Non-Motorized Counting Program Kicks Off in Pittsfield Township

WATS, in partnership with Pittsfield Township are proud to share data that is being collected along the Lohr/Textile Greenway.

Initial counts suggest that there are 100 walkers and 125 cyclists using the facility daily.  This is great news for any community that makes investments in non-motorized transportation. Pittsfield Township can now share data about the users of this facility.  

"Pittsfield Charter Township Supervisor Mandy Grewal stated "after 8 years of hard work pursuing grants and working through the many logistics that go into installation of non-motorized amenities, it is extremely gratifying to witness the high usage of these amenities. As Pittsfield Township and area residents use the greenways, sidewalks and bike lanes, not only are they improving their quality of life and health but also imparting a sense of community to our public spaces, which is our ultimate goal."

Get out and enjoy the many non-motorized facilities around Washtenaw County and southeast Michigan.

SEMCOG Encouraging Single Occupant Vehicle Drivers to Switch My Trip

Take a new way to work from July 25 to 29 to improve air quality and for a chance to win prizes

SEMCOG, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, announces Switch My Trip, a five-day event that encourages single-occupant-vehicle drivers to try an alternative commute.

“Utilizing an alternative mode of transportation on your daily commute helps to improve our air quality and can create numerous other benefits,” explains Kathleen Lomako, Executive Director, SEMCOG. “We invite everyone who drives alone to try a different way to work.”

The benefits of taking an alternative commute include:

  • Reduced congestion on our roadways,
  • Less stressful and safer trips,
  • Decreased personal driving expenses, and
  • Achieving a decreased carbon footprint with a “greener” commute.

“Commuter assurance” is also available to walkers, bikers, carpoolers, and vanpoolers through the Guaranteed Ride Home program. Commuters who sign up have extra security knowing that a safe ride home is always available even in an emergency.

SEMCOG will award prizes to winning participants in Southeast Michigan who switch from driving alone to sharing a ride to work between July 25-29. Participation includes carpooling and vanpooling, using public transportation, walking and biking, and making use of flextime and telecommute benefits. Participants are entered for a prize drawing that includes an iPad and various gift cards. The first 300 people to sign up will receive a free slice of Buddy’s pizza.

To assure prize eligibility, commutes must be logged no later than 6 p.m. on August 2, 2016. Current alternative commuters can participate by referring a friend to Switch My Trip and by using #SwitchMyTrip on Twitter.

For more information, visit Switch My Trip.

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SEMCOG is the only organization in Southeast Michigan that brings together all governments to solve regional challenges and enhance the quality of live for the seven-county region’s 4.7 million people.
To learn more about what SEMCOG does, click here.

RTA Vision Comes to Southeast Michigan

The Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan presented at the Washtenaw County Learning Resource Center Monday night to discuss their vision of regional transit throughout the 4 county region (Macomb, Oakland, Wayne, and Washtenaw Counties) which represents over 1 million residents. Over twenty people attended the public meeting and asked questions about the need for bus rapid transit, the need for this regional system given the work on autonomous vehicle technology, providing better connectivity to Novi, Northville, and Plymouth, and how the plan impacts western Washtenaw County.  

Co-hosted by the Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development and WATS, the public was welcomed by RTA members CEO Michael Ford and Chief Operations Officer Tiffany Gunter.  “What we are bringing forward is a plan that connects the region, the four-county region, and in order to do that, we need to build on the existing system to make it CEO Michael Ford said during a meeting at the Free Press (source http://on.freep.com/1Y0Jqyv).

Currently the region is served by four transit providers; The Ride, DDOT, SMART, and the People Mover.  It is also served by numerous other smaller providers such as Western Washtenaw Area Value Express (WWAVE) and People’s Express PEX. Additionally,numerous social service providers offer door to door service for limited trips. These providers will still be operating and providing services that people depend upon. Transit users know the challenges caused by the lack of regional service; bus service does not stay open long enough for people to get to and from work, and some people are dropped off at county lines without critical last mile connections.  According to the RTA, travel patterns indicate that 67% of Detroiters leave the city to get to work and are not able to access all the major job centers due to lack of reliable and regional transportation. Most of these trips are taken by single occupancy vehicles due to lack of transit connectivity.

