Blog Archive

December 2011

Another Nail in the Regional Transit Coffin

g_ask_kurt_bustJust as I was making a partial recovery from the news of the Light Rail project cancellation, and fighting myself not to send a diatribe to the newspapers, I was greeted with the not wholly unexpected vote by the Troy City Council not to accept the Federal government’s offer of $8.5 million for the intermodal station at 15 Mile Rd. and Coolidge.  I have to believe that Troy residents, who, as a whole, are quite diverse, well-educated and rather well off by regional income standards, are in agreement that an important component of a critically needed regional transit system is not want they want to support.  After all they voted in 3 of the 4 no votes this past November.  You must remember that they also were willing to stop supporting one of the best public libraries in the region – barely passing a supporting millage after a previous ‘no’ vote.

A number of rather eloquent editorials have been written in criticism of the vote.  One of my favorites was by Brian Dickerson of the Free Press.  Allow me to include some of his most salient points.

“Daniels (the newly elected Troy Mayor) & Co. invoked a series of spurious arguments to defend their decision, including the claim that they were striking a blow against federal spending. (In fact, the federal money that had been earmarked for the Troy transit center will now be disbursed for similar projects elsewhere, although not necessarily in Michigan.)

But their real motive was transparent: the fear that outsiders currently disinclined to visit Troy may do so if enticed by a modern train station and convenient parking, at an incalculable cost to Troy taxpayers and their way of life.

This paranoid insularity is hardly unique to Troy, of course. It’s epidemic in Michigan, a state whose percentage of native-born residents is second to only Louisiana’s.

Nor is it unique to the relatively affluent suburbs. In fact, the closest parallel to Troy’s Mayor Daniels may be Detroit City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson, whose reflexive suspicion of suburban outsiders mirrors the concern Daniels and her allies express about transit riders from the region beyond Troy’s borders.

To dismiss this sort of thinking as bigotry is almost beside the point; it’s simply bad policy, predicated on a world that no longer exists.

There may have been a time when communities could compete effectively for residents and employers by making themselves less accessible to surrounding municipalities, but that time is a distant memory. The era when the absence of public transit was a boon to property values may never have existed at all.”

When will the Detroit region ever get beyond this parochial us vs. them – whether the them is another race or ethnicity, another social class, another religion, another geographic unit of government?

I know that the most recent transit-related decisions had to hit Dan Gilmartin more than most.  Dan is the head of the Michigan Municipal League and is on a campaign to make Michigan state, regional and community leaders understand what works.  We say we want to be a “place’ where young, educated people want to live and work.  We know the characteristics of successful states, regions and communities – bold leadership, global understanding, valuing diversity, walkability, transit, cultural economic development, and education.

Dan, please don’t let this stop the message!  I know it is not going to stop me.  We must continue to try for all those who are fighting for the cause.


Michigan Will Never Prosper When Politics Drives Every Decision!


You would think that gerrymandering the 14 remaining U.S. Congressional Districts and diluting Latino representation in both the Michigan House and Senate districts in Detroit (maps are available through Data Driven Detroit by emailing would be enough damage to dole out for one election cycle. But NO! Now, because they lost the majority of votes on the 5-member Oakland County Apportionment Commission, the Republicans in the legislature are changing the rules that govern the redistricting process for county commissioners across the state – but really only for Oakland County!  How dare they! They have legislated a reduction in the number of seats for counties over 50,000 population to 21. Then they have taken the responsibility for the redistricting process, in counties of 1 million+ population, from the Apportionment Commission and given it to the legislature. [Wayne County is not affected because of its charter status.] This is the most incredibly shameful display of political chicanery that I have witnessed in a long while – and that is saying a lot.  They want us to believe that the focus of this is a cost saving move and has no tie to politics.  And, surprise, surprise, L. Brooks Patterson parrots the thoughtful cost-saving approach in his declaration of full support. Both the Republican-run House and Senate have approved the legislation.

I started writing this as this bill was heading toward the Governor’s desk.  I was waiting to see if Rick Snyder is truly about moving Michigan forward or just another politically driven “leader.”  Well…he has now signed the bill and shown his true colors.  I am amazed how quickly non-politicians such as Snyder and Bing are so quickly lured to the “dark side.”  Stop trying to convince us otherwise – you are politicians pure and simple and your decisions come down to your party and not the people.

Dasher & Data & Prancer & Vixen: ‘Tis the Season for Open Data

By Louis Bach, Communications

It’s the season of giving, and the Atlantic Cities has given us a recap of the ten best new urban data sets of 2011. The list illustrates the trend of city governments making public data sets actually available to the public.

The list is quite eclectic, including:

Code violations in SeattleThis comprehensive database, up-to-date through last week, tracks citations for everything from illegal housing units to “observed outdoor junk storage” to gasp “vegetation over the sidewalk.” Each violation also links to a separate page where you can track the progress on a complaint (if, say, you’re the one who filed it and you want to watch the city follow through).

City payments to vendors in Washington, D.C.In a city with a venerable tradition of government contracts given to political pals, this data set makes transparent exactly which vendors are getting how much money for what, on a quarterly basis, which helps track government compliance with District procurement and local business development laws.

Electricity consumption by zip code in New York City – This data, from consumption in 2010, also breaks down by building type and utility provider. The number is a good stand-in for examining energy efficiency, or checking out the likely utility costs in your next apartment.

The evidence that cities are making such diverse and niche data sets freely available online reflects a serious commitment to the democratization of data. No longer do citizens and researchers have to rely on personal connections or the slow (and potentially unreliable) process of filing Freedom of Information Act requests in order to get a view into their municipal government.

