Local and Michigan Headlines: How Much Power Does Consumers Need; High Speed Railways in Michigan

Here’s links to a few worthwhile articles covering Grand Rapids and Michigan that have been published elsewhere on the web. As always, if we missed anything, let us know in the comments.

  • How Much Power Does Consumers Need? – Consumers Energy is under fire both for high fees it is charging for its renewable energy as well as its estimate of the state’s energy needs. A coalition of environmental and citizens groups is saying that the utility company has greatly over estimated how much energy Michigan needs and that it is using flawed numbers.
  • Hoekstra tweets response to court ruling – Earlier this year, Representative Pete Hoekstra–who is running for governor of Michigan–was at the center of a controversy for his use of Twitter and the disclosure of classified information. Now, he’s at it again on Twitter, dismissing Court ruling as “crazy.”
  • EPA downplays dredging risk to Bay City water supply – After citizens raised concerns about the possibility of dioxin-contaminated sediments moving downstream as part of a dredging project in the Saginaw River, the EPA has responded by saying that they won’t test for dioxin downstream.
  • Standing Up Against the Establishment – This post over at West Michigan Rising is from a person interested in running for Michigan’s 20th District Senate seat. However, he says that he was met with opposition from the Democratic Party establishment which is seeking a less progressive candidate. It’s a predictable response from the party, as is the first comment in response to the post in which the commenter attacks the author for deciding to go to the Green Party.
  • Call Conyers to Support His Opposition to Bigger Wars – Michigan Representative John Conyers has consistently voiced his opposition to an upcoming spending bill that would continue to fund the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Progressive filmmaker Robert Greenwald is urging people to thank Conyers for his stand.
  • When workers lead the way – A retired autoworker looks at how the UAW’s leadership and their role in accepting concessions that will harm workers.
  • High speed railways discussed before task force – A summary of a legislative task force’s hearing on a proposed high speed rail system between Detroit/Ann Arbor and Chicago.
Advertisements

Bicyclist Killed in Grand Rapids

Ride of Silence

Yesterday, a 55-year old Grand Rapids man was hit while traveling on a bicycle in Grand Rapids.

According to media reports, the unnamed bicyclist was hit by a City of Grand Rapids dump truck who was pulling out of a driveway. The driver of the truck says he did not see the bicyclist but stopped when he heard an unusual noise and saw the man laying in the street. Witnesses at the scene said the man was not wearing a helmet and that he was in shock and struggling to breathe before dying.

The incident occurred on the same day as the “Ride of Silence” a bike ride held each year to commemorate the lives of cyclists hit by motor vehicles. According to the website M-Bike.org, there motorists struck 2,160 bicyclists–killing 18–last year in Michigan.

Unfortunately, this incident is a reminder that for all the talk about making Grand Rapids a bicycle friendly city and Michigan’s ranking as a bicycle friendly state, bicycling remains a potentially dangerous means of transportation. As someone who bikes on a daily basis, barely a day goes by where there isn’t a vehicle that passes too close or a car that fails to pay attention and almost hits me. Sadly, this almost always happens in conjunction with insults yelled out the window and obscene gestures coming from the driver, who always views the cyclist as an obstacle to be overcome rather than a legitimate user of the road.

M-Bike.org has a good overview of Michigan’s bicycling laws, which include cyclists’ rights to the road. The City of Grand Rapids’ Bicycling Information Sheet contains information about local laws.

Michigan Ranks 15th in National Ranking of Bicycle Friendliness

051409-bicycle_state.gif

Michigan ranked 15th this year in the League of American Bicyclists’ annual survey of bike friendliness. Michigan’s ranking fell three spots to 15. It continues to rank well for education, infrastructure, and policies and programs. The state struggles when it comes to legislation promoting cycling, ranking 43rd out of 50.

The annual “Bicycle Friendly States” list was started by the League of American Bicyclists to promote bicycling and policy changes at the state level. The group aims to track states progress and to create momentum for improving biking conditions. It also seeks to accentuate the positive and work with states to improve bicycling conditions.

The League argues that for states “Encouraging bicycling is an effective way to address the challenges of climate change, traffic congestion, rising obesity rates and soaring fuel prices, as well as improve traffic safety and economic development.”

