Friday, March 25, 2011

Speaking Of The Bigger Picture...

I don't follow this...

Elected officials worked hard to save Pure Michigan.

Senator Walker even introduced a bill to provide permanent funding for Pure Michigan.

Many of the Pure Michigan ads focus on the state's great water resources.

So why would our Senator Walker co-sponsor SB 168, which according to Great Lakes Echo is a proposal that would exempt some road projects from wetlands requirement ?

Relating To The Big Picture

The census shows Detroit is going away.

With no other option to maintain infrastructure, counties depave roads as revenue declines.

And business owners report they can't get employees to move to the state.

Via Rustwire: Michigan CEO: Soul-Crushing Sprawl Killing Business (I was suspicious of this but looked into it and found that this letter was originally sent to the Michigan Municipal League in August, 2010)

We’d like to stay in Michigan, but we have a problem. It’s not taxes or
regulations. There’s lots of talk about these issues but they have no
impact on our business. We spend more on copiers and toner than we do
on state taxes.

Our problem is access to talent. We have high-paying positions open for
patent attorneys in the software and semiconductor space. Even though
it is one of the best hiring environments for IP firms in 40 years, we
cannot fill these positions. Most qualified candidates live out of state
and simply will not move here, even though they are willing to relocate
to other cities...

...We are becoming a place where people without resources are grudgingly
forced to live.

...There’s a simple reason why many people don’t want to live here: it’s an
unpleasant place because most of it is visually unattractive and because
it is lacking in quality living options other than tract suburbia. Some
might call this poor “quality of life.”

...some boosters trumpet our “unrivaled” freeway system as if
freeways and sprawl they engender are “quality of life” assets. In San
Francisco, the place sucking up all the talent and money, they have
removed — literally torn out of the ground — two freeways because
people prefer not to have them.

The reasons listed in this letter are the same reasons Michigan is at the bottom of the Gallup wellbeing index

The big picture is building roads won't attract professionals who can live anywhere; building capacity for people will. Some people say how Detroit goes goes the rest of the state. Some people think Traverse City is somewhat immune from downstate problems because of the pleasantness of the environment here. Regardless, the choices made for infrastructure send a signal to those who may move here. What do we tell them?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My Notes from the March 22nd West Boardman Lake Public Meeting

MWaT has a summary: What Are We Trying To Do With The West Boardman Lake Clusterf#@k?

And I have to say that I too am in a kind of numb state after the meeting and still trying to make sense of what happened. The best thing to do right now is simply to report the notes I took 24 hours ago.

-overall sense of sadness. Sad that this road is a foregone conclusion since every option was for a road and sad that the consultants were put into a position where they could not truly reflect the overwhelming sentiment that this road is not a prudent investment at this time. They had a tough job. City hired them to do one thing, the public pushed them to do the opposite.

-why didn't the traffic counts slide have any numbers for Cass St north of Eighth?

-the consultant admitted that it is unknown (his word) if this road would induce traffic. In other words, it is unknown if it would even solve the problems it is supposed to fix.

-the "Low Quality Habitat" slide showing a picture from the west shore of Boardman Lake. This low quality habitat is where I saw red-winged blackbirds, geese, swans, buffleheads, loons, mallards, and mergansers last weekend. West Boardman Lake is where I have heard the rare spruce grouse roosting. It is where I have seen mink, muskrats, beaver, foxes, and this past Thanksgiving, I caught a fleeting glance of a bobcat along the west shore of Boardman Lake. Other people have seen otters on west Boardman Lake. The slide was a picture of the exact spot where I pick raspberries in July. Low quality?

-how many people use the Boardman Lake trail? Because if there are a series of HAWK crosswalks across the new Boardman Lake Avenue, requiring vehicles to stop for pedestrians, why would anyone drive on this road if there was a good chance of unpredictable stops? Plus having a HAWK crosswalk behind Old Town Condos would create considerable light and noise pollution for them.

