A Rousing Debate

Within 👉the minutes of the 2023-05 Rapid Planning meeting👈 is an interesting conversation about the future - or perceived future - of mobility in the region. This group plays an instrumental role in drafting the plan for the future of the Rapid; which for bureaucratic & regulatory reasons happens in twenty (20) year increments. Yes, a 20 year plan seems absurd; something the participants of this body appear to be aware of.

Mr. Hoffman’s view is without no reform in transportation funding, at least at the state level, he feels a realistic plan is not feasible now and frankly not in twenty (20) years either. He strongly advocates for transportation funding reform. If in twenty (20) years, we have a comprehensive transportation budget of $2B instead of $300M statewide, this would be a great template to allocate our funds.

Mr. Anderson added he knows these were derived from feedback and principles. He feels the risk is The Rapid making all things for all people, which is tough. What jumps out to Mr. Anderson is, do we think The Rapid will lean toward broad stitching together of disport community like Laker Line or Micro Mobility? We could say it does both, but realistically the investment needed is going to lean one way or the other. Mr. Anderson wished to challenge the group, helpfully, it’s ok to say there are some things it won’t do, like The Rapid isn’t going to do certain things. Maybe there will be a sweet spot for what The Rapid will do in this landscape of options.

Mr. Bulkowski added he truly supports what The Rapid does. It helps people with no options and no money. Even if we had $2B from the state, people still wouldn’t use it. People wouldn’t use it mainly because our guiding task forgot to align with all six (6) master plans. Ridership has collapsed in the last ten (10) years. There have been some transit-oriented blocks that have been built out, but it’s not on both ends. The community is sprawling like mad. Transit does not serve sprawl unless it's expensive per trip. GO!Bus trips used to be 45 minutes and now they are 1 ½ hours. What does that look like in twenty (20) years when everyone has an electric vehicle? Even if they are autonomous, it will still take an hour and a half to get across town if it’s paratransit. In summary, The Rapid does not control its environment. The Rapid is out there on streets owned and controlled by somebody else. If we want this, then what can we do over the next twenty (20) years? Maybe it is two (2) or three (3) more Laker lines which we talked about twenty years ago. There was a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) potentiality, but we don’t have the density and the potential ridership except for one spot that met federal requirements with the Laker Line.

Mr. Bulkowski, a long time advocate for public transportation and the Rapid, is clearly frustrated. His take feels fatalistic. The notion that public transportation is principally a social service is disappointing - with which I strongly disagree - does mean [IMO] that, in America, it will always be lousy. At the same time his point about sprawl is entirely on point.

Mr. Hoffman wished to respond to Mr. Bulkowski’s comments. In Mr. Hoffman’s view, the cities are no more independent agents than The Rapid is. Both are caught up in transportation which, at the end of the day, supports the commercial trucking industry which is the largest subsidized beneficiary by far of any group of our current system. If someone can tell him why it is such a big secret. No one seems to want to talk about it. So, Mr. Bulkowski, I am hopeful, and your prophecies of doom are unfounded. We are in a good position to talk to the state. The whole system is broken. They can’t even fix the roads. It must change, but it is out of our hands to a certain extent, but we can lend our
voice to a hopeful new future.

👏 Mr. Hoffman. We need to find and platform civic leaders willing to speak plainly about the reality of our transportation infrastructure; we get what we subsidize - and we are subsidizing.

How independent are the cities? I believe the cities are, at least to a large degree, as independent as they choose to be. Nothing prevents a City Commission from going to war with the Michigan Department of Transportation's wasteful, dirty, and racist policies and plans.

Mr. Guy added that he appreciates all the comments, especially Mr. Bulkowski’s comments about control by our environment, and it is just one reason why he advocates for the organization to have a more intentional and aggressive role in the real estate space because that is one area where this organization can use its flexibility, its authority and its partnerships with development, particularly in key corridors to establish more control over its environment and maybe generate some revenue as well.
Mr. Guy asked the question, when we speak to multi-modal transit, have we established a vision yet for The Rapid’s role in that space?

👏 Mr. Guy. Land-use and transportation are inseparable ideas. Historically transportation has always lead land-use.