Michigan’s Infrastructure Ranked Poorly in Study

051309-mi_infrastructure.gif

In January–before the Obama administration took office and amidst discussion about the possibility of pouring millions of dollars into the economy for infrastructure improvement projects as form of economic stimulus–the American Society of Civil Engineers released a “Report Card for America’s Infrastructure” that found that the United States needs major improvements in its infrastructure.

Now the group has released state-by-state rankings, and not surprisingly for anyone that has driven on Michigan’s roads, Michigan ranked quite poorly with the group stating that “Michigan’s infrastructure is in dire need.”

In a 50-page report on the state of Michigan’s infrastructure, the group rated several key components of Michigan’s infrastructure:

AVIATION: C – Michigan’s 200+ airports generate $4.3 billion for Michigan’s economy each year. The individual components — runway systems, pavement conditions, terminals, weather access, security and pilot and aircraft services — are in satisfactory condition. However, current infrastructure repair, maintenance and expansion needs exceed $1.3 billion over the next five years, a figure well beyond existing revenue. It is imperative that Michigan establish dedicated funding for airport infrastructure.

DAMS: D – Over 90% of Michigan’s 2,581 dams will reach or exceed their design life by 2020. Many dams are abandoned, no longer serve any useful purpose, and pose safety hazards to downstream residents. No funding is currently available in Michigan to help dam owners repair, or remove aging dams.

DRINKING WATER: D – The State of Michigan is in the unique position of being surrounded by the Great Lakes, which offer an abundant supply of fresh water. Yet the State faces crucial funding challenges both in treating and distributing clean drinking water to continue to meet the level of service demands of its residents. Nearly 75% of Michigan’s population is served by a community water system. The current fiscal needs for water system rehabilitation in the State exceed $11 billion.

ENERGY: C – The overall health of the energy generation and transmission system in Michigan generally meets the state’s current needs. However, reliability and security concerns are posed by the state’s dependence on coal and natural gas fueled generation and reliance on fuel supplied by external sources. Congestion limitations and interface limits exist between the State of Michigan’s transmission system and neighboring grids in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio and Ontario, Canada. Diversification of energy supply, investments in renewable energy and transmission system upgrades are needed to alleviate congestion and to reduce dependency on fossil-based generation.

ROADS AND BRIDGES: D – Michigan’s extensive network of roads and bridges allows the state’s 10 million residents to safely and freely travel while enabling businesses to efficiently serve their customers. However, Michigan’s network is rapidly aging. 38% of roads are in poor condition, 28% of the bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, and U.S. truckers rate Michigan roads as 3rd worst in the country. While road and bridge funding should be increasing to keep pace with rising construction costs, the reality is that revenues are declining. Continuing to shortchange our transportation system will lead to declining quality of life and reduced economic competitiveness in the global economy. Bold action is required now.

STORMWATER: D – Michigan’s stormwater management system provides flood protection, fosters development, improves agricultural production and extends the service life of roads, streets and highways. Stormwater management improves the water quality of streams, rivers and the Great Lakes. Statewide operation and maintenance procedures are inconsistent and the state does not maintain an inventory of its stormwater management system. Funding for continued maintenance, repair and water quality improvement is inadequate and nonexistent in many areas.

TRANSIT: D – Following a national trend, transit use in Michigan has grown faster over the last two decades than any other mode of transportation. The rise in demand is outstripping capacity. Often the money used for the expansion comes from funds allotted to maintenance. As a result, the physical condition of the infrastructure is declining. Some form of public transportation is available throughout the state and in many rural areas, but the capacities of most urban systems fail to meet demand. The presence of efficient public transportation increases property use and value. Improving public transportation services within the state is a key component in reviving Michigan’s economy.

WASTEWATER COLLECTION SYSTEMS: C – The Great Lakes State’s 35,000 inland lakes and ponds, 54,300 miles of river systems and five million acres of wetlands are its greatest resource. Much of the state’s wastewater collection system infrastructure — sewers, pumping stations and wastewater treatment facilities — is decades beyond a system’s life expectancy. The EPA calculates Michigan’s funding requirements at $6 billion to address the system’s replacement, rehabilitation, expansion and process improvement needs. Approximately $2 billion alone is needed to prevent combined sewer overflows.

