Another Nail in the Regional Transit Coffin

Just as I was making a partial recovery from the news of the Light Rail project cancellation, and fighting myself not to send a diatribe to the newspapers, I was greeted with the not wholly unexpected vote by the Troy City Council not to accept the Federal government’s offer of $8.5 million for the intermodal station at 15 Mile Rd. and Coolidge.  I have to believe that Troy residents, who, as a whole, are quite diverse, well-educated and rather well off by regional income standards, are in agreement that an important component of a critically needed regional transit system is not want they want to support.  After all they voted in 3 of the 4 no votes this past November.  You must remember that they also were willing to stop supporting one of the best public libraries in the region – barely passing a supporting millage after a previous ‘no’ vote.

A number of rather eloquent editorials have been written in criticism of the vote.  One of my favorites was by Brian Dickerson of the Free Press.  Allow me to include some of his most salient points.

“Daniels (the newly elected Troy Mayor) & Co. invoked a series of spurious arguments to defend their decision, including the claim that they were striking a blow against federal spending. (In fact, the federal money that had been earmarked for the Troy transit center will now be disbursed for similar projects elsewhere, although not necessarily in Michigan.)

But their real motive was transparent: the fear that outsiders currently disinclined to visit Troy may do so if enticed by a modern train station and convenient parking, at an incalculable cost to Troy taxpayers and their way of life.

This paranoid insularity is hardly unique to Troy, of course. It’s epidemic in Michigan, a state whose percentage of native-born residents is second to only Louisiana’s.

Nor is it unique to the relatively affluent suburbs. In fact, the closest parallel to Troy’s Mayor Daniels may be Detroit City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson, whose reflexive suspicion of suburban outsiders mirrors the concern Daniels and her allies express about transit riders from the region beyond Troy’s borders.

To dismiss this sort of thinking as bigotry is almost beside the point; it’s simply bad policy, predicated on a world that no longer exists.

There may have been a time when communities could compete effectively for residents and employers by making themselves less accessible to surrounding municipalities, but that time is a distant memory. The era when the absence of public transit was a boon to property values may never have existed at all.”

When will the Detroit region ever get beyond this parochial us vs. them – whether the them is another race or ethnicity, another social class, another religion, another geographic unit of government?

I know that the most recent transit-related decisions had to hit Dan Gilmartin more than most.  Dan is the head of the Michigan Municipal League and is on a campaign to make Michigan state, regional and community leaders understand what works.  We say we want to be a “place’ where young, educated people want to live and work.  We know the characteristics of successful states, regions and communities – bold leadership, global understanding, valuing diversity, walkability, transit, cultural economic development, and education.

Dan, please don’t let this stop the message!  I know it is not going to stop me.  We must continue to try for all those who are fighting for the cause.