Mr. Troost added he appreciates Mr. Hoffman’s hopeful response to the doom and gloom comment, however, he does not disagree with Mr. Bulkowski’s comments. He feels nobody uses The Rapid unless they must. Do we see that changing in twenty (20) years? Probably not. Mr. Troost agrees that it is out of our control in terms of funding. We can’t predict what future modes of transportation or vehicles we will have. He feels the future is in smaller, electric vehicles, and perhaps farther than twenty (20) years it will be all automated. Perhaps our niche may be more in connectivity between bigger cities and counties such as between Grand Rapids and Holland or Kalamazoo

Again with the fatalism. The notion that we cannot predict "future modes of transportation or vehicles" is absurd. That is a question of geometry and physics. We will have - in 20 years - the same vehicles we have today. What powers a vehicle is not relevant to the passenger; it is also of little consequence if it is automated. The vehicle requires right-of-way and occupies space.

I fiercely recommend watching "Learning the Language of Transit" which illustrates with existential clarity how the issue of vehicles and automation are not relevant.

Also: Weren't we supposed to have self-driving cars by now? Technological predictions have no place in public policy.

Mr. Anderson added that we know the commercial sector is moving toward autonomous fleets of smaller vehicles. He agreed with Mr. Troost’s comments

What? Where? I work around that sector.
. . .

Mr. Anderson wished to highlight one critical contingency which rests on the Grand Rapids City master plan and that is the availability of parking. One-third (1/3) of the city of Grand Rapids has surface-level parking. There needs to be more repurposing of that toward more commercial and private endeavors. That may be a good thing for The Rapid in the long term if we don’t see parking available. It may give us a demand spike in unexpected ways.

Mr. Hoffman added along with Mr. Anderson’s thinking. What is the capacity of our environment to accommodate cars, parking, and road use? Since Henry Ford invented the motor vehicle, we have created more lanes for faster and faster traffic. There is a finite amount of space that can be covered by traffic.

Mr. Monoyios added we thought building around the scale and speed of the car for decades was the way to go but let’s not do that. We should build around the speed of people. We are seeing the benefit of not doing that.

👏 Mr. Monoyios. Again, transportation infrastructure and land-use cannot be disentangled.

Mr. Hoffman added if you read MDOT literature. It acknowledges all that. I believe there are people in transportation government service to recognize the reality.

It does. This would mean much more if we had civic leaders willing to call out MDOT for being full of 💩💩💩.

Mr. Bulkowski said so much of transit is built for the work commute. In twenty (20) years is there any work commute? Who is still coming downtown? The focus should be on creating a vibrant center downtown.

The narrative about Work-from-Home. Like many actual trends it is wildly exaggerated; and most people have jobs which involve doing things. This is the myopia of seeing the world as largely populated by white collar "knowledge workers". It is critically important to remember that Work-From-Home applies to, at the absolute most, ~20% of the workforce. Also it remains to be seen how Work-From-Home will play out long-term. Why is there so much confidence in particular narratives?

Additionally, if public transportation is for "people with no options and no money" [Mr. Bulkowski] then white-collar downtown office workers aren't using it. With their wages have options. If this were the case then the impact of Work-From-Home should have been negligible. More factors are at play, or the premise is incorrect, or all-the-above.

The point about being focused on community is spot on; and a genuine weakness of many transit services. Commuting is ~16% of people's trips. Anything built around supporting commuting is fragile [well, except for interstates, thanks to mountains of tax revenue transferred from everyone to affluent suburban residents].

I fear that the overwhelming influence of the Chamber of Commerce in Grand Rapids limits the ability to conceptualize a transportation system organized around life rather than satisfying the demands of employers.

Mr. Anderson added we are engaged in looking at the future of cities in 2035. The impacts of remote working have spiked toward suburban growth among people in their 30s and 40s which is opening more affordable options to live in other cities. He believes people will come to the city for cultural attributes instead of work opportunities.

Again, narrative. Is this true? The price premium for walkable urban amenity rich places [post pandemic, with work-from-home] endures.

I believe people will live in cities if cities let them. Also, where are these more affordable cities? The incompetence of municipal governance in the United States is pervasive, so the Housing Crisis is pervasive.

Well, one city seems to have gotten its act together; see "First American City to Tame Inflation Owes Its Success to Affordable Housing".

Mr. Guy wished to offer some affirmations for these principles given all the scenarios and uncertainty. He feels these principles are very accurate for what we want to do.
Regarding 131, he feels after the funding question we seem to have a consensus on trying to find a way to solve it. The significant investment lining up in the 131 corridors over the next ten (10) to fifteen (15) years is probably the number two priority as it relates to the big picture of the transportation ecosystem in this community. We need to have a significant voice in this plan. We should explore all scenarios for that corridor if we want to align with the Master Plan.

In the next decade the Michigan Department of Transportation is going to 🔥incinerate🔥 billions of dollars in an orgy of waste along the US-131 corridor. That appears to be as certain as gravity turning the worlds. 😠

What's your take on this conversation?