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New State Coalition to Work for Transportation Choices

20 groups onboard

May 1, 1999 | By Kelly Thayer
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

The Institute has helped organize the Michigan Transportation and Land Use Coalition, made up of 20 advocacy groups statewide, to promote compact patterns of development, challenge new and expanded highway projects, curb sprawl, and provide more convenient ways to move people and goods.

The keys to this effort are new federal provisions under the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) that allow citizens to contribute their ideas and experiences and participate in making important public policy decisions.

In its three meetings to date the Coalition has attracted an enthusiastic response. Participants ranged from engineers to watershed specialists to transportation advocates and state lawmakers. They hail from communities that include Ann Arbor, Detroit, Grand Haven, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Petoskey, and Traverse City.

"We're bringing people together to share practical ideas to make cities more livable, provide desirable ways to travel that reduce traffic congestion, and preserve Michigan's farmland and great outdoors," said Arlin Wasserman, the Institute's policy specialist.

Five Priorities
In their working groups, Coalition members selected five priorities from the more than 50 ideas generated. They are:

  • A "10% for People" Campaign
    Increase and stabilize funding to direct 10% of the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) budget to trains, buses, bicycle routes, and pedestrian walkways. In addition, establish an MDOT fund to extend the life of existing roads by promoting alternatives to car trips.
  • Increase Public Involvement
    Require MDOT to involve local residents in identifying transportation needs in a community before planning new road construction. Then require local government consensus for a project within three years, or the project will be scrapped.
  • Fix Roads First
    Mandate that MDOT bring all state roads into good condition and maintain repairs at a sustainable level before expanding the state's road network. In addition to smooth pavement, "good" roads include bicycle access, sidewalks, crosswalks, and landscaping.
  • Plan Statewide to Integrate Transportation and Land Use
    Direct the state to create a comprehensive transportation and land use plan for Michigan before developing the next state road and bridge construction plan.
  • Preserve Railroad Corridors
    Prohibit planning and funding of roads on railroad rights-of-way, such as the proposed rail-to-road project in the Detroit casino plan. Railroad corridors should be preserved for public transit use and for recreation.

Why a Statewide Coalition?
Michigan has a pressing need to control urban sprawl, reduce congestion, and strengthen public transit.

The state's open space is disappearing fast as malls, offices, and parking lots fan out along the urban fringe and devour the countryside. More and more people live farther away from where they work, shop, play, and go to school. The result is that moms, dads, and their teenagers all need cars.

Across Michigan, residents are feeling the cost of designing communities around automobiles. Family expenses to maintain fleets of vehicles are climbing. Malls are draining the life out of Main Street. Municipal costs to maintain roads are increasing. And new roads are carving up the countryside.

From 1992 to 1997 Michigan lost an average of 77,000 acres of farmland a year. Over the same period, the number of motor vehicles in Michigan surged by more than 800,000, growing at a rate three times faster than the state's population.

The Michigan Transportation and Land Use Coalition's efforts are directed at making state Department of Transportation officials recognize the connection between the roadways they build and the sprawling development that follows. The next step is to design convenient transportation choices that reduce the growing dependence on cars and pavement. Planning more and wider highways, say Coalition members, is moving Michigan in the wrong direction.

Michigan Land Use Institute

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