The State of the Alleys: Part I

Much of Detroit has alleys.  Most of them are in a state of total disrepair.  With the City attracting more residents and investment, it’s going to become necessary for the City government to come up with a coherent and comprehensive strategy for alleys.

Alleys were originally laid out as part of the fabric of the City for a few reasons.  The first was to provide access to detached garages in the form of a secondary right of way.  Not only do/did they provide resident access, but garbage was picked up in them as well through the early 1990s, when the City switched over to curbside. The second reason was to provide space in which to run through various utility assets, such as sewer lines, water lines, gas lines, and above ground utilities, such as power, telephone and now internet and cable.

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The commercial alley running south of Mack, between Baldwin and Seyburn.  Not pretty, but it gets the job done.  

As of now, the City of Detroit does not have a strategy for how they plan to address the network of alleys that they have largely abandoned, from utilities maintenance to surfacing issues.  There appears to be vague glimmers of recognition in some development circles that we’re going to have to come up with a solution as to how to ‘fix’ them, what exactly that ‘fix’ entails and how we can go about organizing and financing that.  And I will specifically give props to Chelsea Neblett in the Department of Neighborhoods for beginning to lay the groundwork on this very important topic.  Not only is she a hard worker, but she’s an absolute sweetheart, and she’ll get her hands dirty  clearing out alleys with you, as demonstrated by her coordination of an alley cleanup this past Saturday.

With more residents coming back into neighborhoods outside of the downtown core, theres a few phenomena that will actually make alleys important again:

  1. We’ve gotten used to abundant and free street parking in residential neighborhoods.  With new residents, increased investment and just generally more people and traffic, there will be a need for homeowners to rebuild their garages in which to park their cars.  While families may be willing to make that investment, without a clear right of way with which to access that garage, they would not actually go so far as to rebuild garages that have since fallen either into disrepair or been demolished entirely.  This is an issue of access.
  2. The physical conditions in most of the alleys are dilapidated.  From plant overgrowth to illegal dumping, from broken pavement to other issues, they’re both not passable, unsightly and a blight.  This is an issue of appearance.
  3. The overall state of the infrastructure is deplorable.  From the state of the surface pavement to utility lines being overgrown with tree branches to the myriad of issues with Detroit Water and Sewerage Department sinkholes and storm drains not  being repaired, despite resident complaints, in some cases, for years, these alleys are crying out for massive investments.  This is an issue of accountability.

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The residential alley going south, between Baldwin and Seyburn, south of Mack.  Neither pretty nor functional.  

Thus far, in Detroit, work on alleys has been largely framed in terms of commercial alleys either downtown or in midtown.  The crux of this series will be on the alleys that everyday people, Detroiters, use and rely on in the neighborhoods outside of downtown and midtown.  In the next two posts, I’m going to write about what I think we can do about them, and how we can begin making that happen.  This project will take years, but it is doable, and it should be residentially driven and focussed.

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Fixing the Neighborhoods: Part II

In the preceding article, I talked about how we can go about lining up different toolkits to upgrade the look and feel of the neighborhoods.  The three categories are: 1) making resources available to residents to try to keep folks in place, 2) the City upgrading infrastructure and 3) code enforcement.  Much of what I’m going to talk about here is the mechanics of how to do this, the whys behind it and how I’m planning on getting the City and various neighborhood groupings to take note to try and actually make this happen.

In the Villages CDC Neighborhood Plan, I’m not proposing anything new.  All of the activities are items are already up, running, funded, staffed and programmed.  It’s merely a question of trying to link up existing programs, compress the delivery schedule, and target neighborhoods that have enough of an existing level of density and stability upon which to grow.  For example, the impact of deploying City infrastructure resources in many areas without any sort of coordination between the various departments is akin to boiling the ocean.  Say you had Buildings, Water, Housing, and Public Works all focus on nodes of development in the City.  The overall impact that having each of these departments focus on targets rather than making each of their own capital investment plans independently of one another would be significant.  In this instance, the whole would be substantially greater than the sum of its parts.

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The Department of Public Works loves trees.

