Bumping v. Humping

“Well, the reason we can’t build in speed bumps is because speeding cars might hit them, go airborne, and kill children,” said the traffic engineer on the other end of the phone.  I stared at my phone, in absolute disbelief.

I was calling on behalf of my neighborhood after a high speed car chase erupted this past May, with some accompanying gunfire, and it all happened right down Seminole Avenue, from Charlevoix in the north to Lafayette in the south.  And so we in the neighborhood got all riled up, as we’re prone to, and we began looking at ways to reduce vehicular speeds in Indian Village.

“You can’t be serious, right?” I asked, still in shock that was the official reason that someone with a college degree was giving me this as an actual reason for why we would be precluded from actually installing speed bumps.

“Well, it’s also against the City Code as well, so they’re not legal,” the reply came.  Dejected, I thought it wasn’t worth looking into further, and so I just let it go.  Until it actually occurred to me to check the City Code to see the section that banned them.  And lo and behold, there was nothing.  Calling a friend in the City’s Law Department, I was getting excited.  We may actually be able to do something about it and maybe get the speed bumps installed!

In asking that contact, they weren’t able to find anything that banned them.  And neither were folks from the Legislative Policy Division.  And as I keep drilling into it,  I continue to be unable to anything against them for the state of Michigan, either.  The Michigan Uniform Traffic Code is silent on the issue.


These do not kill people.  Not having them kills people.

We live in a city that doesn’t have enough police officers.  It’s simply not feasible to expect the DPD to singlehandedly be able to get everyone to stop speeding.  It’s just not realistic, particularly in our neighborhoods and on residential streets.  On Seminole in Detroit, we have no red lights.  There’s usually very little cars parked on the street, and we have a private plowing service, so in the winter, our street gets cleared before many of the other streets nearby.

Because it runs parallel to Van Dyke Avenue, a very busy, very narrow commercial corridor that has lots of cars parked on it at any given time, we get a ton of traffic that not just cuts through our neighborhood, but does so at speeds that should terrify anyone, particularly parents.  When we polled Indian Village about the possibility of putting in speed tables or humps, it was precisely the parents of young children that were most in favor of them.

Here’s my theory: we in Michigan have a cultural bias against anything that slows down cars, and various Departments of Public Works and county road commissions got so sick of fielding questions about this, they just said “They’re illegal,” and we, the pleasant, non-confrontational Midwesterners that we are, left it at that.  Except, and here’s the thing: I can’t find anything either in the City Code or state legislation that says they’re illegal.

If City officials want to raise legitimate questions about speed humps, which is the variety we should be looking at installing, as they’re less damaging to cars, here’s the questions we should be asking:

  1.    How does the installation of speed humps affect snow removal?
  2.  How does the installation of speed humps affect the deployment of first responders?

Those are the legitimate concerns.  Not the other drivel that’s been quoted back to Detroiters for decades when we ask for this, and we routinely get shut down.

Case in point: Chicago. They seem to have figured out how to install speed bumps without interfering with either of the above.  Because the last time that I was driving through residential and side streets in Chicago, what struck me was how I couldn’t really get above 25 miles an hour, due to their speed humps.  I was also unable to find any smoldering, demolished cars in the sides of buildings, and I couldn’t find any dead pedestrians littering the thoroughfares of the Windy City.

This tired, old excuse that emanates from the Traffic Engineering Division of the Detroit Department of Public Works is no longer sufficient.  If there actually is a tendency for either speed bumps or speed humps to send dozens of cars airborne, demolishing houses and crushing people willy nilly, show me.  Show Detroiters where speed humps are killing people, show us where it’s written that they’re illegal.

The outcome will be that they can’t.  And so they’re going to have to deliver a method to residents that slows down traffic on our residential streets.  And that method is going to be speed humps.


It’s Not a Drainage Charge. It’s a Paved Property Tax.

Lots of things in Detroit are changing.  Case in point: the drainage charges that residents are going to start seeing this coming fall from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD).  The reasoning for it goes something like this: residents have things like roofs and driveways that don’t absorb stormwater that runs off into DWSD infrastructure, and they clean it up, and discharge it back into I’m assuming the Detroit River or Lake Huron.  Someone needs to pay for it, and since the 1970s, DWSD has had the legal authority to charge for this, but just opted not to, because, well, life is hard.

So now that we have a more functional water department, we have to cover more of our operating costs, we’ll begin seeing drainage fees on our bills.  And there’s a few problems with how it’s being rolled out.  The first is what DWSD thinks I’m using.  The picture below is from DWSD’s parcel viewer, which is actually really neat.  You can go there and see how much of your lot DWSD thinks is impervious, meaning, stormwater won’t just go into either dirt or plants and percolate back through the aquifer.


