Home > Complete Streets, Design the Details, Economics, Editorial, Grand Visioning, Visual Stimulus > Munson Hospital’s growth isn’t the traffic problem

Munson Hospital’s growth isn’t the traffic problem

Sunday’s Record Eagle editorial tackled traffic complaints coming out of the neighborhoods. In particular, lending support for the complaints associated with the proposed Munson expansions and fears of an increase in the number of cars running down Monroe St. and Elmwood Ave. An alley and City owned land sale for the project is on the City Commission’s agenda for this evening (PDF).

The attention to genuine concerns about traffic is appreciated, unfortunately our paper’s solutions are reactive and may even make matters worse. In part, because they buy in to the natural fallacy that economic growth must and will induce more motorized traffic. Certainly, if we treat it as inevitable, more motorized traffic is what we will get.

However, we need to be real. As long as we are all addicted to driving as a default for transportation needs, and continue to encourage the habit by building for it, complaints from the neighborhoods are going to continue. To efficiently serve that without destroying other parts of town, we need our grid system left intact, not turned into cul-de-sacs as the RE proposes. Cutting off streets will only increase the frustration levels in other locations and will only serve to lengthen driving trips and the number of cars on the streets.

As other traffic concerns in the City, if a reduction of vehicles per day is the goal, shifting traffic elsewhere does nothing but postpone the issue and create other problems, many of them economic.

There is no solution, but there are choices.

Munson’s expansion may or may not increase over-all traffic, and that may or may not be a doomsday scenario, but Munson is one of the largest businesses in town that does actively support smart-commuting amongst employees–how can the City further incentivize this effort? What can the City do to support increased transit use between Munson West, NMC, and Munson East? 

This discussion also showcases why it is so important for the City Commission to support and be champions of a commitment to developing a city-wide traffic calming program. One that isn’t complaint driven, but part of the ongoing re-construction and maintenance of the public rights of way. Often, it isn’t the number of cars that people notice on their streets, but the behavior of the drivers who are racing between stop-signs with no regard to the context. Last year, Elmwood Ave. north of W. Front St. was narrowed and treated with some minor tweaks; it’s a good start, and the next re-do of a street needs to be more aggressive, regardless of what neighborhood it is in. The same concerns out of Slabtown are the same concerns across the City.

Also needed is a comprehensive bike-ped plan, as called for in the City’s master plan. This plan needs to be integrated with a more robustly supported transit system backed up by smart-commute lots on the edges of the city. This needs to be embraced and funded as a real transportation solution.

We can no longer continue to build for an auto-centric world and then turn around and complain about it. At a certain point, the community needs to recognize that every trip we can encourage to be taken not in a single-occupant-vehicle is an action that will save us time, money, and head-aches.

What can we shoot for–10%, 20%, or 30% of Munson employees arriving by other means than an SOV?

What about city-wide? 

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  1. mikecgrant
    April 16, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    I don’t necessarily agree/disagree with your larger point but your goal of even 10% bike/ped/transit to Munson frankly seems unrealistic in my opinion. This is based mostly on my own anecdotal having worked there years ago and having lived in the vicinity for several years. My best guess is current bike/ped/transit to Munson is under 1%. Why? The housing that is effectively within bike/ped distance is too expensive for most Munson employees to afford. And I doubt that many Munson employees would take BATA. Looks like there’s one BATA bus that goes to the hospital and it doesn’t really run through any of the residential neighborhoods. So most any employee riding BATA is transferring. Which adds even more time. Why take an hour(?) to take the bus across town when you can hop in the car you already own and drive there in 10-15 minutes. And if you’re like (guessing here) the 95+% of Munson employees who don’t live anywhere served by BATA then you’re driving to work in the car you already own. You’re not going to drive into some park and ride situation and take BATA and add an hour of commuting time to your day. I also am guessing that Munson provides free or cheap parking to its employees (someone correct me here) so there’s probably not much financial dis-incentive to driving to work.

    Something like the workforce housing project at Building 50 is a step in the right direction of getting affordable housing within bike/ped/transit distance of TC’s largest employer. But there aren’t many of those opportunities given the current zoning, as well as overall opposition to increased density in the City. The ADU ordinance’s going down being the latest example I think of probably where TC is politically on increasing density in residential neighborhoods.

