Tuesday, June 25, 2024
Public transitUrban Planning

State of Transit 2020: A Brooksless Mobility Future Rolls Forward

TRU hosted its annual State of Transit event last night at TechTown. A sumptuous feast was catered. County Executives Warren Evans (Wayne) and Dave Coulter (Oakland) spoke, as did representatives of DDOT, SMART, and more. TRU staff and interns did an excellent job including Megan Owens, Claire Nowak-Boyd, Farhana Aktar, and Andre Iadopaolo.

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans has been a staunch advocate for transit expansion. Evans related a story about taking three buses to Novi one day, a two and a half hour trip each way, to demonstrate how bad transit connectivity is in so-called “RTA opt-out” communities.

To recap what’s going on statewide: The legislature is currently plodding through the process of amending the Municipal Partnership Act in a way that would allow notoriously anti-transit Macomb County to, as an entire county, opt out of a proposed RTA tax assessment for transit expansion. Macomb County executive Mark Hackel told Stephen Henderson late last year that “not a single person” in his county supported the infrastructure investment proposal. This, of course, is at odds with actual numbers from the 2016 election. But Hackel is determined to fight against transit expansion. And that’s his prerogative. (It is also, of course, the prerogative of his voters if they want to vote him out over it).

Oakland County Commissioner candidate Charlie Cavell (Ferndale) pictured at TRU’s State of Transit event.
TRU social work intern and Wayne State BSW/MSW candidate Farhana Aktar directs attendees in TRU’s ongoing lobbying efforts to get HB5229 passed. This would amend the Municipal Partnership Act to effectively allow anti-transit Macomb County to depart the RTA consortium.

The departure of Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson from office– and, indeed, this mortal plane- resulted in his replacement in the form of Dave Coulter, a hip, young transiteer. The differences could not be more stark. While Patterson spent his days railing against lazy Detroiters looking for a handout, Coulter has emphasized collaboration. Patterson’s curmudgeonly, “my way or the highway” unilateralism (literally, given his proclaimed affinity for sprawl) has contrasted with Coulter’s warm rhetoric and youthful, electric energy. It is unclear exactly what is going to happen with the MPA– or the RTA. But, alphabet soup of bureaucracy aside, the electorates in the remaining three counties will almost certainly vote for transit expansion.

“Be louder than ever… and I really think we can get this done,” Coulter said.


Wayne County Executive Warren Evans related how regional leadership decided to amend the MPA at a fateful dinner event with the county executives and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. The decision, he says, was not to frame the amendment as kicking out Macomb, but rather allowing it to join later if it wanted to.

“‘Look, Macomb, if you don’t want to be in now, that’s fine,'” Evans said of the conversation. “[The amended MPA] would allow Macomb to not opt in now, but to opt in later if they wanted to.”

This felt like a nod to pluralism in an age often utterly devoid of it.

Evans cautioned the audience against waiting for autonomous vehicles to ride in to our mobility rescue.

“Why do we want more buses? Because we don’t have drones yet. We have what we have. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t start repairing the infrastructure. I would love to see light rail from Ann Arbor to Detroit up Michigan Avenue. I’d love to see a spur that went to the airport.” But he also mentioned that apart from the “would be nice” items, we have to focus on stagnant regional growth and how to ameliorate that. That begins, he implied, with Detroit.

“You used to be sitting on a plane, and someone would ask you where you’re from, and you did everything you could to not say Detroit. ‘Well, I’m from Taylor!’ ‘Where’s Taylor?’ ‘Oh, it’s, you know, near…'” he trailed off, and an audience member cut in, ‘…near Ann Arbor’?” to laughter.

“Now we talk about where we are. We’re in Detroit. And it’s okay. And people want to come to Detroit. And many suburbanites are going to find out, if they don’t aid the process [of transit expansion] … they’re going to end up losing population. Because I’m gonna tell you. Their kids are not going to drive [cars downtown] and pay $20 to park.”

The audience cheered.


Loyal Handbuilt supporters in attendance included Tom Van Heeke (GM), John Good (Ford Mobility), and Adrianne Kolano (Diplomat Pharmacy) attended. We also saw fellow transiteers Idrees Mutahr (Detroit Regional Chamber), Kristina Curtiss (United Way), Dave Gifford (Detroit Transit Guide), and more.

Always interesting to me how Ford and GM are so publicly quiet on transit issues but their staff come to all of the pro-transit events. Makes you wonder!

Nat Zorach

Nat M. Zorach, AICP is a city planner, community development professional, and MBA candidate at American University's Kogod School of Business, based in Detroit.

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