World Car-Free Day
Guest Contributor: Bill Palladino
Tomorrow, September 22nd, is World Car-Free Day. What’s that you say? Live without a car? In Michigan? Well yes, that is what I said.
The idea is simple, according the World Car Free Network website:
“Let World Carfree Day be a showcase for just how our cities might look like, feel like, and sound like without cars…365 days a year.”
I plainly understand that this is asking a lot of our little burbs up here in northern Michigan; frankly, I don’t expect a lot of people to give it a try. I do however believe it’s worth people learning about the notion. I’d like more people in this community imagining how they can impact our reliance on those pieces of steel and plastic that made our state so famous. The point is that we can do this while still serving Michigan’s, and our own local, economy.
A Pile of Automobiles
What we know is that there are about 600 Million cars, SUVs and light trucks in the world. According to the U.S. Census Bureau we Americans own 2/5ths (two fifths!) of those. While it’s difficult to say for sure, the numbers work out like this: 78% of Americans own a vehicle, compared to the worldwide average of only 7%. (There’s a lot of room for error in there as some people own more than one car, and many are owned by corporations, etc.) The point is we’re at the top of the heap.
We are Driving Less
There is good news, if only referential, that due to the gas crunch a couple of years back a lot of Americans sold off some of their cars and our purchases slowed considerably. The flip-side is that two other nations stepped into that purchasing gap; China and India are now consuming more automobiles than the U.S. annually as a new zeal to reflect our own middle class takes over those countries.
Many of you know I got rid of my car over a year ago. I won’t mislead you here, there are many days when I think I should buy another car; the convenience factor taunts me. I’m not suggesting any self-righteousness. What I am suggesting is that my neighbors might consider seeing how they could benefit from downsizing their own vehicle fleets. Perhaps, make that move to a one-car family. Resist buying your sixteen year-old a car. Teach her to ride a bus or a bike instead. Consider how much you might save in the long run by spending a bit more on an in-town home so you wouldn’t have the same transportation burdens. More than anything, consider what a difference it could make in our communities if so much of our resources weren’t spent on making room for, providing access to and feeding the voracious appetites of our vehicles.
Show me the Money
One last point in case I haven’t yet convinced you. According the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics the average American spent approximately $2,200 on fuel for their vehicles in 2009. If we take just Grand Traverse County with its population of 86,000, that’s an astounding $189 million spent on gasoline only! In one year.
If we all drove just 10% less, and donated the difference, we could fund the annual budgets of the Michigan Land Use Institute, the State Theatre, the Father Fred Foundation, all of the local United Way’s 2010 giving, pay Ron Jolly’s salary for ten years, and still have enough left over to build another $8 million parking deck, and repave a few roads! All with just 10% less driving! (Editor’s shameless addition: Some of that savings could also help fund the work of this BLOG.)
In simple terms it makes a lot of business sense to start driving a little less and turning the savings into funding our local economy.
World Car-Free Day is only a beginning. Let’s make it count for our own community too.
The Harassment Incident
Guest Contributor: Bill Palladino
Yesterday, while taking a loop downtown on my sweet little Purple cyclocross bike, on my way to a local cafe’, I was accosted by a driver in a Subaru. I was heading eastbound on State Street in the left-hand lane, more or less in front of Modes’. I was preparing to turn left on Cass Street, so this was a reasonable and perfectly legal maneuver. I could hear a car to my left-rear obviously laboring to pass me, but I held my lane, keeping myself positioned in the middle of the lane.
As I pulled even with Max’s Service the car lunged by me on my right revving his little four-cylinder engine (reenactment). The occupant, a middle-aged man in a scraggly beard, then began yelling out the window and pointing insistently. “There’s an entire #^%&ing bike lane over there you @#$%ing #$%hole. Get in the %^%ing bike lane.” (Reenactment not available).
I said nothing in response at this point, but accelerated to get a better look at his license plate. He kept yelling at me through his open window as he sped off. I imagine he was greatly intimidated by the 19 pound aluminum and steel beast I was riding. Boo, yah!