There’s real benefits to that.  You’d have situations where DPW could truly coordinate with DWSD and DTE so as to ensure that all of their scheduled repairs are completed before DPW goes into a neighborhood and resurfaces roads or pours new sidewalks.  By having multiple City infrastructure investments take place simultaneously, the overall magnitude of the impact is greater than if they were just making them individually.  BSEED could focus on eliminating blight simultaneously, HRD could corral development into the zone, and DWSD could focus on repairing their infrastructure.  

And in areas where you have the City upgrading services and infrastructure, you have a greater likelihood that residents and business owners would comply at a greater rate with code enforcement.  By changing the look and feel of neighborhoods, not only does the City reclaim the moral high ground, you’re winning hearts and minds in the process.

One element of how I imagine this would be staged is by gradually beginning in those neighborhoods that already have a level of density and stability.  Initially, the focal point could be those neighborhoods and then working outwards.  For example, many of the practices that I tested out I developed in Indian Village with an eye towards gradually expanding them towards the West Village, Islandview, the East Village, and the North Village.

And not all neighborhoods are going to need the same things.  For example, in the East and North Village, there’s a real need for boarding up vacant buildings and demolishing fire damaged properties, along with cleaning up illegal dumping.  You’re not going to need that in either Indian or the West Villages.  My goal is to get all of the neighborhoods to the same level eventually, but with a recognition that they’re all going to need different tactics and interventions.  In this plan, not all neighborhoods are going to get the same initiatives, but they’re all going to get something.

So how are we going to do this?  At this point, one of the biggest challenges we face is getting cooperation from the City.  For the most part, I believe that City workers and leaders are diligent people who have nothing but the best intentions.  They are largely dealing with problems the scope and scale of which most members of the public have no idea, and they’re doing so on budgets that are minuscule relative to the challenges they address.  However, at this point, the perception in the City is that it’s just Mac Farr that’s asking for a lot of this stuff.  So in order to continue with making progress on multiple fronts, I’m going to need residents, neighborhood association and block club leaders, developers and business owners to stand with me in order to get these elements nailed down.

Because, at the end of the day, if they think it’s just me, it’s not going to happen.  If leaders in the City realize that we have nearly 20,000 residents crying out for City services with a healthy dose of equity, sustainability and inclusion, we have a far greater chance of seeing this unfold in a rapid fashion.  If you’re interested in attending a meeting for Villages leadership on this topic in terms of how we can make this happen, please join me this coming May 30th at 7900 Mack Avenue at 6:30 p.m.  This is doable.  Help us make it happen.

Fixing the Neighborhoods: Part I

‘You’re not from here, you don’t know what it’s like dealing with the City, and, besides, they’re not taking care of their stuff,’ an angry neighbor was busy informing me after they learned that we were asking for residential blight enforcement in Indian Village.  After moving to the neighborhood, I joined the Indian Village Association board, and began trying to make myself useful by asking for building code inspections.  This neighbor, however, was having none of it.

Indian Village, like many neighborhoods in Detroit, needs a lot of work.  While it’s charming and quaint and has lots right with it, including, again, like many neighborhoods in Detroit, amazing residents, the physical conditions need work.  Naturally, when I arrived, I decided that we needed to work on blight, and the response of that one neighbor wasn’t uncommon.  While I didn’t agree with the reasoning, that because the City wasn’t taking care of their infrastructure, residents should get a pass on the condition of their properties, their was a valid point in there.  So instead of us just doing what we wanted to do, we listened, and came up with other infrastructure projects that both residents and the City could work on, in some cases together.

So, a colleague and neighbor of mine, Elizabeth Findeis, began a program of clearing out every single alley with the help of the Department of Public Works (DPW) and the Greater Detroit Resources Recovery Authority, who was kind enough to provide lots of free dumpsters.  We engaged DTE to come back and clear out tree branches from the power lines.  We worked with DPW to repair sidewalks, which is actually happening now, at no cost to homeowners, and they were a joy to work with.  Other elements, like getting storm drains and fire hydrants fixed with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) and residential code enforcement with Buildings, Safety Engineering and Environmental Department have been a bit bumpier, but I’m confident that we’ll get them done eventually.  And throughout, the Forestry Division of the General Services Department (GSD) has been fantastic to work with in removing dead trees.  And it’s not just even about tree removal, we’re working with GSD to add trees as well.

