—and the remaining issues are generally best addressed by the communities sitting down at the table together, not mandated from Lansing.

As somebody who’s been working on this legislation for the past year and talking to all of the players involved, I’m hoping I can answer a few questions:

Gas price mapping

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How the World Works' post Triumph of the City Dweller points to a new mapping tool from the the Center for Neighborhood Technology showing relative residents' gas costs within metropolitan areas, both absolutely, and as a share of the regional median household income, for 2000 and 2008. The outcome? Downtowns win!

Now, yes, as Andrew Leonard points out, "Flash forward to 2008: The entire map is SCREAMING RED" ... with the few outliers of low household gas spending speckling downtown. it emphasizes things are rough for almost everyone - but that would seem to show a compelling need to address people's inability to go about their life without spending a crazy amount on gas.

The S.L.U.T. gives a disappointing ride.

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Seattle's easy mark for cheap jokes these days is the South Lake Union Trolley, a working name for the newly opened transit line put out in the latest round of failure to proofread by planners who should have learned their lessons after those flyers advertising "pubic input sessions", complete with snacks, that every beginning planner produces at some point. The official name is now the Seattle Streetcar, but I expect the "SLUT" won't stop.

Part of the basis for the teasing is that the trolley is apparently seen by the neighborhoods hipsters, punks, and just folks as a tool of the gentrifying developers who even west so far as to impose a new name on the neighborhood "South Lake Union"). But a transportation planner's vantage provides so much more room for criticism. The SLUT is a pretty poorly implemented transit line, which makes an easy example for future critics to use when attacking other transit proposals. Badly done transit really annoys me. But, hopefully, some of the problems can be fixed over time - the SLUT has only been running for three weeks now, so there's still time to fix the obvious failures of foresight.

Amtrak officially as cheap as gas


In two weeks, I'm headed to Chicago for the National Brownfield Association's "Big Deal" conference (my department got a "free registration" scholarship to come show off one of our sites to developers). So I'm looking at travel options.

* Amtrak, Ann Arbor -> Chicago, AAA member discount, midweek round-trip = $48.60.
* Google maps, Ann Arbor -> Chicago = 241 miles, x2, at 30mpg, at $3 gallon = $48.20. (That would be driving our Sunfire, rather than the City's Crown Vic, which probably gets worse gas mileage.)
* The Federal mileage compensation rate is what these days, about $0.38/mile? That'd be $183.16, or 3.75 Amtrak tickets.

Metro A2 transit inching closer!

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In one of the previous iterations of this blog - which Google can't seem to find - I laid out a 3 item wishlist for Ann Arbor area transit.

1. Arrange for free rides on all AATA routes for UMich students.
2. Transit service from some point in A2 to Metro Airport (my target price point: $10 one-way.)
3. Tragically, I can't remember. Sigh. But I think it was a regional express service linking A2, Ypsi, and Detroit?

At any rate, #1 was implemented about 4 years back (showing how long I've been at this). And now, #2 was announced the day before I left for Montana! For, yep, $10 one-way. Check the Michigan Flyer website for details, and ArborUpdate for discussion.

Traveling in the height of c. 1910 luxury!

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We've been hoping to take a trip to Montana in the next couple of months, once Cara is free of classes for more than a week at a time. Plane tickets don't seem to be getting below about $550/ea, though, and, since N'western is just about the only way to get there, there's no guarantee our flight would actually go anyways.

So I decided to look into Amtrak. I've taken Amtrak to MT and back before, and it's not a bad trip - really, more relaxing than the same trip by car, and much more comfortable than flying (the fact that it takes 32 hours by train, compared to 8-10 flying, makes the two modes about equal in my book, assuming I'm planning a decent vacation). One Amtrak trip was, in fact, where I met my friend Kenzi - nothing like sharing a seat for the 8 hour Mini-no-place to Chicago stretch with someone to get a feel for whether or not they are a psycho killer. (My vote: not, hence my first foray into blogging activism, five years ago now.)


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getDowntown is Ann Arbor's alt-commuting program, running Curb Your Car Month and administering the go!pass program, among other things. Program Director Erica is leaving the country in a few weeks, so her position came up for grabs recently.

And, well, I couldn't help myself. This is, after all, essentially the job description that got me into planning, and I've been lusting after Erica's job since I knew it existed, about six years ago. Rumor has it I got the job. The rumor mill is apparently both (a) slow and (b) wrong, though - I know a week and a half ago that it took somebody like Nancy Shore to beat me out. Nancy is, until now, SOS Community Relations Coordinator (and the party responsible for the SOS News and Views blog), and also has served on AATA's Board of Directors. Congratulations, Nancy!

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