    So I guess my point is that if Munson’s getting bigger then there’s more cars coming into TC and there’s not alot that I see that there’s really the political will to do anything about it. Of course, there are are great number of benefits with having a regional hospital in your backyard also.

  2. Greg
    April 16, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    The City does not need more items included in a Master Plan, should dump the existing one now. Why do you want to run people’s lives? It is none of my business how you, my neighbor, Munson employees or anyone else gets to work. If they want to walk, fine. If they want to drive, fine. If they choose to hang glide or take a jet-pack it is none of my business, yet you seem to want something to shoot for. If all of Munson Employees drive, why is it your concern? Are they bad people if they choose to not take public transportation or car pool, I don’t think so. It is kind of like “Smart Commute Week” it gives you the impression if you don’t follow the transportation guidelines and drive solo, you are not dumb, which really turns people off.

  3. April 16, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    There’s no disincentive. Munson employees are offered free parking.

    The employees place a very high value on their ability to drive in and out of the campus. Just ask a few of them if they would use BATA even if BATA’s routes were perfect. Many would not. (I happen to think they would if the right level of attractiveness, ease, and park’ n ride location were combined with the right incentives.)

    Regardless, if their ability to drive in and out is of such high value, they (or Munson) should not have a problem paying the market rate for that benefit then use that money for modest improvements in the neighborhoods.

    Munson could help pay for items like traffic calming, bike lanes, crosswalks, lights, etc. Then Munson can choose to take on the expense themselves, or recoup the costs from their employees that choose to park.

    It would also encourage Munson to incentivize employees to carpool, and combine biking and walking with a BATA ride. (BATA’s upcoming route changes will be more attractive for Munson employees. The two working closely on improvements.)

    The city says there’s no money for modest neighborhood improvements or for improvements along Division. There’s money. We just have to charge appropriately.

  4. April 16, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    I’m not sure I was shooting for any percentage, Mike, but the numbers of people accessing the hospital by their own power or a bus could increase with the right incentives in place, many of which would save the hospital and the City money in the long run. As well, I agree that where we are now that the Munson expansion will likely increase the number of car trips…the point I was trying to make is that no infrastructure cure alone is going to solve the traffic issue–most of these types of traffic-solution-chases simply end up generating more traffic. If you only build for cars, more cars is what you will get.

    To Greg’s point, it isn’t my intention to force anyone to do anything, but what is missing from his perspective is a realization that when we drive it is a community concern due to the costs associated to provide for the habit. The streets and roads are not private industries, they are a socialized expense/subsidy that has for 50-70 years been dominated by one mode of transportation. Providing the infrastructure for our driving habits dominates City budgets and the zoning & financing policies are in place that hinder freedom of choice for developers, who often must provide more parking than desired. The idea to raise the level of service for walking, biking, and transit is sound economics, not an attempt to punish anyone.

    James is correct, more places need to start charging for parking. The 2,000 employees at Munson all get free parking valued at the minimum of $300 a year market value; a nice $600,000 annual subsidy to encourage a single mode. How many employees are offered free transit passes?

  5. mikecgrant
    April 17, 2012 at 8:26 am

    I don’t disagree that much more effort should be made in TC to accommodate/encourage bike/ped/transit. There are plenty of measures that could be taken at relatively low cost that would be big improvements, and they should be made. But my point was that making transportation alternatives available/reliable/safe is only half of the equation as far as getting people out of cars. The other half of the equation is land use. As far as you’ve got to have enough people living close enough together and in high enough density to make bike/ped/transit really pay off. Land use is also the other half of the equation here in terms of making it relatively harder/more expensive to drive and easier/less expensive to bike/ped/transit. Eliminating parking minimums is one way to get at this.

    And TC doesn’t have and doesn’t appear to want a great deal more density in general, as well as in close proximity to Munson specifically. And I don’t just mean the City. Witness, for example, what happened in Long Lake Township a couple of years ago (?) when somebody tried to get some workforce housing permitted up by the high school. Which is in a short (albeit car) commuting distance to Munson. Density is largely unpopular and because land use is run by so many different political jurisdictions (townships and the City) it’s difficult to get the political clout together to increase density even in a small way in the face of neighborhood opposition. Again, witness what happened with the ADU ordinance. One way to try and get a handle on this would be to zone/plan more regionally. But we all know how the most recent attempt at this has fared in terms of the Grand Vision. Not so good.