Rapid, Reliable, and Regional are the three key terms that the RTA would like you to remember when you think about the Master Plan. The plan is made up of a collection of different types of services that will benefit all members of the public and visitors of the region.  Services include:

4- Bus Rapid Transit Lines (Woodward Ave., Gratiot Ave, Michigan Ave, Washtenaw Ave)

11 - Cross County Connectors (regional bus services which will allow people to easily travel through the region)

8 - Local Bus (current bus services that we have in the region)

4 - Commuter Express (weekday rush hour between employment centers and park and ride centers to carry riders to and from work)

5 - Airport Express (premium limited stop service from regional centers to the Detroit Airport)

2- Regional Rail lines (linking suburban areas with dense employment centers and usually carries workers to and from work)

1 - Streetcar Q-line (currently known as the M-1 rail line)

By implementing the plan, transit will increase access to over 946,150 jobs, 290 schools, 23 colleges, 104 supermarkets, 117 hospitals and health centers, and 414 parks. These services are critical to all members of our community.

Ms. Gunter explained that the Federal Transit Administration requires a long term dedicated funding source and that the requirement is for 20 years. She also explained that now is the time to act because they have the:

  1. Governance structure - which has 2 representatives from each county, 1 from the City of Detroit and a non-voting appointee of the Governor on the RTA Board

  2. Long Term Planning - there is a 20 year master plan document and there is a provision in the enabling legislation that requires 85% of the revenue generated from the millage to go back to the county from which it was collected

  3. Millage - voters will be asked to decide on a1.2 mill increase  to support the 20 year vision put forth by the RTA Master Plan. There is no opt out of service provision, the millage would pass by a majority of the voting public.

Ms. Gunter provided details on critical pieces of the plan:

  • First layer of service will be bus rapid transit (which could be considered light rail on wheels). This will be a fast service with dedicated travel lanes, where allowable given the corridor.  Signals would include transit preemption which can extend green time to allow a bus to get through an intersection, as well as queue jump lanes which allow the bus  to bypass some of the traffic backups that persist on the corridors where BRT service would be provided.

  • Cross county connectors will operate under one service provider with better frequencies.

  • The addition of park and ride lots and connecting customers to ride sharing services like Uber and shared vehicles such as Zipcar will also be important to the system.

  • A coordinated fare system where you can use the same card across the region will simplify using different transit systems across the region.  

  • Transit service will be provided 18-20 hours a day to allow people to get to and from work and to use transit to get to appointments, shopping, and recreational opportunities.

The RTA estimates that investments by the RTA will support over 67,000 new jobs supported over 20 years and will show an increase in personal income by $4.4 billion.


To view the plan or to ask questions or share comments, please visit the RTA website http://www.rtamichigan.org/masterplan/.

 

Sprawl as City Observatory Sees It

"Last week, we introduced the "Sprawl Tax": the time and money American commuters spend just because their cities are more spread out than they might be. This week, we compare American sprawl to that of our international peers, and it's not pretty. On average, in 17 European countries plus Canada, households spend 12.8 percent of their income on transportation; in the US, it's 18 percent. Commuters in those countries spend, on average, about 39 minutes commuting roundtrip per day; the average American spends 51 minutes. We can do better."

How sprawl taxes our well-being

By Joe Cortright from City Observatory 13.6.2016

In the first installment of our “Sprawl Tax” series, we explained how laws and patterns of development that make our homes, businesses, and schools farther apart cost us time and money—on average, nearly $1,400 a year per commuter in America’s 50 largest metropolitan areas. In the second installment, we showed how the Sprawl Tax is levied much more heavily on Americans than our international peers, with US commuters paying a much larger proportion of their income on transportation and spending much more time on their trips to and from work than people in other wealthy countries.

