That might seem like an uneducated prediction from a nagging 62-year-old woman who likely knows boo about traffic management. Even the newspaper headline claims 'Cass [Avenue] work to relieve congestion.'
But it's getting so that you don't need an engineering degree to understand that it's impossible to build your way out of traffic jams if all you build is bigger and wider roads. The expert projection is Cass Avenue will carry 40,000 cars in 20 years, up from the current 27,000.
That's what happens when there's only way to get around. People in Michigan and much of the Midwest have incredibly limited and unrealistic transportation choices beyond the automobile. So the roadways fill up, and making them wider is an expensive, artificial, and temporary solution to the problem. Even grandmas get it.
"It's inevitable that those countries will adopt caps, too," he said. "We will gain a competitive advantage by going first. The real question is, do we want to import clean tech from Germany, Japan, and China or export it to the rest of the world?
Could be Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Muskegon, Gary, Milwaukee, or countless other cities in America's Heartland. But this video was shot in Youngstown, OH by, literally, Some Dude.
The point is Rust Belt cities stand united in the fight against basically the same economic, environmental, and cultural problems. They're all asking "what went wrong," as the Infidels put it in the song accompanying the above video.
That, in a way, is helpful because they all share a stake in the same agenda for revitalization. Educate more people. Modernize basic infrastructure. And reassert that can-do spirit.
It's the world's first high speed maglev train, and it reaches 200 mph in 2 minutes. The thing topped out at 311 mph in 2003 test runs. And the max speed during normal operation is a brisk 268 mph.
That means, if we were building this sort of advanced transportation technology in the United States, you could get from Detroit to Chicago in just over one hour. It's at least a 4-hour car ride if you're hauling the mail down I-94.
Chicago to Minneapolis, nearly a 7-hour drive, would take less than 2 hours. Cleveland to Pittsburgh? Be there in 30 minutes. No gas fillups, no traffic jams, no exorbitant downtown parking fees.
But we're years - perhaps decades - away from building this sort of future-oriented infrastructure in America, even as a host of economic, environmental, and demographic trends now point to aggressive investment in modern mass transit solutions. Pennsylvania, Baltimore, and California are studying the idea. Yet, under the current transportation investment approach, we can't even keep Amtrak on time and out of the red.
So it wasn't surprising to hear John Austin, director of the Brookings Institution's Great Lakes Economic Inititiative, on public radio yesterday urging the presidential candidates to focus on a new generation of domestic public investment. It's essential, Austin suggested, to maintaining and enhancing the region's - and the nation's - competitive advantage in the global marketplace.
"It's embarassing, as the Europeans and the Chinese are building world-class infrastructure, like a tunnel linking France and England, we still have leaky and dated infrastructure around what is the largest trading point on earth."
As with the public transit issue, Governor Jennifer Granholm struggled to strike with straight answers and specific actions. But the conversation did produce what just might be the governor's strongest statment yet against the fossil fuel industry, which right now is aggressively pushing to expand in Michigan.
"What could we do to help our Big Three [car companies] to compete on the world stage [in alternative fuel cars]," asked Ron Joppie, the owner of Charlotte-based Christiansen's Furniture, Inc.
"This is another reason why Michigan is unique, Ron, because of our history with the auto industry," the governor replied. "All this movement now toward the hydrogen fuel cell, or the electric vehicle, the plug-in hybrid, we have in Michigan more research and development into the next engine than all of the other states plus Canada plus Mexico combined."
"The whole world is looking to move into battery technology, etc," the governor continued. "We in this state are uniquely positioned to lead that as well. We have led it in the past. We can still lead it. The irony is that the technologies associated with creating the next engine, whether it's the battery technology, those will be able to be used in stationary applications, too, in your home.
"There's a whole movement away from coal-fired power plants and from gasoline, all of those fossil fuels we want to break away from, and Michigan is uniquely positioned to do that given that we have the right policy framework."
Less than three hours north in Michigan, there's a debate raging about how the state urgently improves it's ability to attract and retain young talented workers just like Ms. Davis. One reader wrote into a Detroit Free Press forum on the topic to say "if I had the opportunity for a job in Michigan I would take it. However, my current locale in the Northeast supplies me with ample subsidized public transportation. If Michigan really wants to come back, first thing that needs to happen is a public train system."
These two comments, I'm convinced, represent the attitude of the younger generation of citizens and workers now taking the stage in American life. Elected leaders and public officials in the greater Great Lakes, then, can no longer claim to support the economic revitalization of the Rust Belt without an aggressive and well-honed platform to maintain, enhance, and expand rapid mass transit service in central cities.