-if people were looking for a bypass Lake Avenue would have more traffic

-if the Hagerty parking deck becomes a destination due to increased employment then why would anyone take Boardman Lake Ave to get there?

-when you state that Boardman Lake Ave "will give better access to the city" you are in fact making the argument that traffic will increase, though you were trying to argue for the road because you think it will decrease traffic. Better access = more traffic.

-the traffic issue is speed. This is an issue everyone can agree on. The only option that deals with speed is traffic calming though there will always be speeding drivers.

-roundabouts are supported overwhelmingly and got covered in green dots (meaning good), yet they are still belittled by some. Why?

-Building this road feels like a done deal that only needs political cover to purchase Copy Central. It feels like a political decision, not a traffic decision, because no one in authority will state publicly that this road will definitely relieve traffic. Because it won't.

So rather than fix traffic we're going to build a road because the politics do not allow an attempt at a city grid solution here (red arrows are the problem):

Numbers Do Lie

For my thesis, the Biogeochemistry of Waters Within The Grand Traverse Bay Watershed, I took water samples and modeled hydrology. I would never have based any conclusions on one time observations.

My last post was partly an attempt to show how people can look at the same numbers and draw different conclusions. These one time sample numbers that we get are interesting but they don't give us the whole picture.

Here are the updates to my last post.

-The City Engineering department has maps with traffic counts from 2003 to 2006 available here:

The image below is from the 2006 Traffic Count map. My assumption is the green stars and numbers are where traffic counts were performed. I have circled the north and south Cass St count locations.

S Cass St has a count of 13,709.

N Cass St by Grandview Pkwy has a count of 3,235.

Missing is any count performed between the red circles north of Eighth St and south of Front St. Why not?

This north of Eighth St count for Cass is a very important number, and it may be the one number that does not lie. The Gordie-Fraser Engineering Study indicated that Cass St north and south of Eighth varied by only about 1000 daily trips. If that is true then there is no way Boardman Lake Avenue will do what was promised to the Old Town Neighborhood Association.

Or do we do what a City official stated Tuesday night after the BLA meeting in an informal discussion - "don't pay any attention to the traffic count numbers". If that is the case then don't use the numbers to argue for the road.

As I have said before, Old Town was promised a road, not a solution.

-The last census shows a very modest increase of 142 people in the city limits, which reverses the loss of population I reported in my last post.

-The number of people wanting a "No Road" option could give the impression that people are anti-road. But voting for "No Road" is more about expressing a dislike of any of the presented options.

That is why I and many other people want to see a larger traffic plan put in place. A larger vision - a grand vision perhaps?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Numbers Don't Lie

The main contention of those Old Town residents who support Boardman Lake Avenue is that this north-south road will solve east-west traffic.

I wanted to test this hypothesis. I collected the traffic count numbers from the Gourdie Fraser studies.

-p. 14, Gourdie Fraser Engineering Study for Boardman Lake Avenue, 1994, (traffic counts done predominantly in July, including July 5th!, and August, 1989)

-Table III-1, Gourdie Fraser Engineering Study Update, 1998, (traffic counts done predominantly after Memorial Day and early June, 1990)

I took those numbers and put them into a table (link to a MS Excel sheet).

The numbers show:

-Traffic on Cass St is predominantly downtown traffic. If Boardman Lake Avenue was going to take traffic off Cass St north of 14th then there should be a large difference in traffic on Cass north and south of Eighth St.

There isn't:
10,580 on Cass south of 8th is about equal to 9,699 on Cass north of 8th St.

This confirms that many people on Cass are heading downtown.

-Traffic decreased by 30% on Cass St between Eighth and Fourteenth from the traffic counts done in 1989/1990 versus 1997.

-Traffic on Eighth and Fourteenth streets are not related.

If traffic was using 14th St to get to 8th then these numbers should be roughly equivalent.

17,715 on 14th St is much less than the 29,609 vehicles on 8th east of Boardman Ave.