This is my house.  In this, they count pretty much all of my roof (they missed some in the back, but made up for it by extending the front a bit) on both my house and my garage.  The problem with this is that any surface that’s pitched towards my back yard doesn’t drain into DWSD infrastructure.  The downspouts were disconnected from the below ground lines years ago, as I’ve seen throughout most of Detroit.  The backside of the garage roof, that drains entirely into the street.  The other side of the garage drains into the yard.  The backside of the roof on the house, also drains into the yard, and the front side of the house, only half drains onto the sidewalk that then washes down the sidewalk, and then into the berm.  So, actually very little of the impervious surface actually drains into DWSD infrastructure.  At best, probably only about 25% of it does.

But let’s leave that alone for a minute.  Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that all of it does, and we’ll pursue this to its bizarre, yet logical conclusion, and say all of my impervious surfaces are generating lots of stormwater runoff for DWSD, and that it’s going right into their infrastructure.  I took the picture below right in front of my house last week.


The storm drains don’t, well, drain.  And they haven’t for some decades.  I’ve logged every single faulty storm drain in Indian Village many, many times, both on paper and on the City’s app, Improve Detroit, and the process goes something like this: a crew comes out from DWSD in a Vactor truck (one of those giant sucker trucks), and a crew goes through the motions of performing maintenance, and it drains a bit better for a while.  But whatever the underlying issue is reasserts itself, and it begins backing up.  I know that the City also just bought a fleet of street sweepers, and that will also help with maintenance.  But the thing is, in this instance, is that I don’t think that this is a maintenance issue.  Below is another picture of the same drain from the 1970s, found in a desk drawer of my house with the previous owners pretending that they were at the Model Boat Basin on Belle Isle.


This would be quaint for the fact that it’s a City street, and not a park.

I don’t mind paying for what I use in terms of stormwater runoff, but the fact of the matter is this: until DWSD fixes both how they bill residents for what they’re using, and the infrastructure that they’re relying on, this isn’t a drainage charge, it’s a paved property tax.  Because I’m actually not paying for drainage, on the basis of a formula that DWSD came up with solely to cover their own financial needs, I’m paying per square foot of how much impervious surface regardless of if it drains into their drainage system.  It’s not a fee, it’s a tax.

I’ll close with this: if I have this wrong, please educate me.  I’m willing to post any follow up on this that illuminates the situation.  But between my own experiences and what I’m looking at on the parcel viewer, the situation isn’t right, and DWSD need to recalibrate their billing and fix their infrastructure.  Until then, I’m of the opinion that it’s a paved property tax.

Belle Isle: Do the Right Thing

When I first moved to Indian Village in the spring of 2015, one of the bonuses was that I was right by Belle Isle.  However, to my disappointment, I found that the southern third of the island was closed off due to the ‘Load in Period’ for the Belle Isle Grand Prix for months at a time.  The race organizers, affiliates of the Penske Organization, reserve the right to close off as much of the island as they need for seven weeks before the race (which takes place in early June), and four weeks after the race (the ‘Load Out Period’).

I was, to say the least, surprised.  The Penske Organizations would need a total of eleven weeks, nearly a quarter of the year, to set up and break down a racing event on Belle Isle?  There are three main elements that shock me about this.

The first is that the Penske Organizations knows racing.  They’re not new to it.  The Penske name is one of the most storied in racing.  They should be well acquainted with the the details and organization of how one goes about setting up a race track.  These folks, after all, have been around it for years, and, by all accounts, they seem to be good at it.

The second is that the Penske Organization knows logistics.  Case in point: Penske Logistics.  Taken directly from the front page of their website: ‘Whatever your business, whatever you’re building, packing and sending – Penske has you covered with state-of-the-art transportation and distribution solutions.’  If they can provide that for their clients, why not the same level of service to Detroiters so we can can bet back at our park?

And here’s the third: well before my time, the Grand Prix took place downtown.  While I have no relevant memory of this, I can’t imagine that the race organizers at the time were given nearly three months to set it up and break it down.

So, in a nutshell, you have an organization that knows racing, owns a logistics business and we have historical precedent that the race can be set up and taken down in a time frame that is substantially shorter than eleven weeks.

The reason that I bring this up is that the Belle Isle Grand Prix organizers, the Penske folks, are going to be entering contract renewals with the Department of Natural Resources.  The piece of the contract that needs changing is the load in period and the load out period.  We can talk about how we need an environmental impact study, or how we should stop building more and more race infrastructure on the island, but this piece, this is a no brainer.

So, to the Belle Isle Park Advisory Commission, Ron Olson at the DNR, Bud Denker at the Penske Organization, do the right thing: compress the load in and load out periods to one week from eleven.  We know you can do it because you’re good at racing, you guys own a logistics business and it’s been done before.

If you’d like to come to the meeting to voice your support for this position, join us on September 20th at 6:00 p.m. at the Nature Center on Belle Isle (176 Lakeside Drive, Detroit MI 48207), for a meeting wherein lease renewal discussions are going to be held.  The more folks that we mobilize to support this position, the more likely it is that we’re going to see real, positive change.

And if you’d like to see a copy of the lease from 2006 and its extension, email me at mac.farr@gmail.com, and I’ll get a copy over to you.