So, after we addressed some of the infrastructure issues, we returned to our original goal: blight.  We decided to work on the most severe cases of blight, and in concert with the Detroit Land Bank Authority (DLBA), managed to have them seize a house that was literally falling down.  It wasn’t occupied, and it had successfully evaded code enforcement for years.  We had finally reached the right mix.  Lots of City services with using City agencies to target the most severe cases of blight that weren’t safe and dragging down property  values.

It was at this point that I began trying to scale some of what it is that we were doing in Indian Village and apply it to all of the Villages.  There were going to be other needs, such as removal of illegal dumping, boarding up of vacant properties that are open to trespass and demolition of fire damaged properties.  And I began testing that out in the North Village (that area along Van Dyke between Kercheval and Mack, organized by a group of residents who wanted a more distinct neighborhood identity than just being lumped in with Islandview).  The DLBA was amazing at demolitions.  DPW was great at removal of illegal dumping.  And while we haven’t seen any of the board ups taking place yet, I’m confident that we’ll see some soon from GSD.

Now, we had something that was coming together.  It was a coherent, workable plan that produced an immediate and tangible impact by compressing the delivery schedule and geographic footprint of how City services would be directed.  Start in those areas where the City is already doing a lot of planning, where investment is present, and watch them grow.  And when I began to talk about this to folks in the East Village and Islandview, there was, however, reticence.  The thinking was that code enforcement, the part that would complement the investments in City infrastructure, would be used as a pretext to drive folks out.

Again, while I didn’t agree with the sentiment, I understood it.  So, we began working with the Housing Revitalization Department (HRD), specifically Jason Friedman and Beth Kmetz to layer in a more robust resources page to the program.  Meaning, we want to make those resources available to all Detroiters.  Tax foreclosure prevention, homeownership programs, zero interest loans, all of these were vital to keeping residents in place and helping to get them the resources necessary to cope with some of the changes that improvement in the neighborhoods would bring.  And even in reviewing some of the items on the list, I suggested to Jason that they ought to include assistance for utilities (given everything we’ve hear about challenges with water) and lead abatement programs (again, given everything we’ve heard about that).

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So, we had a program: City services, complemented by making more resources available, rounded out with code enforcement on severe blight, that would gradually escalate.  And even then, I began road showing this to various community folks who were extremely helpful in making suggestions.  Edythe Ford from MACC Development, Jeanine Hatcher and Jennine Spencer from Genesis Hope, Barry Randolph and Wally Gilbert from Church of the Messiah and Sandra Stahl, a Pingree Park resident and former Villager all gave amazing insights as to how we could do a better job of packaging this and conveying it to residents.

If you’re interested in reading the whole plan, click to read it.  It’s mostly graphic.  A lot of work went into it from a number of different people.  My hope for it is that neighborhoods and developers can come together, and, in concert with the City and its agencies, take this as a template for how we can strengthen the communities to link up the places and the people in our City.  The most encouraging sign to date is that there are very capable individuals all throughout the Villages that are responding very positively to this vision of rebuilding.  Particularly in the West Village and in Islandview, there’s a lot of momentum, and we will be looking forward to seeing how this program rolls forward in 2018.  If you want to talk about it, drop me a line, and I’d be glad to chat or make a presentation to your neighborhood group or association.

Fixing Blight

‘We can’t do that for your neighborhood, because then every neighborhood would want it,’ a flustered City official told me.

‘Wait, you can’t come out and write tickets to negligent building owners every month so they finally fix up their neighborhoods?’  I asked.

‘Right.  If everyone asked for it, then we wouldn’t be able to do anything,’ said flustered City worker informed me.

This is one of the most basic functions of a City.  Enforcing the building code is a pretty straightforward undertaking, and it’s central to how Detroit should ultimately rebuild itself.   And while I don’t dispute that the Buildings, Safety Engineering and Environmental Department (BSEED) is understaffed, there’s relatively straightforward ways that BSEED can make a bigger impact with the staff they have on hand.