The quick of it is, it’s my right to be in that lane, or any lane I choose to be, as long as I’m not unreasonably impeding traffic flow. The bike lane is an extra-added solution that is completely optional. It’s also my right to be in the city where I live, and to not be called nasty names by a complete stranger!
Who ya going to call?
This type of verbal assault is a nuisance, no doubt. But it’s also this simple type of incident that often easily escalates to physical violence. I feel pretty strongly that people need to understand the rules of the road, so I jotted down the guy’s license plate and quickly did what I’ve been told to do by both City Police staff and by my friends at the Cherry Capital Cycling Club. I called the City Of Traverse City non-emergency line to begin the process of making an official report. This number is for problems that don’t require calling 911, and is: (231) 995-5150 .
Again, that’s (231) 995-5150.
Calling this number will get you a quick recording reminding you of its non-emergency use. And after pushing a button or two I was then forwarded very quickly to a pleasant-sounding woman who heard my complaint.
I said, “I want to make a complaint about a person in a car verbally abusing a bicyclist in downtown Traverse City.”
She replied, “Very good. And are you the bicyclist?” I confirmed and I gave her my name.
She then asked me what had transpired, where, and if I was able to provide a description of the vehicle. I relayed all this to her, and she asked one last question: “Do you want me to send an officer out to take an official report?” I told her I wanted to do whatever it would take to ensure that this guy in the Subaru got a talking to by an officer. She replied, “That’s exactly what will happen, I’ll dispatch an officer right away.“
About 20 minutes later TC Police Officer Jeremy Medeppennigen showed up on my doorstep. “How’s it goin’?” he said casually. ”Fine,” I said and we introduced each other. Then I told him the whole story. ”You did the right thing calling us. You have a right to be in that lane. The bike lane is there as an option and a courtesy,” he replied.
I asked him if he would track down the driver, and he said they’d already done the check on the license number, and that yes, he’d get a talking to when they found him. He also said this is something they do a lot of at the Police Department, and that it works. He said, “sometimes people just need to have the law explained to them.“
Summing it up, I have to admit that my experience with the TC Police was right on point. They were supportive, fact-based, and very friendly. More importantly, I never got the feeling that calling them in on something like this was either an annoyance or a bother. This is something I’d encourage you all to do when you come across unreasonable people who feel a need to toss verbal abuse your way… whether they be car drivers or cyclists. Learning to live together here is something we should all have as a priority.
From the Michigan Penal Code and Motor Vehicle Handbook, the applicable law, emphasized in bold is the most appropriate section:
257.660a Operation of bicycle upon highway or street; riding close to right-hand curb or edge of roadway; exceptions. A person operating a bicycle upon a highway or street at less than the existing speed of traffic shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except as follows:
(a) When overtaking and passing another bicycle or any other vehicle proceeding in the same direction.
(b) When preparing to turn left.
(c) When conditions make the right-hand edge of the roadway unsafe or reasonably unusable by bicycles, including, but not limited to, surface hazards, an uneven roadway surface, drain openings, debris, parked or moving vehicles or bicycles, pedestrians, animals, or other obstacles, or if the lane is too narrow to permit a vehicle to safely overtake and pass a bicycle.
(d) When operating a bicycle in a lane in which the traffic is turning right but the individual intends to go straight through the intersection.
(e) When operating a bicycle upon a 1-way highway or street that has 2 or more marked traffic lanes, in which case the individual may ride as near the left-hand curb or edge of that roadway as practicable.
(Laws are available online, which M-Bike has kindly posted links to, as well as the full text of bicycle laws. Thanks, Todd!)
Part II: Giving up my car
by guest contributor, Bill Palladino
In Part One, I described the direct financial implications of purposefully going car-less. My own wallet was one consideration, but certainly not the end of the decision process. Along with personal financial impacts, I also analyzed the estimated financial effects on my local community. Beyond these immediate impacts there were other, less measurable, but still significant effects.
The convenience of convenience
A question that going car-less will teach you to ask is, “Do I really need to use a car for this?” It’s a question of need over convenience, and I believe it is the key to understanding our dependence on automobiles and our addiction to carbon-based fuel sources. If the car is there in your garage, lease paid, gassed up, insurance premium current…it’s unlikely that you’ll ask the above question.