-We already have a Boardman Lake Avenue. It is Lake Ave and only 3,074 vehicles per day were using it in 1998.

-So what about the 14,514 vehicles on Cass St south of 14th?

14,514 vehicles on this stretch.

3,074 on Lake Ave + 10,580 on Cass St north of 14th = 13,654

This shows that we are not dealing with east-west traffic but north-south traffic into and out of downtown.

-If we assume the projections from Gourdie Fraser are correct (although there is no basis for them), then 18,000 vehicles will be speeding up and down the shore of Boardman Lake on the new avenue. This is equivalent to the traffic on 14th St between Union and Division. Have you ever tried to cross 14th St as a pedestrian? Why would we do this to our Boardman Lake trail? This avenue would completely cut off the neighborhood while increasing overall traffic.

Other numbers from

-The population of Grand Traverse County has declined by 2.5% since 2000, and the population of Traverse City has declined 4.5% since 1990.

-15,266 people come into Traverse City to work (105% of the population). 76% of them drive. The leave for work at 8 AM and return at 5 PM. Their drive is 10-20 minutes each way. And 90% of the cars are single occupancy.

Other numbers:
-In 1989 gasoline average $1.72/gallon in today's dollars, in 1997 it was $1.68. (Source: DOE, Retail Motor Gasoline and On-Highway Diesel Fuel Prices, 1949-2009)

-5 yr average gasoline prices from GasBuddy

What these numbers mean to me are the traffic counts from the 1990's are unreliable due to being taken in the summer tourism season; more people drive when gas prices are lower; the city population is getting older and declining; and currently jobs require people to come into the city.

That leaves me with these questions:

-Is this a problem that requires a $5 million solution?

-Why would traffic decrease on Cass St? How do we still not know where traffic is coming and going?

-If brownfield funds become unavailable (See
IPR: State Tax Reforms Could Diminish Interest In Urban Redevelopment) is this road a prudent investment by the city?

-Whatever people perceive this traffic problem to be, is it a problem that will exist with $5+/gallon gasoline? With a smaller city population? With more people telecommuting?

-When you look at the number of commuters heading into downtown for work, is this a problem that can be solved with a new street? Do we have a traffic problem or a housing problem?

-Is this a driving problem or a people problem? Cities are for people, right?

That's why cities all over are tearing out highways rather than building new ones. As described in this CS Monitor story:
Downtown need a makeover? More cities are razing urban highways
...cities across the United States look to erase some of the damage from urban highway construction of the 1950s and '60s – tearing up or replacing the roadways and attempting to restitch bulldozed neighborhoods.

We all want the same thing. We want a safe neighborhood with slower traffic going through it. And these numbers leave me unconvinced that the proposed Boardman Lake Avenue will make Old Town a safer place.

Theme song for this post from The Mynabirds, "Numbers Don't Lie"

Friday, March 4, 2011

Get Your Flavonoids On

Drink up friends, the wine is fine.

"Once sugar is produced, the cooler, wetter climate, a characteristic of Leelanau Peninsula terroir, sets this flavonoid, tannin, and other polyphenol metabolism in place. This is one reason for the great similarities of Michigan and that other 45th parallel location, Bourdeaux, France. It’s also verification of a statement made to me by Napa Valley winemaker, Scott Harvey, who feels that the Michigan flavonoids and turpines concentrations are of the highest in the world"

Via Forty-Five North Vineyard and Winery: Stain Less Tasting

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Few, The Proud, The Cold Weather Surfers

People who surf the Great Lakes in the winter are different. They are fanatical. They are obsessive. Or as the Lake County News Chronicle from Two Harbors says "the fanatics from the Superior Surf Club who will drop everything to catch good waves". (See: Catching a cold wave)

And this is the value in establishing a whitewater/surf park downtown on the Boardman River. It would create a year-round downtown destination for people from all over the midwest who were in search of getting their wave fix.

This is why I support the Traverse City Whitewater Park.