  6. Don
    April 17, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    “Workforce Housing”, “Affordable Attainment Living” , “Wage Correct Housing” , you peple make me sick! You just can’t use the words “low income” housing, or housing for the poor among us.

    It is always for “those people” or the ones that you are trying to provide for but don’t want them next door to you. Admit it. You all want the housing stuck somewhere else like down at the Train Depot out lot. Which was actually a recreation ball field for many many years and part of the “cross town” by pass parkway that has been on the books for years and years (go see Mr. Collored Pencils Planner and see).

    The “workforce Housing done at he”Commons” (State Hospital) is done not so much for the people it will house, but for the money that the the Jacobson’s could get from the state for building it and the need for Minervini to get something going again in his stale housing quest there. Sure would love to hear the current condo and loft owners chatting about their property values now!

    So don’t be so niave and think this all so kumbiya, its not. We need to keep our collective heads out of the sand and call a duck a duck!

  7. April 17, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    Somewhat off-topic, but what did you think about the comment regarding MMC as an NPO that does not pay to maintain roads? Firstly, is this even true?

  8. Raymond Minervini
    April 17, 2012 at 7:17 pm

    Don: To me, what we call things is relevant because the words we choose color how we perceive or miss-perceive the world around us.

    That said, you are wrong about why we did the “workforce” housing at the Commons. Was affordable housing built and occupied? Yes. Did people make money doing it? Yes– so they are able to do more! Have property values at the Commons gone down? No– we have maintained and even increased values better than most of TC. Finally, I live here, too. I am happily in between my Village neighbors who are independently wealthy, and my Village neighbors who make minimum wage. It’s an economically diverse neighborhood.

    To address the topic of this thread, a lot of Village neighbors walk and bike to work on the Commons, to Munson and throughout town. We’re not just talking, we’re Doing– along with the many people who live and do businesses here. And I think our community is better for it. Maybe, if you saw all of this up close and in person you would better understand it and not be so negative about it.

  9. April 17, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    As far as I know, that is correct. As a charitable organization they are exempt from federal and state/local taxes. I didn’t think much about it, to tell you the truth, as the hospital is a community asset and I don’t know enough about it’s operation or the laws regarding the topic.

    Curious about the subject, and suspecting that they must have ways to show the economic return to communities, I did a quick search and found this study from 1996 published in Health Affairs titled “Do nonprofit hospitals pay their way?” I only reviewed the summary and abstract, but from the abstract, “we find that the vast majority of nonprofit hospitals provide community dividends in excess of the tax subsidies they receive.” Only 20% were found to be questionable. There you go, evening reading–plenty of interesting looking articles related to it as well!

    UPDATE: For more reading about Munson, here are some public records at faqs.org

  10. April 17, 2012 at 9:02 pm

    It’s definitely a community asset. Thank you for the response. Hoping to see an outcome that considers the needs of the neighborhood as well as MMC patients and staff. Was happy to hear Jim push for some guarantees from both Munson and the City that they will not ignore the issue.

  11. mikecgrant
    April 18, 2012 at 9:41 am

    For what it’s worth, my mention of “workforce housing” was because it’s my (possibly mis-)perception that a fair proportion of the jobs at Munson are for not very high wages, and this was a blog about Munson. And so those workers could represent a group of folks interested in cutting their transportation costs by living within ped/bike/transit distance of where they work. But generally in terms of making ped/bike/transit work better in TC it largely doesn’t matter, in my opinion, whether the increased density comes in the form of low/medium/high wage housing. It just needs to be dense (for the reasons I’ve already mentioned). So whether you’re talking about Midtown, River’s Edge, Building 50, Riverine Apt’s, the rowhouses on the corner of Boardman and State, the apartment building on the corner of 8th and Union, etc etc, these are all places where people can live and not necessarily have to rely on a car for all of their daily needs.

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