Beyond monthly vehicle expenses the most significant economic impacts I’ve experienced from going car-less are the reductions in frivolous shopping and purchasing. Unfortunately, this kind of thing is difficult to measure, so in fairness I won’t venture to put any economic value on it beyond my own.
When I had the car, I’d head out to Meijer in the middle of the night out of boredom. Once there, I’d fill up the car with groceries and non-essentials and head back home. Today, with only my bike, a trip to Meijer from home is easily in reach, but its a trip I weigh carefully. I ask things like, “do I want to fight with Division Street and that parking lot madness tonight?” And, “do I really need this stuff?”
These days I tend to shop more frequently, but in smaller quantities and closer to home.
In a constant effort to maximize my personal economic power locally, I concentrate purchases on local products when at all possible. From milk, meat, chicken, and produce to the types and origins of the breads I purchase. Many of these things have shorter shelf-lives than their commercial counterparts. That’s because they often have fewer preservatives, less packaging, and are picked when they’re ready to eat, not when they’re ready to ship thousands of miles.
This in turn requires me to be more thoughtful in how I plan to consume them. I’ve enjoyed learning again to be this thoughtful and to look at piles of produce and recognize that I know the farmer who grew and picked them; there’s real economic power there. Look at the work of the Michigan Land Use Institute’s Taste the Local Difference program for proof that it works.
He Ain’t Heavy, He’s Just Canned
I rarely buy anything in a glass jar or a metal can anymore. First off, they’re very heavy to carry and then packaging is still there when you finish the product. For me that means having to either recycle the container or return them somewhere for a refund. I’ve learned to bring my own bags and containers to the store. Refuse and reduce. I also make my own yogurt and kefir, stew my own tomatoes, and squeeze my own orange juice. These things, while far from being convenient, are all pleasantly satisfying to accomplish.
I’ll admit, living in northern Michigan makes this a challenge. We can only produce most food products during a very short season. Produce, fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers have a narrow ninety to one hundred twenty day growing window.
But here again, I’m learning to hearken back to the ways of our ancestors. Preserving the local fresh goods as soon as they’re picked is a useful and necessary skill. I’ve become expert in the subtle art of freezing, drying, and canning most anything that comes from my CSA (community supported agriculture) on any given Tuesday. I can only eat so much in a week… the rest finds its way into my larder for the winter months.
From a health perspective things have changed too. Part of my daily regimen is riding my bike to and from the events that make up my days. Because of that, I’m in pretty good shape for a guy my age with a hunger for strong beer. I put on a hundred miles a week on my XtraCycle just in and around Traverse City each week. That’s before I log my training miles on my road bike or mountain bike.
I’m a cancer survivor and putting myself on a bike every day of the year helps provide me with a good measure of where I stand in that battle. I just couldn’t get the same connection to my body if my first choice was driving a car.
It took a while, but what I noticed after being without the car was a decided decrease in my stress load. The act of driving the car as a part of a daily regimen was causing me a very specific type of stress. I was nervous and angry at times, especially in the car, but there was a residual effect that seemed to carry over into my other activities. I never understood it until borrowing my friend Dennis’ car on a couple of occasions after going without driving for a time. Within a minute or two of getting in the car, I’d be mumbling under my breath at the impertinence of other drivers or talk to them out loud things like:
“Get out of my #&*$% way!” “What are you waiting for, the light’s green?!”
This very effect has been researched extensively. The following quote is from an article by Drs. Leon James and Diane Nahl, (2002) titled Dealing With Stress And Pressure In The Vehicle:
My cumulative research using the self-witnessing reports of hundreds of drivers, reveals an agitated inner world of driving that is replete with extreme emotions and impulses seemingly triggered by little acts. Ordinary drivers can display maniacal thoughts, violent feelings, virulent speech, and physiological signs of high stress.”
Wow, that’s it exactly. So I’m not alone in this.
Here’s a partial list of key stressors associated with driving a car, even for a short time: immobility, constriction, regulation, lack of control, being put in danger, territoriality, denying our mistakes, cynicism, venting, unpredictability. The list is amazingly similar to what a soldier on a battlefield experiences.