NAVIGABLE WATERWAYS: C – Michigan’s navigation system includes coastal infrastructure, navigation harbors, channels, locks, and dams. The system contains approximately 90 harbors, 14 waterways or rivers, the significant Soo Locks system, and disposal facilities for depositing dredged material. Annual maintenance and repair costs outpace the limited federal funding from the Army Corps of Engineers, which causes total system needs to grow each year. Because commercial harbors have priority and the needs exceed the available funding, recreational harbors rarely receive dollars for maintenance or improvements.

In each section, the group makes specific recommendations for improvement. These include everything from allotting more staff members to regulatory agencies to increasing taxes to pay for necessary upgrades.

Nationwide, the group calls for more federal involvement in maintaining and expanding the country’s infrastructure.

Bike To Work Week

051109-bike_to_work.gif

As part of “National Bike Month,” this week is Bike-to-Work Week. May 15th has been designated as “Bike-to-Work Day.”

We’d encourage you all to participate in “Bike-to-Work Day,” if not the entire week. It’s going to be nice most of the week and the mild weather will make for a great introduction to commuting via bicycle.

The League of American Bicyclists has an introduction to commuting by bike that can be a helpful reference for first-time commuters. The City of Grand Rapids also has a map of suggested bike routes and an infosheet containing information on area bike laws. The League of Michigan Bicyclists also has a booklet titled “What Every Michigan Bicyclist Should Know” that offers more helpful resources.

There will also be a group photo taken by the City of Grand Rapids for Bike to Work Day participants. The photo will be taken at Calder Plaza in downtown Grand Rapids at 7:00am on the 15th.

City of Grand Rapids Tracks Stimulus Projects in the City

The City of Grand Rapids has a new web page online to track how Grand Rapids is spending its share of the federal stimulus money. According to the site, the City is committed “to ensuring transparency and accountability and to making sure that every dollar received by the City is spent on strategic projects that will enhance the quality of life in the City.”

Thus far, the money has been allocated in the following way:

050809-city_stimulus.gif

The web page also contains information about how the money in each area will be spent, although relatively little has been disclosed at this point.

More Stimulus Resources

For those wanting more information on how the stimulus funds are being spent as a whole, there are a few websites worth consulting.

The Michigan Recovery & Reinvestment Plan site details projects across the state and contains announcements of new projects.

Recovery.gov–operated by the federal government and receiving considerable hype initially–aims to bring some transparency to the process. For example, it has a page highlighting spending in Michigan, but it contains relatively few details.

The excellent news organization ProPublica also has extensive coverage of the stimulus, with a focus on transparency and where the money is going. Aside from special reports, it also maintains a regularly updated blog on the subject.

Silver Line Bus Millage Fails

050609-silver_line.gif

The millage for the “Silver Line” bus rapid transit (BRT) system that was proposed by The Rapid was defeated yesterday. The proposal was defeated 52% to 47% overall, with Grand Rapids and East Grand Rapids being the only cities to vote in support of it. Grandville, Walker, and Wyoming all voted against it.

The millage had decent bi-partisan support from various politicians and organizations, but in the end it didn’t have enough support from the voters. While the increase wouldn’t have taken effect until 2012, the millage’s supporters say it likely failed because of the current economic situation.

The Rapid needed the millage to secure $32 million in federal funding for the project. According to the Executive Director of The Rapid, the money may no longer come to Grand Rapids.

The Rapid can place the millage on the ballot next year if it wants, but at the current time its future is unknown.

Vote Today

0500509-vote.jpg

For those living in the Grand Rapids and Greater Grand Rapids area, there are a number of different local elections today. There is a Grand Rapids Public Schools Board of Education election, the Rapid Silver Line millage proposal, and the Grand Rapids Community College Board elections.