Like roads and highways to the Industrial Era, light rail lines, streetcar circulators, and commuter trains are essential instruments of any legitimate strategy to pursue prosperity in the Digital Age.
That's one reason why Governor Jennifer Granholm's performance in the Rebuilding Michigan's Motor forum was so dispiriting to anybody with a vision of Michigan 3.0. The governor, who has made urban revitalization a centerpiece of her economic development initiative, had several opportunities to claim leadership on the transit issue during the one-hour forum. Not once did she respond with the urgency, clarity, and resolve the issue now demands.
Sure Gov. Granholm's responses acknowledged, in a superficial sense, the proven link between good transit and a city or state's competitiveness in the modern economy. But, instead of bravely affirming the bold and specific steps Michigan must take to even begin building a basic urban public transportation system, she cravenly bowed to the status quo with veiled answers that steered away from the transit issue and, in one instance, even devolved into a rambling diatribe about the lack of road funding and the abundance of pot holes.
"As we talk about diversification of transportation options and bringing people into Michigan, what is your vision for the connectivity issue and developing a statewide public transportation policy for rail lines, streetcars, connecting cities and suburbia, the Upper Peninsula and Lower Peninsula," Grand Rapids resident Casey Dutmer asked Gov. Granholm.
"Seventy-seven percent of [new economy] companies take the availability of mass transit into account when they're deciding where to locate," Dutmer continued. "But Michigan has no statewide transit policy. We have federal funding approved for a bus rapid transit system here in Grand Rapids. We hope that you will support the state funding we need to match the federal funds."
"The most vibrant states and the most vibrant cities are the ones that have a robust public transportation system. There's no question about it," Gov. Granholm responded. "Michigan has our heritage with the auto industry [which] has obviously caused us to grow up and be reliant on vehicles. But as we as a nation move toward other solutions, like alternative and renewable energy, but also to create cities that are compact and dynamic, we must have transportation solutions that meet our needs.
"I've appointed a transportation task force which is supposed to come back to me with suggestions on public transit as well as how we have better roads in Michigan, how we fund the roads, and how we make sure that our roads are smooth. We do not have enough money right now in our transportation system overall. Certainly that's true on public transit. And it's true as well on the roads. We can't operate in the same way we have."
Stop. At this point, it seemed, the governor was well positioned to explain that, while Michigan has budget troubles, the state has plenty of money. It spends billions of dollars each year, in fact, on a variety of economic development programs and infrastructure. The problem is that the current investment strategy is fundamentally out of alignment with the needs of a modern economy. The pattern of government spending is programmed for 1950, not projecting toward 2050.
The state, for example, is considering new coal plants when the future is in wind turbines. It facilitates sprawling development out into the corn fields when 21st century wealth and innovation seems to concentrate in high density urban centers. And, as the price of gas skyrockets, climate concerns mount, and traffic grows increasingly congested, Michigan is focused exclusively on building more and bigger roads instead of diversfying its transportation system with alternatives like light rail lines that we know generate far greater economic, environmental, and social returns on investment compared to roadways.
So instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars to widen that highway through downtown Grand Rapids Mr. Dutmer, the governor might have said, we are going to modernize fiscal spending, identify the critical state funds necessary for that bus rapid transit line, and give people in Grand Rapids more mobility options.
An out-of-the-box response like that would help transfigure the entrenched thinking about transit in Michigan. It would shine a bright light on Michigan's archaic development strategy, change the very nature of the state's mass transit debate, and arguably pick up the pace towards economic recovery. Instead, the governor opted for the easy and familiar talking points. She continues...
"I know alot of people care about the roads and the potholes and all of that. When I became governor, 72 percent of our state roads were in good condition. And I said we have got to get it to at least 90 percent. It's now 92 percent, although you'd never know because you probably travel along a lot of local roads and end up getting jarred all over. People don't know the difference between a state road and a local road."
"The local units of government need the funding to be able to repair those roads, too. And that's why the current method of funding transportation systems in Michigan is not adequate. I don't think we should go to a gas tax but I think there are other solutions and I'm waiting for the experts to come back and tell me the best way to do it."
That road raging response, remember, was the answer to a mass transit question.
And I'm not even going to touch on the disappointing, nay almost frightening, Rebuilding Michigan's Motor forum that featured Governor Jennifer Graholm last night.
