As 2013 draws to a close we examine our accomplishments over the past year and wonder where the time has gone! 2013 was marked by several Trans4M successes, providing a strong foundation for progress in 2014. Here are some highlights:
Successful Advocacy Days
Trans4M ratcheted up its advocacy work, holding spring and fall Advocacy Days at the Capitol to educate legislators on our policy priorities. The Spring Advocacy Day matched 42 participants with 37 legislators to introduce Trans4M and share data gathered from public visioning sessions that illustrated the need for transportation funding (more on that later).
Later in the year, our Fall Advocacy Day exceeded all expectations with more than 100 participants and 70 legislative meetings. Fall topics included the Vulnerable Roadway User Bills (HB 4792 and HB 5080) and Merit-Based Transportation Infrastructure. The Advocacy Days were a clear reminder to Legislators that Michigan citizens value equitable and accessible transportation options. We owe a huge thanks to all those who participated!
An Odyssey to be Remembered
The Michigan Transportation Odyssey rode again, highlighting public transportation successes and challenges across the state of Michigan (Recap: Pt. 1, Pt. 2). The 2013 version traveled from Traverse City, down to Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, over to Ann Arbor and ended in Detroit. The entire Odyssey was completed without an automobile – only biking, walking, and riding busses and trains. Along the way, we handed out awards to commemorate groundbreaking transportation successes. Recipients included TART Trails for the Traverse Area Recreational and Transportation (TART) Trails); The Rapid’s Silverline Bus Rapid Transit Project in Grand Rapids; Kalamazoo County Parks’ Kalamazoo River Valley Trail; The Clean Energy Coalition, The Ride, The University of Michigan and the City of Ann Arbor for their work on Ann Arbor’s new Bike Share Program; and the Regional Transit Authority for its incorporation and commitment to transit in southeast Michigan.
Our experiences during the Odyssey demonstrate that many communities are taking initiative to make Michigan’s transportation system more modern, sustainable and equitable; however, the experience also highlighted where substantial work is still needed.
The Long Road to Transportation Funding Reform
Trans4M continued to advocate for transportation funding reform – something that is vitally important for Michigan citizens but seemingly enigmatic for the Legislature. Several proposals were bandied about this spring and summer that gave us hope for the funding necessary to fix our crumbling infrastructure. None found traction. Comprehensive transportation funding appears to have been put on the back burner, despite the call for funding from Governor Rick Snyder and MDOT Director Kirk Steudle’s admonition that failing to act on transportation funding now will cost the state an additional five billion dollars in 2015. Funding remains one of Trans4M’s key priority areas in 2014, and we will continue to work with the Legislature and public to meet Michigan’s transportation funding needs.
Progress for Bicycle & Pedestrian Safety
Trans4M member John Lindenmayer, advocacy and policy director for the League of Michigan Bicyclists was instrumental in the success of three bills that will have significant effects on non-motorized transportation. House Bill 4866 is sponsored by Representative Anthony Forlini, and would allow a bicyclist to signal a right turn by extending his or her right arm out horizontally, a much more intuitive signal that increases bicycling safety. The bill passed the House on a unanimous vote, and now awaits a full Senate vote before it can be signed into law.
The Vulnerable Roadway User bills (House bills 4792 and 5080) were also received positively, passing through the House Criminal Justice Committee in a unanimous vote. The bills provide enhanced penalties for injuring or killing a vulnerable roadway user, including pedestrians, bicyclists, and wheelchair users. Similar protections against negligent driving are already afforded to construction workers, drivers of farm implements, and people in school zones. They now await a full House vote, most likely in early 2014.
In addition to the bills, Trans4M launched its Share MI Roads campaign as part of our complete streets priority area. The goal of the campaign is simple—promote sharing of Michigan roads and foster goodwill between drivers and bicyclists. The education campaign focuses on the general public, Michigan law enforcement, driver’s education instructors, and elected officials.
Moving Rail Forward in Michigan
We continue to be active in promoting rail in Michigan. Trans4M recently added Michigan By Rail as one of its newest policy campaigns, and a brand-new website has the campaign set for success in 2014. Look for updates on the proposed Coast-To-Coast line from Detroit to Holland, which would connect Michigan’s three largest population centers by rail for the first time since 1970. Additionally, the campaign has seen renewed excitement for the WALLY project, a proposed commuter rail service between Howell and Ann Arbor, and for the Ann Arbor to Detroit commuter rail project. The lines would provide a cost-effective alternative to US-23 and I-94 gridlocks. We will continue to keep you connected to advances in Michigan rail in 2014, so check back often!
Movement Toward Regional Transit in Metro Detroit
Trans4M’s regional transit advocacy saw two key successes in 2013—the first Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority (RTA) board meeting, and the appointment of John Hertel as RTA CEO. The RTA was formed to provide better transit for Metro Detroit by coordinating local transit service, building rapid transit lines, and allowing citizens to approve new funding.
When a bill allowing communities to opt-out of the RTA was introduced by Representative Kurt Heise in the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Trans4M went into action. Trans4M members Tim Fischer, deputy policy director at the Michigan Environmental Council and Joel Batterman, transportation coordinator at MOSES, worked with fellow advocates and legislators to kill the bill, which would have seriously threatened the viability of the RTA. It has not resurfaced. Trans4M members will continue to support the RTA and oppose threats to its success in 2014.
With 2014 almost upon us, there will be many opportunities to create a better transportation system in Michigan. Our New Year’s resolution is to keep fighting for a 21st century transportation system that accommodates all users. Join us by following Trans4M on Twitter and Facebook and have a happy New Year!
Written by: Jeff Prygoski, Trans4M Fellow