Today, we want to talk about another cost of sprawl, and the greater distances it forces us to travel: Our quality of life. Powerful evidence suggests that longer commutes make us individually less happy and less healthy, in addition to having detrimental effects on our communities. In recent years, behavioral economics has made great strides in determining how different factors influence our happiness. Consistently, this literature finds that long commutes are strongly associated with lower levels of “subjective well-being”—the technical term that researchers use to describe “happiness.”

One study from Germany, for example, calculated that reducing one’s daily commute time from 23 minutes each way (the German average) to zero minutes would produce an increase in happiness equal to about an 18 percent increase in income. Research in other countries, including the United States, has produced similar results.

In a survey of working women in Texas, behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman and his collaborators found that time spent commuting had the lowest positive ratings of all daily activities.

Other studies have confirmed that commute distances are correlated with happiness and health. The Gallup Healthways Index shows that Americans with longer commutes report lower levels of subjective well-being. The data also show that long commutes are correlated with a higher incidence of back pain, obesity, and high cholesterol.

We also have detailed data from a survey taken by the state of Connecticut. For nearly every income group, self-reported well-being declined as commute distance increased. The chart below shows that relationship. The power of commuting distance was such that low-income households (making under $30,000) with a roundtrip commute of 40 minutes or less reported being as happy as households making roughly twice as much money (between $50,000 and $75,000), but with commutes of 80 minutes or more.

 

 

It’s not a surprise, then, that average commute times are also correlated with satisfaction with the local transportation system itself. Using data from a survey of homeowners commissioned by Porch, an online home improvement information firm, and the median commute length as calculated by the Brookings Institution, we can see a strong negative correlation between metro area commute times and satisfaction with the region’s transportation system: the longer the median commute, the less satisfied homeowners are.

 

 

 

Conversely, it turns out that transportation satisfaction is almost completely uncorrelated with “congestion”—at least as it’s often measured. As you can see below, the Urban Mobility Scorecard ratings of metropolitan traffic congestion calculated by the Texas Transportation Institute bear almost no relationship to whether homeowners report being satisfied with their region’s transportation system. If anything, congestion is associated with more satisfaction.

 

 

 

Taken together, this analysis suggests that overall commute distances—and not traditional measures of traffic congestion—are the chief factor influencing homeowner perceptions about transportation.

Finally, there is evidence that longer commutes have social, as well as personal, costs. Robert Putnam reported that each additional ten minutes of commute time reduces social capital—things like church-going, civic participation, club attendance—by 10 percent.

As we’ve shown, Americans around the country bear the financial burden of the sprawl tax. But sprawling car dependent development patterns don’t just end up costing us time and money. The long commutes they engender also make us less happy. They’re correlated with lower levels of mental and physical health, and reduce our social capital. Among metropolitan areas, long commutes—and not traffic congestion—are what we find least satisfactory about our transportation systems.

 

About City Observatory

City Observatory is a website and think tank devoted to data-driven analysis of cities and the policies that shape them.

The website will feature posts that tackle misconceptions about cities, break down the latest urban research, and highlight the innovative ideas that strengthen our communities.

The site will cover topics such as transportation, housing, gentrification, place making, economic opportunity, and industry clusters. Core topics will be addressed in issue “cards” that will be updated on a consistent basis to reflect the latest data and research.

Periodically, the site will feature in-depth research report and papers on urban policy topics like crime in cities, traffic congestion, neighborhood change, and migration.   City Observatory is based in Portland, Oregon—a city synonymous with creative urban thinking—but our vision is nationwide in scope, looking at the best ideas for promoting city success, wherever they originate.

Southeast Michigan RTA Releases Master Plan

The Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan released their Master Plan on May 31.  According to the RTA, “The Regional Master Transit Plan is a transit vision for all of us. It will guide how we expand and improve transit in Southeast Michigan over the next twenty years.”  The plan (http://bit.ly/24iRomi) outlines existing conditions and a vision addressing the region’s transit needs.  Throughout the public engagement process, stakeholders were asked to aid in the development of transit priorities.  The top 5 priorities identified were:

  1. Reliability

  2. Mobility

  3. Job access

  4. Livability

  5. Travel time

A quality transit system depends on understanding the needs of those it serves. The Plan outlines the service needs of demographic groups across the region who would benefit from a regional transit system.