No, today's post is about the $10 million competition to produce a market-ready automobile capable of 100 mpg announced yesterday by X Prize.
Sixty-four teams to date have entered the race. Not one is from Detroit, the supposed epicenter of transportation innovation.
California already has entered 14 teams. New York is sending four. Wisconsin two. But only one team - Ann Arbor-based Michigan Vision - so far hails from Michigan, a state so closely aligned with the image of advanced auto R&D that X Prize actually quotes Gov. Granholm on their website.
“A competition to advance commercially viable, energy efficient and climate friendly vehicles can inspire the discovery of critically needed breakthrough technologies...it is likely that our best and brightest will be well represented at the starting line,” the governor says.
But a quick search of the headlines reveals that the Michigan media and, by extension, the population is barely aware that the race is on to push the limits of fuel efficiency. In the first 100 hits of a Yahoo News search, it appears only three news outlets in the state cared to cover the X Prize story, which was covered by, among others, the New York Times, USA Today, and the NASDAQ wire.
Grand Rapids-based WOOD TV 8 lifted the feed from the Associated Press.
Lansing-based WLNS gave the news a paragraph.
And the Detroit News filed a report from its Washington bureau that mentions New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the competition and leads with a quote from the CEO of an Ohio-based insurance company expressing support for the competition. Not one person from the Motor City offers any insight.
Ironically for this post, the Detroit News also today published a story reporting that GM is likely to lose a quarter of a billion a year selling its electric Volt. But, in that same piece, CEO Bob Lutz reveals that his company's slow-go approach to the hybrid vehicle market has likely cost GM billions in sales as consumers perceive the company's technology slipping off the cutting edge.
Still time to enter Team GM in the X Prize games, Bob, and at least promote the hope that those five teams from Europe aren't going to eat Michigan's lunch without a good clean fight.
The move is at once surprising and predictable. On one hand, Steelcase, a large, longstanding, and highly respected furniture maker, has for more than a decade now consisently distinguished itself as a global leader in the sustainable business movement. That the company would move to offset its carbon emissions by purchasing power produced from clean wind, rather than dirty coal, affirms a commitment to civic responsibility and stewardship that many have to come to expect from the corporation.
No, what should astonish and trouble citizens, executives, and politicians in Michigan is that the company, which prides itself on forward-looking philanthropy and investment to benefit its hometown, traveled 1,100 miles south to buy energy from Texas.
Like the Lone Star State, the Great Lakes State has the wind resources to power utility-scale power production, according to the scientists. In fact, alot of it is blowing up on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, approximately 30 minutes from the front door of Steelcase Headquarters.
Unlike Texas, however, Michigan doesn't have the public policy, the spending strategy, or the open-minded culture necessary to promote a proliferation of wind power projects, as the map above generated by the American Wind Energy Association confirms. So Steelcase, it seems, had little choice but to invest in Texas.
The refrain from those defending the status quo at the Michigan Capitol is that strong laws to diversify the power portfolio will chill the state's ability to lure companies, jobs, and investment. Steelcase literally just blew that argument away to the Gulf Coast.
But he used an exclamation point to hype a written argument that strong government mandates will cost too much money and kill jobs. That, by definition, indicates Mr. Cox holds an intensely emotional opinion on the matter. And he didn't exactly urge quick action to raise wind turbines.
"Michigan would need 50 wind parks to meet the mandate for 10 percent of Michigan's energy to come from a [renewables]," Mr. Cox said. "But each wind park creates no more than 10 permanent jobs. At a cost of $1 billion per year, per wind park, that translates to $2 million per job!"
The AG also "warned" - instead of "added" - that "given these rate hikes and cost shifts, even if new jobs were to be created by renewable energy, the higher costs could force many businesses to close or relocate out of state. Michigan's economy is likely to be even worse off if this radical proposal passes the Legislature."
There's no denying that Michigan's transition to cleaner and more responsible forms of fuel will require an up front investment. And Mr. Cox, who is rumored to be considering a run for governor in 2010, is accurate to suggest that current renewable energy legislation seems to bend towards stregthening the monopoly enjoyed by the traditional utility companies rather than promoting competition and entrepreneurialism.
Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm isn't telling the whole story when she says, as she did in her 2008 State of the State Address, that major companies like DTE and Consumers are prepared to invest $6 billion in energy innovation if the state enacts a modern energy agenda.
The reality is that that $6 billion would come from fee hikes on consumers, primarily residential meters, not necessarily the records profits the utilities are banking.