You can find your polling location on the Kent County website and you can read more about the elections by consulting the following items on MediaMouse.org:

Grand Rapids Bike Summit Shows Possibilities and Limits

Grand Rapids Bike Summit

Yesterday, the City of Grand Rapids sponsored Grand Rapids first Bike Summit. The gathering brought together a wide variety of people–members of local government, regional planning groups, advocates, cyclists, and others–to discuss the state of biking in Grand Rapids.

Grand Rapids: A Bike Friendly Community?

One of the primary goals of the summit was to talk to about the possibility of Grand Rapids being designated as a “Bike Friendly Community.” The League of American Bicyclists certifies municipalities with a four-level classification system, bronze, silver, gold, and platinum based on how “bike friendly” they are. Among the things evaluated are a city’s planning for bikes, its plans to measure improvement, the amount of on-road and off-road facilities (for example, trails, bike lanes, and bike parking), and programs to encourage people to bike.

Bill Nesper of the League of American Bicyclists spoke to the benefits of biking, saying that many car trips in the United States are for short distances. He said that 40% of trips in the U.S. are under two miles and that 90% of those trips are made by cars. Aside from the obvious physical and environmental benefits of riding a bike, Nesper said it’s also cheaper for cities. $100 pays for parking for two bikes, but a space to accommodate a single car in a parking ramp can cost as much as $40,000. Moreover, Grand Rapids would benefit by becoming a “Bike Friendly Community” as it would provide recognition of its work thus far, a vehicle for promoting biking, benchmarking, and technical help for city planners.

Nesper said that Grand Rapids has some things going for it as it moves forward with its application for becoming a “Bike Friendly Community.” He pointed to statistics showing that more people in the city are riding bikes, said that the city has a good advocacy community, and praised the summit as an example of the kind of work that goes into making a city a “Bike Friendly Community.” He said that two easy things that the City could do to improve biking would be to adopt a “Complete Streets” ordinance that would require new road work to accommodate all users (i.e. bikes, cars, and pedestrians) and to build more bike parking.

Ann Freiwald of Alta Planning and Design also spoke, sharing a number examples of best practices from bike friendly communities. She said that bike friendly cities such as Portland, OR and Madison, WI have cultivated a “bike culture” in addition to facilities and policy improvements that get more people biking. She also emphasized that it is important for cities to focus on the 60% of riders who are interested in biking more but are concerned about their safety.

Biking and Policy in Michigan

Josh DeBruyn of the Michigan Department of Transportation spoke about bicycle transportation in Michigan at the state level. He said that in a recent survey by the League of American Bicyclists, Michigan ranked 12th in the United States for friendliness towards bikes. Among the reasons for this ranking, DeBruyn pointed to Michigan’s education and encouragement efforts (both through the state and independent advocacy organizations), trails in the sate, and the prevalence of bike routes.

DeBruyn said that there are areas for improvement, especially in the policy realm. He said that in Michigan bicycles are not classified as legal vehicles and that there is no statewide “complete streets” policy.

Biking in Grand Rapids

Unfortunately, when Susanne Schulz from the City of Grand Rapids spoke, it became clear that much of what was talked about during the day–bike lanes, changes to roadways, and incentives for people to drive instead of bike–were a long way off. She showcased a number of “traffic calming” devices used by the city, but no bike lanes. She said that there are very real questions about who would maintain bike lanes and where funding would come from.

Nevertheless, she said that the city does envision a network of bike trails and paths for the city. She pointed to the Green Grand Rapids process, the city’s bike map, the 2004 Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, and a recent ordinance change that requires bike parking to be built into new developments as examples of recent progress.

Kalamazoo Project 2,000th Transportation Project under Federal Stimulus Package

Last week, the federal government announced that a $68 million project to widen I-94 in Kalamazoo was the 2,000th transportation project approved for funding under the federal stimulus package known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

Thus far, the administration has committed about $6.5 billion of the $27 billion available for highway projects.

However, Michigan has been slow to get projects approved. According to an analysis from ProPublica, Michigan has received funding for only 27 projects. This has amounted to $110.8 million or 13.1% of the funds available to the state.

With the exception of Ohio, Michigan is has the lowest number of projects approved of any Great Lakes state. By contrast, Illinois leads the country with 249 projects approved and $606 million in funding.