  1. Baby Boomers - this population group makes up 25% of the region’s population, nearly 1.1 million people. As the Baby Boomers age they may become less comfortable driving or simply do not want to drive.

  2. Millennials - Southeast Michigan has lost over 103,000 Millennials between 2000-2010, this segment of the population wants better access to mass transit and are willing to move to other cities to get it.

  3. People with Disabilities - often cannot drive or have difficulty driving. Public transit is essential to ensure people can remain mobile and engaged in the community.

  4. Low-Income Individuals - One quarter of all people in SE MI are considered low-income. Transit may be the only viable option for almost 1.1 million people who are low-income in our region.

  5. Zero-Car Households - 9.5% of SE MI residents do not have a car and depend on transit for all activities.

 

Travel Patterns

The ability of all people to access jobs is crucial to the continued growth of the region. Succeeding in providing access to employment depends on identifying job centers and understanding the link between home and the workplace. The following graphics highlight regional commuting patterns.

 

The RTA proposes to implement Bus Rapid Transit along Gratiot, Michigan, Washtenaw and Woodward Avenues. Ann Arbor to Detroit regional rail service will offer the first regional job center connections between Washtenaw and Wayne Counties.  The M-1 Rail (Qline Streetcar) will provide key connections to other local and regional transit services. There will be cross county connector services, local bus service, commuter express services, and airport service. The details for these services are given in detail starting on page 109 of the plan.  

Funding Request

The RTA is proposing a transit millage of 1.2 mils that would be collected beginning in 2017 for 20 years. The transit millage will be collected in addition to the existing transit millages in the SMART and AAATA service areas, and communities will not have the ability to opt out if the vote passes.  By legislative requirement, the RTA will return at least 85% of the money generated in a county through the millage returns to that county.  The remaining 15% is eligible for priority projects throughout the region. The RTA’s model will track the 85% Rule compliance across an aggregate 20-year period from 2017-2036.

The RTA set out specific timelines and milestones for delivering the plan’s services, learn more on page 142.

We encourage you to review the plan and its details yourself to learn about the services and strategies identified to connect the region through transit. (http://bit.ly/24iRomi).

If you have comments or questions on the plan, the RTA has a community input forum where you can provide feedback.  I would encourage you to work directly with the RTA on questions or concerns.  (http://bit.ly/1Y4AcRY).

There are many meetings happening in the region, 3 of them in Washtenaw County, June 11, 13, and 27. Check the WATS calendar for the details at http://www.miwats.org/watscalendar/. 

 

 

 

Counting Washtenaw County Pedestrians and Bicyclists

Over the past year, WATS has been working with communities in the urban area on pilot testing permanent bicycle and pedestrian counters.  After researching numerous companies and reviewing the reliability of the products, WATS determined to partner with the company Eco-Counter.  The counters will be installed in Pittsfield Township and the City of Dexter later this year.  Collecting data that highlights the number of people using a facility is important for communities to evaluate the return on their investment.  According to Eco-Counter, in 2015 more than 2 billion people were counted on their products, and since January 1, 2016 their counters have counted over 800 million pedestrians and bicyclists.  Eco-Counters has a interactive bike count display website that shows some of the cities where counters have been installed and how many counts have been taken, check it out http://eco-public.com/ParcPublic/?id=4586#.

WATS Director, Ryan Buck stated that “these counters will provide the most complete set of non-motorized data we’ve ever had for individual locations.  The level of detail in the data will provide new insights into transportation system usage and aid in the planning and  development of  the region’s non-motorized system”.

The benefits of walking and biking are well-known but the monetary value of having these types of facilities is less understood.  According to the Community and Economic Benefits of Bicycling in Michigan report created for the Michigan Department of Transportation, 2014 (report http://1.usa.gov/1rPyyqT), concluded the benefits for the state of Michigan for bicycling is $668 million annually:

  • Household retail spending on bicycling - $175 million

  • Manufacturing - $11 million

  • Avoided health care costs - $256 million

  • Reduced absenteeism - $187 million

  • Event and tourism spending - $38 million

Enjoy Bike to Work Week.

