When It Comes To Transit, Maybe It’s Time We Left Brooks Patterson Behind

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It’s a common saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

As we told you earlier today, the RTA board — after four years of work, and thanks to some last-minute objections from Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel and Oakland County Executive Brooks Patterson — defeated a proposal to let voters decide whether they want to fund an improved regional mass transit system.

To most modern cities, this is the kind of basic thing you just do. Here, it’s a decades-long political battle.

Sitting at the RTA Board meeting, an interesting anecdote came from State Senator Burt Johnson (D-Detroit). He talked about how there was the chance for more money for transit, but Brooks Patterson and Governor Rick Snyder then got into an argument around who has more political clout, started by Patterson.

This isn’t surprising. Patterson, with the support of many of his voters, has played a consistent line. He is 100% for Oakland County and Oakland County alone.

When Patterson became county executive in 1992, Chrysler had just left Highland Park for Auburn Hills. Patterson made his political name, after all, fighting the regional busing of students to integrate schools between districts up in Pontiac and across Oakland County. He has been quoted as recently as two years ago as saying:

I made a prediction a long time ago, and it’s come to pass. I said, ‘What we’re gonna do is turn Detroit into an Indian reservation, where we herd all the Indians into the city, build a fence around it, and then throw in the blankets and corn.’

Hackel, though he has never been vile with words, is just as disingenuous, bringing his concerns to the table so late in the game.

This process has been going on for four plus years.

Regardless of the reason, it’s as if both counties’ representatives, along with those from other counties and many staffers, knowingly or unknowingly, spent years on this process only to have it fall apart at the end. That’s a shame.

So here’s the thing. We’ve read the comments — someone who lives by near Lake Orion saying they’ll never ride it and they love their woods and why should they have to pay for it, another out in Macomb Township who sees it as pointless. Many more.

Majority of Macomb and Oakland Counties, you don’t want to get the benefit? Fine.

Maybe Wayne and Washtenaw should go it alone.

Before you say, wait that doesn’t connect everyone — no, it doesn’t. But the track record shows we’re not going to get a regional deal on transit, and people need some action now. And it’d be an improvement on what we have.

We can’t let perfect be the enemy of good, as we’ve asked for a date with real regional transit nearly 30 times and we’ve been told just as many times, no.

It’s time to stop sulking and find a different date to the prom.

The future is in mass transit, and almost every other major region has realized this. Business leaders, with a letter cosigned by a bunch of executives, realize this. Workers need this. Seniors, too.

Locally, you can see the ridiculous amount of development happening up Woodward around the QLine, and that’s basically a simple streetcar. You know about the talent attraction element, where young people want to be by transit and prefer to live by places that have it. There could be much, much more.

Let’s lead by example.

Wayne and Washtenaw teaming up might be the “Way-te-go” (putting the county names together), and the businesses, residents, and investment will start to flock toward good infrastructure.

Open Arms To Neighbors

If a city outside of the transit zone wants to play — like Ferndale, whose Mayor Pro Tem Melania Piano showed strong support for regional transit at the board meeting today, they should be able to. Create an opt-in provision for areas outside of Wayne and Washtenaw, who should all be put into the new Way-te-go.

Some benefits that could be realized:

  1. Airport connector between Ann Arbor, Ypsi, Dearborn and Detroit. Who wants their corporate headquarters not connected to the transit hub? Wayne and Washtenaw businesses would be put at an immediate advantage over their Oakland and Macomb County neighbors that don’t opt-in.
  2. Commuter service between Ann Arbor, by some accounts the smartest city in the nation, and Detroit.
  3. Improved service inside Wayne and Washtenaw for residents.
  4. Business attraction: Talking to multiple corporate site planners over the last few years, transit is a huge bonus. Businesses will locate near transportation, and there’s plenty of space for them to do so in Wayne and Washtenaw counties, from Ypsi to Downriver to the city itself.
  5. Resident attraction: The areas with good transit will do better than those without and will be more attractive to young talent.
  6. Assuming Ferndale plays in the sandbox, we could get transit from one booming downtown to another. Maybe Super QLine to 9 Mile (but hopefully faster traveling).
  7. Attraction of federal and state funds.
  8. A clear direction forward with clear governance that does not have too many cooks in the kitchen.

Yes, Oakland County and Macomb’s tax bases provide a lot of money. But a rightsized plan can be done without them paying in or getting serviced, and it’s clear the headache isn’t worth it. At least two million people having good transit is better than five million having basically nothing, and maybe in the future, new and more receptive leadership will come along.