But it costs plenty of money to build coal-fired power plants and nuclear generators, too. The price of those and other traditional fuels is only rising. And it costs even more to clean up the economic, political, and environmental mess they leave behind.
The long term costs of wind gusts and sun shine, on the other hand, is guaranteed to remain constant: free.
So AG Cox's comments, which were covered by Crain's Detroit, serve as something of a reality check on the state's high flying renewable energy debate. But they also distance the man from Michigan's push toward modernity.
Cox is the latest, and perhaps highest ranking, agent from Michigan's dwindling army of naysayers who cling to the status quo and claim the state can't afford to embrace a new way of generating power and prosperity.
All things considered, the bottom line is that the Great Lakes State can't afford not to aggressively pursue energy innovation.
Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, in an awkward effort to break the rhythm of his own negative sex scandal story, enlisted lightning rod words like "nigger" and "lynch mob" to paint himself - rather than his city - as the victim.
Detroiters don't seem to be buying it.
The cases of messieurs Spitzer and Kilpatrick are the latest examples to illustrate the crisis of leadership now plaguing America's Heartland. And that is sad because each of these once powerful politicians rose as effective advocates for many of the types of fundamental changes the region must embrace to regain its greatness.
Both men publicly advanced broad agendas based on recommitments to education, innovation, and urban revitalization. And both men had - still have - a stage presence and delivery that seemed to unite citizens in the confidence and belief that even the most ambitious plans could be achieved. What more does the region need now but hope for a brighter future? Like any strong leader, they both radiated personality, authenticity, and vision.
Now both men also are linked by arrogance, as Detroit News Columnist Daniel Howes effectively argues. They seem like phonies. They violated the civic trust they were sworn to protect. And, as a consequence, they laid down the legitimacy to lead.
Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer came to that conclusion the second day after scandal broke. Kwame Kilpatrick's deception - and Detroit's distraction - is moving in to its second month.
But the enthusiasm was tempered by the fact that, while Michigan claims it wants to lead global energy innovation, the state has yet to shift its policy and investment strategies to promote any fuel sources beyond nonrenewables like coal. That, experts say, is retarding the growth of perhaps the biggest opportunity Michigan has seen since the invention of the automobile.
Jim Croce, the CEO of NextEnergy, a nonprofit organization established by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, laid out the lucrative opportunities for energy innovation at the top of the event.
He also hammered home the incredible challenge now facing the Great Lakes State's ability to advance an energy agenda that helps keep rates affordable, the climate stable, and the world at peace. Here are excerpts of his remarks:
"What's holding us back in Michigan more than anything else is culture, and the way we're looking at the [renewable energy] industry," Mr. Croce said. "We need creative entreprenuers. Lots of them. They need to succeed and fail. We need dynamism. That's the secret to our success.
"Successful entrepreneurs need technology; an experienced, venture-backed CEO; and risk capital. If any one of those pieces are missing, we got a problem.
"We have pretty darn good technology in Michigan. We also have a lot of pretty smart engineers, scientists, and researchers doing a lot of really interesting development. But we tend to lack that man or woman who has made venture capitalists a lot of money in the past who can be counted on to make venture capitalists a lot money going forward. So that's our talent gap."But we also have this business culture bearing down on us that's seeking to extend the status quo. We're not embracing change. We're discouraging failure, lacking entrepreneurial dynamism. And we have obsolete energy and environmental policies that stifle demand and discourage capital investment [in renewables]. These are things that we're struggling with in the state.
"When we argue against the [Renewable Portfolio Standard]. When we argue against [Corporate Average Fuel Economy]. When we take on California and CO2 mandates, even though there may be good business reasons for our legacy industries to do that, the perception hurts us. We're viewed as a backwater, quite frankly. Why would I invest in a state that's fighting change? So culture is a big issue we need to come to grips with, we need to understand, and we need to work through it and be viewed as a more progressive state because in many ways we are more progressive. The preception is not great.
"At the same time we have this luring of the CEO's to the eco-friendly business culture. It's not just California, Massachussetts, and New York. We're talking about Wisconsin, Iowa, Pennsylvania. Relatively conservative states that have enacted proactive policies and are drawing new investment to their state. This is the competitive landscape we're fighting against.
"We need a more progressive regulatory framework. We need to look beyond the traditional means of regulating our utilities. We need to think more broadly, more holistically about diversfying the economy, improving our state balance of trade, and improving business competitiveness.