Commuter Challenge in Ann Arbor Enters Second Week

The Commuter Challenge runs May 1 - May 31 and is open to anyone that work in the Ann Arbor Area and Ypsilanti! The goal is to have people log their alternative commutes to earn badges and win prizes.

The Challenge is hosted by the Get Downtown Program and has several sponsors from Google, DTE Energy, Bank of Ann Arbor, the City of Ann Arbor, and the DDA.

WATS is also participating in the Commuter Challenge. WATS is using walking and transit as the primary alternatives to get into work.

It is not too late to sign up, you can go to https://challenge.getdowntown.org/ to get signed up and start today.

Bus to Work Week (May 8-14)

All Week: The Bus is Us

Snap a photo of you and your co-workers riding the bus during this week and you could win one of 25 $10 gift cards to all kinds of fabulous places! Send you photo to commute@theride.org by Friday, May 13th at 4pm to be eligible.

May 10: Intro to Bus Commuting.

Everything you need to know to starting riding the bus to work. 

Commute with your friends, co-workers and win!

 

 

 

Metropolitan Planning Organizations in Michigan

WATS is a part of a wonderful family of fellow transportation planners across the state the strive to develop the best transportation projects using federal transportation dollars.  All the MPOs work with their local transit agencies, Michigan Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, along with all the jurisdictions that are part of the MPO.  

 

There are 13 MPOs across the state of Michigan. WATS is part of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments MPO, but is considered a transportation management area (TMA), with a population over 200,000. In 2010, Michigan added the newest MPO in the state in Midland.

Michigan Transportation Planning Association

Michigan also has a forum by which all Michigan transportation planners can participate in, it is known as the Michigan Transportation Planning Association (MTPA).  MPOs, FHWA, and the DOT come together to discuss transportation policy and planning issues. This has been a great way for all agencies to collaborate on the ever changing planning environment.

There are over 384 MPOs in the country that are all working to create a seamless transportation system for all transportation users. Search each state’s MPO list https://www.planning.dot.gov/mpo.asp


As a reminder, a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is an agency created by federal law to provide local elected officials input into the planning and implementation of federal transportation funds to metropolitan areas with populations of greater than 50,000. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1962, which mandated the formation of MPOs, has implemented that MPOs must plan for regional transportation planning expenditures and are responsible for the continuing, cooperative, and comprehensive transportation planning process for their urbanized area. Under federal law established in the 1973 Highway Act and the Urban Mass Transit Act, organizations in urbanized areas are designated by their Governors to perform significant planning and programming of federally funded highways and transit projects. The policy leadership, committees, professional staff, and consultants, combined with the administrative capability to support MPO planning processes, constitute the core elements of MPOs activities.

Contact your MPO today to see how you can get invovled http://www.mtpa-mi.org/members.asp.

 

 

 

Transportation Asset Management in Michigan

Every year road raters go out and take visual ratings of the surface condition of the roadways, this is called PASER ratings or Pavement Surface Evaluation and Rating.  Michigan uses PASER to assign roads a rating from "1" (failed road) to "10" (new road/complete reconstruction).  The PASER system is designed to evaluate the types of improvements that would be required bring the roadway back to good condition.  The inspection requires only a brief visual inspection, which can be taken from a moving vehicle.  Raters are required to update their training every year they rate roadways.

This system of road ratings is coordinated by the Michigan Transportation Asset Management Council (TAMC), which is made up of representatives from county road commissions, cities, a county commissioner, township official, regional and metropolitan planning organizations, and the state transportation department.  The TAMC is the statewide clearinghouse for independent, objective data on the condition of Michigan's roads and bridges and a resource for implementing the concepts of Asset Management.