An interesting side-note here from this same article is how this type of stress likely affects the perspective drivers have of bicyclists. Have you ever felt these effects while driving?
Worker health and productivity have also been measured. In a study by White 1998, comparative groups of commuters using cars, buses and a test group show astounding results – “those that drove showed increases in pulse rate and blood pressure. Those that rode via bus showed opposite effects and the commute times were essentially the same.”
Topping off my tank
Summing this up, after getting rid of my car I’ve had to make changes in my lifestyle, and those came easily. The financial savings were significant. The health benefits of having my bicycle as my first transportation choice, while difficult to measure, are nonetheless real. An added bonus are the social benefits of having a primary transportation source that allows demands that I interact with people along the way; it keeps a smile on my face and contributes to a my own sense of community. A lot of people in this community know me because I ride my bike everywhere. They see me because I’m moving slowly, without a glass and steel framework to hide behind. I’d also like to think the constant reminder that I bring to my friends and colleagues in the business community, that you can do this and not look like a freak, is critical to breaking down resistance.
Opportunities abound to go car-less
The opportunities today are many for individuals and groups wanting to shed a vehicle or two. You can donate your car to charity and take a tax break. You can join a ride-share or car-share group. You can ride public transportation, catching up on a good book as you commute.
You might even get to know your neighbors better if you have need to ask for their occasional support. I do, and it’s been fun!
Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting that the whole world get rid its precious cars. I am saying, doing it doesn’t hurt. And that we could have several hundred more crazy people like myself in Traverse City and it wouldn’t make a dent in the economy. But it might make the place feel different; a bit more hip and urban, a bit more like that elusive “cool city” Richard Florida defines in his book, The Rise of the Creative Class. A bit more like that place so many of us here see when we close our eyes, squint into the light of what might be, and think “Yes, that’s the place I want to live in.”
This is Part II of the two part series. Part I explores the economics of going car-less.
Making the Leap – Going Carless
Guest Contributor Bill Palladino, Part 1 of 2 Going Carless
On July 17, 2009 I made a commitment to myself and my community. On that day, I picked up my nephew Kevin at the Cherry Capital Airport in my 2002 Saturn Vue, gave him the keys and the title, and walked away from car ownership. It was a small but radical gesture, especially in Michigan where many people think that act makes me the bicycling equivalent of Euell Gibbons… oddly righteous but odd just the same.
I’ll admit I’d already begun to use my car less and less. The price of gas, and moreover our addiction to it, had been worrying me for a while. But, even considering a slow ramp-down of use, the impacts personally have been significant.
Frankly, I’m ready to celebrate!
A lot of people assume that I’m someone who needs a car. I’m a business owner after all, a meeting go-er, wearer of suits and ties, and carrier of laptops and other trappings of the trade. Somewhere in there, I’d pondered the practicality of it all. At least in my case, car ownership had minimal and only peripheral benefits to my community. My thinking was that I wouldn’t put anyone out of a job by getting rid of my Saturn. And the money I would save from not having the car would allow me to play a more active role in directing where those funds would go.
I’ll cover this past year’s lessons in two parts. The first will look at the financial considerations and the second part will look at the intangibles that are more difficult to measure.
PART ONE: The Cost in Dollars
In my work researching public transportation for the Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA) , I discovered some very eye-opening realities; this was the driving element for me giving away my car a year ago. In most cases individual vehicle ownership has a negative net effect on local economies. This means that on average more vehicle-related expenses leave the community than stay locally. The math is simple, but difficult to swallow for many. I’ve made some estimates as to how much of the face-value of various goods and services remain in our local economy. Where possible I’ve also provided the references for my calculations.
I’ve listed here my vehicle related expenses for the twelve-month period between July 15, 2008 and July 14, 2009… my last year of car ownership….and this past year of going carless. You can use this cost of car ownership calculator to calculate your own expenses.