Of course, certain cities are pursuing this goal more aggressively than others. Detroit is certainly behind the curve in data publication, but this means that our local government has plenty of room for improvement to become more transparent, improving accountability and letting local community groups better see activity in their areas. In particular, publishing municipal data gives independent researchers the opportunity to perform analysis that city governments, increasingly constrained by limited resources, might not be able to afford to do themselves.

Have a happy holiday season; see you next year back at the D3 blog!

Don’t Hate the Cities, Hate the Rankings

By Louis Bach, Communications

City crime rankings imply distributions of crime like illustration C, with uniform crime rates within a city that change suddenly at a city border. Crime occurs more frequently in patterns like illustration D, with crime focused around a hot spot and diminishing with distance. Source: NIJ

In October, D3 responded to Forbes’ annual rankings of “America’s Most Dangerous Cities,” criticizing their methodology and reporting. Last week, The Atlantic Cities published its own response to city crime rankings. Theirs dealt not with Forbes, but with the annual report published by CQ Press:

What exactly is wrong with City Crime Rankings? “Where does one begin?” asks criminologist Richard Rosenfeld, a longtime critic of the publication. “The fundamental problem with the rankings is that they are supposed to inform individuals about their chances of becoming victims of crime, yet they tell you almost nothing about a person’s risk for crime. A person’s age, gender, their activities—all those help tell you a person’s risk for crime.” …

The rankings also fail to account for the different configurations of American cities, what criminologists call the denominator problem. For instance, St. Louis, which topped the list in 2010, has much of its crime concentrated in inner-city neighborhoods, as do cities like Indianapolis, Louisville, and Memphis. But these cities have either annexed or merged with many surrounding, safer communities and are physically several times larger than the city of St. Louis; as a result they have significantly diluted crime rates within their city borders. Camden, New Jersey, which took second place last year as well, fell to the 225th most dangerous in 2010 when metro areas were considered.


Congratulations, Grandpa Kurt

D3 is pleased to announce an exciting expansion of our extended family.

World, meet our new Junior Analyst, Claire Elizabeth Fulton.

Claire joined the team this morning shortly before 10:45 AM. She weighs 7 lbs 10 oz and is 20.5 inches long.

Population Centers Through the Decades

Detroit’s Population Center Has Shifted Northwest 1.5 Feet Per Day Since 1970

by Rob Linn, GIS SpecialistIn all of the coverage and analysis surrounding the release of the 2010 Census results, another significant landmark passed by seemingly unnoticed.  Between 2000 and 2010, the center of the metropolitan population moved 3,842 feet to the northwest, to the intersection of 10 Mile and Greenfield in Oak Park.  As of the 2010 Census day of April 1, the center of the Metro Detroit population fell outside of Detroit’s boundaries for the third decade in local history. This movement trend towards the northwest has persisted for decades, driven by continued population loss in Detroit and growth in outlying areas.


ANOTHER FINE MESS: Mass Confusion on Literacy Rates in Detroit

By Danny Devries, Data Analyst & Louis Bach, Communications

It seems that if you spend enough time in Detroit, someone will, sooner or later, tell you that half of the city’s population is illiterate. It happened to us most recently on the December 1st episode of the Craig Fahle show when a caller rang in and recited the figure. There’s no doubt that Detroit suffers from many social ills, but how did the claim of a one-in-two literacy rate become so commonplace? Curious about the origins of this oft-quoted statistic, we started digging. What we found was appalling.

On May 4, 2011, The Detroit Regional Workforce Fund (DRWF) published a report titled Addressing Detroit’s Basic Skills Crisis, which featured the statistic that 47% of Detroit’s adult population is functionally illiterate. Predictably, this touched off a media firestorm. Major outlets including CBS, Fox, the Huffington Post, and the Daily Mail promptly covered the release, along with other heavyweights like Matt Yglesias.


Tearing of the Urban Fabric

By Lisa Rayle, Transportation Consultant

Detroit’s downtown street grid in 1896. Block edges that have since been lost are highlighted in yellow.  Source: B. Ryan

As Detroiters visit a festive Campus Martius Park this holiday season, they might be inspired to imagine how downtown felt in the 1920s, when the buildings were new and the streets were bustling.  Many of downtown’s streets and historic sites do look much the same.  But visitors might not realize how many sites are missing—not just buildings abandoned or demolished, but city blocks that are altogether gone, vanished beneath a highway, office complex, or casino.  In fact, over the course of the 20th century, the downtown area lost over one third of its original block frontage—block frontage which has not been replaced.

In looking for some data on streets, I found myself revisiting a study by Brent Ryan, now a professor of urban design at MIT. While the study is a few years old, it is still as relevant as ever, especially as Detroit ponders how it can revitalize its downtown.


Plane, Train, or Automobile (or Bus)

By Louis Bach, Communications

Amtrak has announced that they are upgrading the infrastructure on their Detroit-Chicago line:

A $196 million grant will reduce train travel time by 30 minutes between Detroit and Chicago. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood awarded the grant to the Michigan Department of Transportation for track and signal improvements between Detroit and Kalamazoo. The improvements will allow for speeds up to 110 mph on 77 percent of Amtrak’s Wolverine and Blue Water services between Detroit and Chicago, resulting in a 30 minute reduction in travel time between those destinations.

If someone were planning to travel between Motown and the Windy City for the holidays, how would faster trains alter their decision with regards to transport mode?