"We need to find ways to make money amidst all these transformational effects in our economy. We're either going to make money, or we're going to be left in the dust."
Both sides of the political aisle share the blame for Michigan's inability to adopt even the most basic renewable energy strategy. Openess to change and new ideas isn't exactly a characteristic strength of broad-based leadership in the Great Lakes State these days.
That's primarily because, despite all the talk about the urgent need to evolve and meet the challenges of a global marketplace, the Old Guard of the 20th century remains the driving influential force of Michigan's political and economic machine. And that's slowing the adoption of a more modern and lucrative industrial philosphy.
Want evidence of proof? DTE Energy, which owns Michigan's largest utility and is heavily invested in traditional coal-fired power plants, recently reported a whopping 80 percent earnings increase. That means $971 million earned in 2007 compared to $433 million in 2006.
It's safe to assume, then, that their influence outweighs that of the renewable energy entreprenuers who are working steadily to disrupt the establishment and install a new way of doing business, but have yet to turn serious profits for disposal in the political process.
"It's a fitting conclusion to what has been a fiasco and just a comical story about how a community can waste and squander a shrinking pool of federal money that is now in increasing danger of being lost altogether," Alderman Bob Bauman told the Journal Sentinel.
Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory says a proposed $182 million streetcar system will key new economic development in his city.
But local leaders continue to bicker about where exactly the route will run.
"We're nowhere near construction," City Manager Milton Dahoney told the News Record.
Indianapolis, IN, like Grand Rapids, MI, is just starting to think about streetcars, and how to pay for them.
“A downtown transit system getting people around can induce development,” Real Estate Executive Michael Wells told the local Business Journal.
Bringing this post full circle, Detroit is again gearing up to petition the feds for mass transit money. This time to build a publicly funded $371 million light rail line on Woodward Avenue.
Strangely, nobody in the Motor City wants to talk about a separate private sector proposal to build a $103 million downtown circulator.
"[The mayor] is aware that there is a group of private individuals who have been in conversations about and working on a mass-transportation project," Press Secretary James Canning told Crain's Detroit. "[He] wants them to be able to continue that process below radar."
Senator John McCain reinvented his position on the Iraq war, paid vague attention to the strategic importance of energy innovation, and glossed over the nation's troubling economic issues in a speech last night claiming the Republican nomination to pursue the presidency
But, in one brief instance, he delivered some motivational words seemingly tailor made to lift up the down-and-out attitude of hopelessness now consuming an American Heartland that's hesitant to evolve it politics, economy, and culture for a globalized world.
His version of buck-up-inspirational speak no doubt rings true with the growing crowd of engaged citizens who know not only what the greater Great Lakes did for the nation in the past, but perhaps more importantly what the region is capable of doing in the future - with the right leadership.
"We are the captains of our fate. We're not a country that prefers nostalgia to optimism; a country that would rather go back than forward. We're the world's leader, and leaders don't pine for the past and dread the future. We make the future better than the past. We don't hide from history. We make history."
That's the conclusion of the 2008 Grading the States report released yesterday by Pew Charitable Trusts. Here's how the think tank scored the individual Great Lakes states:
New York: B-
No, what raises the eyebrows in the Zieler story is the job the man landed: transit-oriented development coordinator for the City of Charlotte.
Investment in modern mass transit is probably the single most effective long-term strategy driving the redevelopment of America's central cities. The permanence of public investment in tracks for streetcars and light rail trains, station stops, electrified cabling, and other transit infrastructure is a proven strategy to build investor confidence in even the grittiest of urban areas.
Indeed, as Mr. Zeiler's move illustrates, if cities build transit the right way, they need to hire new staff just to manage all the subsequent real estate action.
Yet you can probably count on one hand the number of people in the greater Great Lakes region who Zeiler would now consider his counterpart. There is a vast army of traffic engineers, road builders, and traffic safety specialists. But a limited number of TOD coordinators if there's one at all.
Outside of a couple exceptions like Cleveland and Minneapolis, the region is just waking up to the mass transit movement sweeping the nation. As a consequence, the Rust Belt has yet to tap in any meaningful way the latent development potential in its rundown urban areas.
Detroit has debated the idea of modern transit for decades with little movement. Used to be the inaction frustrated the city's ability to attract people. Now it's literally chasing them away.
"I go to work to help plan and implement the continued construction of a light rail system - the rail system people want and leaders brought to fruition," Mr. Zeiler tells the News. "I feel 15 years younger."