Car Payments: Most automobile financing is done by large regional or national banking institutions with token representation in communities (unless you use a small bank or credit union and they don’t broker the loans out.) The check you write typically goes to some faceless PO box in some Midwest city far from here. My lease payments from a car purchased at a Traverse City dealership went to Chase Auto Finance in Fort Worth, Texas. ($260.00 /mo. – $3120/yr. Chase Financial) (Local value of $156.00 based on a generous 2.5% dealer reserve). It’s a powerful lobby as well, recently exempted from new financial regulation despite the fact that car loans are the second largest source of American debt.<
Insurance: one of the largest ongoing vehicle expenses (while mandatory) reserves only a very small percentage of its fees for the local economy (unless a claim is made). And these are mainly sales commissions. My policy was with Auto-Owners based in Lansing, through a local agent. $70/mo. $840.00/yr (Local value $84.00 This assumes a 10% ongoing commission.)
Fuel: Fuel is another piece of the puzzle that astounds. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics only 3 to 5 cents from every dollar you spend on gasoline or diesel fuel for your car stays in the local community. That’s why the place we get fuel is no longer called a gas station. They’re called convenience stores, because it’s that convenience that makes them the bulk of their profits. They can make more profit selling you a 12 pack of beer than in selling $30 worth of gas. (10,000 miles at 27.5mpg 363.6 gallons @2.50/gal = $909.10. That’s using very conservative numbers. Assuming I purchased all of that in my home community (which isn’t correct), that’s a local value of $45.46.
Even the hyper conservative jocularity of Steven Colbert jumps on this data-set.
Repairs and Maintenance: depending upon the age of your vehicle, the brand, and the type of driving you do, this can vary greatly. In my case, my warranty had expired and these expenses represent new tires, brakes, and some tune-ups. Arguably, this section has the greatest impact on the local economy as much of the money spent went to local labor. But even then, the total economic impact on my community was small. Total expenses of $1299.00 for an approximate local value $700 in labor.
Parking: in a downtown area like Traverse City, vehicle parking is the constant burr in the sides of residents and businesses. I’m lucky enough to have free parking in my condo association’s lot, but I do travel quite a bit and thus used the paid parking lot at the Cherry Capital Airport frequently. In 2008/2009 I spent 78 days out-of-town, leaving my car in the lot at a cost of $6.50/day. $526.50 (Most of that staying in town.)
These are the same numbers from the table above. Featuring my actual expenses for auto and bicycle use in 2008-2010. The left-hand pie chart represents auto expenses from 08/09, and the right-hand chart the translated expenses for using my bicycles instead after dumping the car.
Plainly, this shows significant savings after getting rid of the car. It’s important to note that I gave the car away. Had I sold it, I could’ve easily netted another $4500. What I’d like you to focus on however is the graph below.
It shows that for the year of car ownership approximately 23% of my expenses stayed in the local community. In the following year, riding my bikes, 41% of expenses stayed local.
>This scale of local value retention is an assumption you can make anytime you choose to purchase something with a smaller carbon footprint. If it took a lot of fuel to get it here, and/or it takes a lot of fuel to keep in running, the majority of money you spend on it will leave the community and never return.
Finally, when you factor in the savings from one year to the next, it’s easy to see that I pocketed well over $5600 by not owning a car.
My conscious choice was to find ways to spend that money where more of it would remain in the local economy.
And I’ll cover how I did that in the Part Two.
Guest writer: Bill Palladino
Yesterday was about why public meetings suck. Today’s is about how to make them better…or, at the least how to judge them.
Here are my 10 rules for providing valued public participation in government/municipal meetings (a future post will have lists for nonprofit organization meetings).
- Public meetings should be public. This definition shouldn’t stop with the bare minimum requirements of the public meetings act. Public officials should seriously reach out to their constituents and find ways to invite them into the meetings as equal partners. Doing this consistently will, over time, create meetings where all sides of a conversation are represented rather than the usual knee-jerk turnouts strongly leaning towards one side on an issue. In the long run this solution serves the public officials too.
- Meeting rooms should be comfortable for both officials and the audience. Too many public meetings are held in stale windowless rooms, with the audience as a second-thought. It’s almost as if they’re based on some centuries-old image of British Parliament. The audience should feel comfortable and welcome, and they should be encouraged to participate.