Yes, it would require a rethink. But that’s already what’s being called for — a scrapping of the governance structure, which might require a scrapping of the state law. Patterson in a priceless three page statement today said he wants to go all the way back to the legislature as well.

So instead of playing kabuki theatre, let’s just work with people who actually want to get it done instead of kicking the can farther and farther down the road.

We can of course, cooperate in some areas. The Zoo, Cobo, DIA. Those are deals where everyone feels there’s a benefit. That’s fine and dandy. They are important and valuable. However, the numbers for those projects are also small compared to the regional transit plan.

When it comes to transit, let’s build a coalition of the willing that shares the same vision instead of a dream coalition of the impossible. Because dreams of transit don’t get you to work on time, real transit does.

7 comments
  • This is phase 1. In phase 2 we tear down all the freeways and force Oakland and Macomb county to commute to Detroit via boulevards, and bring the neighborhoods back together.

  • This is a real blow to the region. Let’s proceed with Wayne and Washtenaw as you suggest. Let Oakland and Macomb come in at a premium cost later.

  • Patterson said we would all pay higher taxes and the majority of us would not even use it. I think he is right. Im tired of paying higher and higher taxes.

    • Dan:
      Your hard earned dollars can be used in one of three ways:
      1. They can be spent providing welfare checks to those who live in Detroit and need to get to jobs in Oakland County, but can’t because the bus system is entirely unreliable and worthless (taking more than 2 hours and multiple connections to travel 20 miles), or
      2. They can be spent paying higher car insurance premiums because residents of Detroit are legally red-lined, meaning that car insurance costs 3 times more than you pay (I know this as a fact because my car insurance rates tripled when I moved from Port Huron to Detroit). This directly impacts you and every other resident of the state because people who can’t afford car insurance and can’t take a bus to work drive a car as an insured driver. When they get in an accident, several high-powered law offices seek them out and convince them to sue for injuries. Each time one of these lawsuits gets “settled” by an insurance company, your rates get higher, or
      3. They can be spent on infrastructure, mass-transit related projects that create jobs, eliminate the need for people to drive a car (especially if they are uninsured), and draws people and businesses to our region.

      You, like many other people, are far too short-sighted to understand the significance of the lack of a good public transit system. Make a trip to Europe and discover how public transportation systems can transform an entire country and connect people together. In my opinion, the use of my tax dollars would be far better spent on the RTA than on giving tax rebates to businesses who ship their jobs overseas.

      Taxes are a fact of life and are critical to growing an economy that works for all of us. It’s time to stop focusing and whining about our tax burden. Get over it and help make the world a better place. You can’t take it with you when you die.

      • Thank you Susan for that great response to Dan and all short sighted thinkers like him!!!

  • Connecting cities to the airport ALONE is worth having mass transit. Lord, I HATE politicians. Why would I need Snyder’s approval after all the mess he’s made? As far as I’m concerned, start with Wayne and Washtenaw and when the other see what an improvement it is, they’ll come along. JUST DO IT FOR PETE’S SAKE. Enough talking. DO SOMETHING!

  • I’m SICK and TIRED of Mr. Ego Man, Brooks Patterson, deciding on his own that he’s the ruler of an entire region. You know what Mr. Big Shot, someday you will be dead and buried in the ground and hopefully someone who is far more open-minded, less fearful, and who understands the importance of building an entire region instead of a single county will fill the Oakland County Executive seat.

    Until then, I agree, let’s let Oakland County and Macomb County live in their fairy tale worlds and pretend that their residents don’t need any other part of the state or world to survive or thrive. In fact, while we’re at it, just build a wall (like The Donald suggests) to keep you in your own little world.

    As a taxpaying homeowner from Detroit who works in Oakland County, I can tell you that I’d love the option of being able to take a bus to work or to the airport, or anywhere for that matter. However, with the current SMART (or not so smart) system, I cannot even get on a bus for my morning commute because the system is designed to bring residents of Oakland and Macomb counties into their jobs in Detroit rather than to bring residents of Detroit to jobs in Oakland County. Does anyone else think that’s a clear signal that Detroit residents are not welcome in these 2 counties? Maybe we should be people from Oakland and Macomb from using the SMART system to cross county lines!

    Let’s move forward to begin a system. And, yes, let’s let smart communities like Ferndale participate if they choose. The rest of you can bury your heads in the sand and live in the past. Meanwhile other parts of the country will leave you in the dust. And Europe is already light years ahead of us.

    Remind me again why anyone would choose to live in Michigan?

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