The TAMC has developed interactive maps and data dashboards on the conditions of the roadways across Michigan.  If you have ever wondered what the ratings are for your community, you can look them up here. Only Act 51 agencies are reported on the TAMC data dashboard, but WATS has a wonderful website that looks at all communities in Washtenaw County, find how the roads are doing in your community here

Since 2003, WATS, the Washtenaw County Road Commission, and MDOT have worked to evaluate and rate roadways in Washtenaw County for the state required Asset Management Program.  This program is intended to provide a brief snapshot of the condition of all of Michigan's federal aid roadways.

The program requires each county to take a full inventory of their roadways every 2 years, most communities rate half of their ratings each year.  WATS most recently rated Washtenaw County's roadways in July 2014 (fiscal year 2014) and October 2014 (fiscal year 2015).  The next set of PASER ratings will be taken in Summer 2016 and Fall 2016.

 Michigan state trunkline routes have only 22% of the lane miles in good condition, where more than 50% of the lane miles are in poor condition. These are the most recent numbers from the TAMC data dashboard website.  Source: TAMC

Michigan state trunkline routes have only 22% of the lane miles in good condition, where more than 50% of the lane miles are in poor condition. These are the most recent numbers from the TAMC data dashboard website.  Source: TAMC

Transportation agencies around the country will need to place additional emphasis on the surface condition of roadways not that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has rules that States must adhere to and outlines potential consequences for those roadways that fall under the target.  

The proposed minimum level for condition of pavement outlines that States will need to maintain no more than 5% of lane miles of their pavements on the Interstate System in Poor condition. States not meeting this requirement for two consecutive years will be subject to penalties including obligating (securing) NHPP funds and transferring Surface Transportation Program funds.  If you want more details about the measures being used at the State level contact Ryan Buck buckr@miwats.org.

 

Funding Transportation in Washtenaw County

Spring is the time of the year where flowers bloom, the weather warms, and road agencies can get back to keeping our roads in good repair. 

Roads

At WATS this means finalizing our 2017-2020 Transportation Improvement Program, which outlines the projects that will be using federal funds throughout the county for the next 4 years.

As a reminder, WATS is known as a transportation management area and has an urbanized population over 200,000 and therefore receives federal transportation funds to program.  We have developed a 2017-2020 draft TIP program, this is awaiting final approval from the Policy Committee on April 20, 2016.

WATS is responsible for annually programming the following funding sources:

  1. Surface Transportation Program Urban Funds - $4.3 million/year

  2. National Highway Performance Program Funds - $359,000/year

  3. Surface Transportation Program Rural Funds  - $529,000/year

  4. Transportation Economic Development Funds Category D - $265,000/year

Washtenaw County communities also have the opportunity to receive funding that comes to the Southeast Michigan region:

  1. Congestion Mitigation Funds - $16 million (divided between transit and non-transit)

  2. Transportation Alternative Program Funds - $6.4 million

Agencies can also apply for funds directly appropriated from the state such as safety funds, bridge funds, economic development funds, and small urban funds.

Transit

Federal transit funding is now passed through the Regional Transit Agency (RTA) to the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority (AAATA) or more commonly known as The Ride.  TheRide is the designation recipient for transit funds in the Ann Arbor urban area. TheRide is able to capture the following funding sources:

  1. 5310 Funds - Funds the capital and operations expenses of agencies with the specific purpose of serving those with disabilities and the elderly  - $580,000/year

  2. 5307 - Funds the capital and operations for agencies - $8.3 million/year

  3. 5311- Funds the rural transit providers such as People’s Express and the Western Washtenaw Area Value Express - $670,000/year

Transit funding works very differently than road funding.  Road funding has to be secured during the current fiscal year that the project is programmed in the WATS TIP or the federal funds are no longer available to the agency, this process is called obligation.  Transit has up to 3 years to spend their federal funds.  

WATS publishes an annual report that reviews all the federal funding sources that Washtenaw County has received during the fiscal year (October - September). 

If you want to learn more about road funding, WATS created a Funding Transportation in Washtenaw County document.  This document outlines existing funding sources, funding issues, existing local funding solutions, and alternative funding sources currently not used in Michigan.

For more details about funding, please contact Suzann Flowers at flowerss@miwats.org or 734-994-3127.