- Public officials should make efforts to connect with audience members prior to and/or after the meeting. Being elected to office does not give anyone the right to ignore the people who put them there. In fact, it is just the opposite in a true democracy. But it’s a lot easier for individuals to make decisions in a vacuum when they separate themselves from their people. Officials should not enter and exit public meeting rooms through some rear entrance that keeps them away from citizenry. It’s a simple act that sends a big message.
- The physical set-up of the room should not separate officials from audience members. Furthering numbers 2 and 3 above, the design of meeting chambers should not put huge distances between officials and audience members. Next time you’re at a public meeting sit in the front row. If the desks of officials are more than eight feet away, that distance can be used to disengage from the public. Ask yourself why the room is set up that way.
- Audience members should be treated with respect and encouraged to participate. Some entities seem to treat public participation in meetings as a nuisance. Officials show this through body language, tone of voice or other forms of acting out displeasure.
6-10 continued below
- Public comment sections should include opportunity for Q&A. Many public entities see the “public comment” section of meetings as a one-way soapbox. This is fine, but there should also be space for the public to ask questions directly of their elected officials at the meeting. Not providing such a space holds the danger of creating frustrated community members. Finding ways to engage and fully validate those who come to public meetings is critical.
- Attorneys should not be seated at the same table as public officials. In an effort to provide a legal framework and guidance to public officials, attorneys are often seated among them. This is a mistake. It sends a message to the public that the public body values the word of a hired lawyer over that of the citizenry. Let’s face it, attorneys can be intimidating. If they are seated with the convening group this creates another layer of defense that officials can hide behind. Attorneys are necessary, but certainly not in the foreground of public discourse. They should be in the background, ready to contribute when necessary, but should otherwise not play a large role.
- All public officials should contribute to the discussion. Leaders, especially those voted into office, should lead. Often officials take a highly passive approach in public, barely speaking up about important items. This isn’t leadership, it’s control masquerading as shyness. Elected officials should be expected to chime in on every issue of importance that comes across the table. Why else are they there?
- The public should have at their disposal information about issues brought up at each meeting. Public officials often bring up items on an agenda without allowing the public access to the same information they hold. This is one of the oldest methods of weakening a democratic process… keeping people in the dark. Public officials simply need to help members of the public educate themselves regarding the issues at hand.
- Notes and official minutes of the meeting should be available quickly after the meeting, and leadership should make a point of telling the public where to access these documents. Full transparency includes the opportunity for the public to view the official record of meetings in a timely manner. Minutes are typically the official legal documentation of all actions in public meetings. It’s important to ensure they represent reality, and it’s the public’s responsibility to do so.
What do you think? Make sense? Have additional criteria to suggest?
The scorecard below is your chance to be the Olympic judge mentioned yesterday.
Download it and print one out the next time you go to a public meeting. After you fill it out, let the world know what you think of public process via the MyWHaT online scorecard.
Keep us posted.
Download your scorecard here (PDF)
Online scorecard can be found at: http://www.zoomerang.com/Survey/WEB22ALF6LABFL
Why most public meetings suck
Guest writer: Bill Palladino
Over the past year I’ve attended more than fifty public meetings in my community and in others around the country. As a professional consultant and facilitator, it is often my job to be at these gatherings, watching, waiting, occasionally speaking up, and otherwise forcing myself to stay awake.
I’ve become an ardent student of the process and content that make meetings of any size work. Far too often the meetings and events I witness lack structure and clarity of purpose. This tends to leave attendees feeling confused or dare I say… unfulfilled.
The Judge’s Score is…
I’ve created a fantasy world for myself where at the end of each meeting, I imagine the entire audience holding up scorecards to rate the meeting, like some nightmarish Olympic skating event. In my experience it is rare for any meeting to rate a podium level score. Most public meetings, those hosted by governmental or nonprofit bodies, would leave the ice in tears and disgrace.
The equivalent of falling during a simple compulsory exercise in the rink.
One of the most frequent failings of meetings is that their organizers – and I’m using that term loosely – don’t seem to have a handle on the meetings’ true intent. Often meetings are held because… well, because…they’ve always held them.
The largest planning and emphasis is typically on pushing through the agenda, not on having everyone in attendance understand why or for what purpose the meeting was held.
Real consideration for public participation is critical to the success of communities in our new global economy. Leaders can no longer ignore or minimize public participation.
Author Daniel Pink has a profound quote that I think works well as the most fundamental, overarching rule for creating meetings that actually matter. He says:
The most dangerous word in the English language is routine.”
Break out of the routine.
Tomorrow’s part II will list 10 ways to provide valued public participation in a public meeting.
Through MyWHaT, we’ll also introduce two new tools that will up you be that Olympic judge.
How will your community perform? Will it get high points and be able wear a medal, or will it walk off the ice in shame?
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Guest Post by Bill Palladino. (Interested in contributing to MyWHaT, please contact the editor)
There was an opportunity for the Michigan House Transportation Committee to show its commitment for northern Michigan on Monday. Unfortunately, most of them decided they had better things to do, including our own Senator Jason Allen.
The meeting, was a hearing to discuss “delayed” MDOT construction projects for 2011 – 2014 in the north region. Only three of the committee’s 17 members showed up!
After listening to what the few committee members had to say, I guess I wouldn’t have showed up either.
The message was clear. Out of $96 Million dollars earmarked for road work in the northern Michigan region, $62 million will be delayed by at least four years. That’s a 65% shortfall in critically needed projects. And it seems there’s no solution in mind, so we may simply continue this travesty in ensuing years. Can you say crisis?
Road Commissions’ call for help
After the MDOT report, several members of area road commissions (TV7&4 report) weighed in to emphasize the urgent state of our region’s roads. Mary Gillen, manager of the GT County Road Commission showed a sobering set of slides (PDF) suggesting that 80% of the county’s roads are considered to be in poor condition–many of them unimproved since the 1960s!
I’m happy that the House Transportation Committee chose to grace Traverse City with their presence. Committee chair Pam Byrnes, did a terrific job of hosting the session and making people feel welcomed. We should feel privileged.
Instead, what I’m left with is a certain hollow feeling. A feeling that wants me to ask “why did they even bother?” The costs associated with moving a legislative hearing 200 miles north must be immense. Why would you do it knowing there would not be a quorum? They apparently imagined there would be trouble too, as a State Trooper was on guard at the front door the entire time. I think we can all agree his time would’ve been better spent patrolling the pothole strewn roads of our region. This meeting could’ve been “phoned in”
Why is this important in a blog site about bicycle and pedestrian transportation?
Let’s face it, bipedal modes of transport are thought of as something just short of the lunatic fringe. This is especially true when it comes to funding projects. In light of the predicament for federal, county, and state funding for our roads, it makes it much more difficult for us to justify a new direction for the region. One that will help us realize our shared vision for a more walkable, bikeable, pedestrian friendly community.
Here is the House Transportation Committee roster. It is shameful that 14 of these public servants made a decision not to join this critical conversation. (Asterisks represent members present at the meeting.)
- * Pam Byrnes (D), Committee Chair, 52nd District
- Andrew J. Kandrevas (D), Majority Vice-Chair, 13th District
- Marie Donigan (D), 26th District
- * Douglas A. Geiss (D), 22nd District
- Martin J. Griffin (D), 64th District
- Harold L. Haugh (D), 42nd District
- Gabe Leland (D), 10th District
- Judy Nerat (D), 108th District
- Roy Schmidt (D), 76th District
- Coleman A. Young II (D), 4th District
- Paul E. Opsommer (R), Minority Vice-Chair, 93rd District
- James Bolger (R), 63rd District
- Larry DeShazor (R), 61st District
- Marty Knollenberg (R), 41st District
- Tom Pearce (R), 73rd District
- * Wayne A. Schmidt (R), 104th District
- Paul Scott (R), 51st District
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MyWHaT’s second guest writer, Bill Palladino, reports back from the NAHBS.
This past week found me in Richmond, Virginia attending the North American Handmade Bicycle Show, (NAHBS). It’s the premier conference for custom bicycle frame builders attracting artists and craftsmen from around the world. Most of the 120 or so booths at the Richmond Convention Center were occupied by small businesses often made up entirely of one individual. There were also a collection of larger builders, still building custom frames, but with some more support behind them.
My interest at these shows is partly leisure, partly business. I interview people for Dennis Bean-Larson’s Fixed Gear Gallery, where I often write reviews and create stories about the experience of riding my bike around the U.S. and elsewhere. My emphasis at shows like this tends towards innovation.
Who’s taking us to the next place in bicycle practicality?
For one, Rasmus Guesing from Copenhagen, Denmark. Rasmus heads up a small company that builds bikes, and most interestingly, creates its own custom crafted bicycle components. His booth featured a tiny, hand-drawn sign for the company CYKELMAGEREN.
Everything was in shades of black and silver; from the drapes, to his clothing, and to the bikes and components themselves. And there were candles. I showed up to his booth early on Sunday – the last day of the event – and asked for an interview. “Sure.” He said with a smiling face through strong, but broken English. “I must first light the candles, please.” All around the booth were small votives that he painstakingly lit one at a time.
We then started a delightful conversation about his design philosophy, his work, and the bike culture in his native country. All of his creations shared a common design aesthetic that shouts out Scandinavia. They are simple, practical pieces whose appearance is driven by intention. A set of hubs that are user-buildable in several configurations. A micro-sized stick shift for a Shimano three-speed hub. A “lever-less” brake lever that uses the cable housing alone as the way to apply force. Everything clean and pleasant to look upon, like the heyday of Swedish sports cars or Danish furniture design.
Bike design school
I asked him what schooling brought him to such cutting-edge design work. As an American, I was anticipating a treatise about some long internship at a manufacturing company, or an advanced degree in mechanical engineering. His off-handed response set me on my heels a bit, “I went to bicycle school in Denmark. There, we choose to make a career out of this, like you would choose to be a doctor.” He then mentioned that in Copenhagen, bicycles are so popular as a form of daily commuting that there is a constant shortage of bicycle mechanics!
NMC Bicycle Mechanic School…
So, I’m now left closing my eyes to imagine my hometown, Traverse City. What would things be like if the demand for bicycles was so high that NMC offered advanced classes in bike maintenance? Maybe MTEC would have a special facility, (connected to the TART of course) and maybe the State of Michigan and Michigan Works would pay businesses to train employees for such work.
We have a long way to go in Michigan before bicycles and the culture that surrounds them are taken seriously, especially as a form of economic development. I have a vision for this region that includes it being a magnet for all manner of businesses that contribute to the economy through their connection to the bicycling, walking and skiing community. Bike shops, messengers, frame builders, tour groups, welders, web-sites, and innovators, all choosing to locate here because it’s simply the hippest, friendliest and most profitable place to do business for people in this sector.
I can’t imagine anyone saying that Brick Wheels, or McClain Cycles, or Boardman Paddle and Pedal are anomalies. They are real businesses, not very different from any other retail store or manufacturer. What they produce however contributes in a much more focused way to creating the type of community so many here seem to envision. Let us find ways to support and encourage the creation of more businesses like these as a matter of practice.
John W. Gardner, writer and former secretary of the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare famously said: “We are continually faced by great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.”
We need to build demand and capacity for transportation alternatives in northern Michigan. When we ask for our leaders’ commitment to a vision so many of us played a role in creating, let us not take “no” for an answer. And let us not accept that such a vision won’t work in Michigan simply because it hasn’t worked here before. The auto industry, and by association the state of Michigan, are shadows of their former selves.
Who will be our next Henry Ford? Who will be Michigan’s Steve Jobs? What role will Traverse City play in making it possible for these people to be recognized here, start businesses here, and claim ownership enough in this community that they will choose to stay here?
FYI: Prolly is not Probably has a video tour of this year’s NAHBS
Bill Palladino is owner and principal consultant for Krios Consulting based in Traverse City. He provides strategy planning and leadership development for businesses and organizations around the world. In July of 2009 he gave away his perfectly good car, committing to ride his bike every day when at home. He can often be seen making his way to meetings around town on one of his fixed gear bikes with his brief case slung over his back and a sly smile on his face.
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