  1. ‘Clerical is backed up.’  This is something that we hear a lot when I ask about how it’s coming with inspections in Indian Village.  What it means is that inspectors are still writing stuff up on paper in the field, and then handing it off to clerical staff who then enter it into computers.  Inspections should be done on tablets with a wireless connection in the field, thus eliminating the need for clerical workers (who could then possibly be retrained to be something else, say inspectors perhaps?), would make a lot of sense.
  2. ‘If everyone in the City asked for it, we wouldn’t be able to give them inspections.’  This is the refrain I’m the most tired of hearing.  The fact of the matter is that not every neighborhood in the City is asking for it.  Another fact of the matter is that the City, bless their hearts, do things in a sectional way sometimes.  Cases in point: Hardest Hit Funds, what the City uses for demolitions, are not applied citywide.  The targeted areas for the addition of City funded multi-unit housing developments is not being done citywide.  The nuisance abatement program from the Detroit Land Bank Authority is not being done citywide.  There are many programs the City starts that don’t apply everywhere.  Residential code enforcement can be one of them.
  3. ‘Well, we can’t do blight inspections on detached, single family homes, because folks can’t afford to make repairs.’  Not in Indian Village.  They sure as hell can.  And likely in the West Village as well.  And the great thing about starting building code inspections in areas that are already stable and doing better economically than the city as a whole, when you start in areas like Indian Village and the West Village, word spreads, and folks around them, such as in Islandview, the East Village and Pingree Park will probably begin correcting violations before inspectors even show up.  Word spreads fast.

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Detroiters shouldn’t have to look at cars parked on yards and broken windows.

At the end of the day, this actually isn’t even about enforcing on every single building code violation.  In each neighborhood, you select one major violation per block, and then you cite the homeowner on it.  Pick the severe stuff, nothing trifling like flaking paint.  I’m talking about collapsing porches, holes in roofs, broken windows, and the like.  Once you target one case, and the City demonstrates that they’re serious about improving the quality of the building stock, homeowners will comply.  You target a few of the most severe cases that everyone can agree on, and the vast majority of people will begin to comply without getting a correction notice.

In all of this, the criticism of this policy that rings the loudest is how you actually try to preserve residents in place.  The application of the building code should not be used as a pretext for displacement.  While cities are never static, there’s always people moving in and out, as is the hallmark of any healthy urban setting, water shutoffs and tax foreclosure have already decimated predominantly working class black communities.  The City should proceed with the recognition that while the application of the building code itself should not further displace residents.  I want to take a minute to applaud the Housing Revitalization Department for putting together lists of resources in the form of what homeowners can obtain as it relates to foreclosure prevention, lead abatement, grants, low interest loans, and assistance for seniors, veterans and families.

The path forward is clear.  The City does indeed have the ability to embrace residential code enforcement on detached, single family homes in the neighborhoods.  The City has even done some of the ground work on how to make sure that those resources are available to homeowners who may face challenges to staying in place.  And there are tactics the City can embrace to punch well above their weight with respect to the resources they have on hand.  Now, as with anything, it’s just a question of doing it.

Rolling Slow on Bike Lanes

In a recent meeting with a City staffer about planning activities on the east side, I was informed that there were going to be more bike lanes on Kercheval Avenue.

“Can we talk about that some?  Because the way bike lanes are set up now, we have some issues,” I interjected, as this staffer tried to move along to the next topic.

“Well, maybe we can discuss it offline, because we have a lot to cover…” this well-intentioned and clearly overburdened planner started, before I launched in on my spiel.

“The City has serious problems with the way bike lanes are set up currently, and I’m afraid that someone’s going to get killed if you expand that network without addressing those issues.”  The conversation around the table stopped.  Well.  That got their attention.  Classic Mac.  Start ‘subtle’ then proceed onto dead cyclists.  Bam.  I then proceeded to outline my concerns:

1. Project completion.  For any of you that spend any time on the east side, I submit to you as Exhibit A the current configuration of East Jefferson Avenue.  Last fall, the City went ahead and began grinding off the street striping and began reconfiguring it.  The bike lanes were against the curb, the parking spaces were next to that, and then the traffic lanes were next to that (moving from the curb to the center of the street).  The problem was, they didn’t actually finish it.  They didn’t bolt in the bollards that would have formed protective bike lanes, like this picture.

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What’s more, the City began restriping the road when it was getting cool out in November, which means that the paint didn’t cure properly, and it’s now wearing off.  All in all, the East Jefferson Avenue project has simultaneously ended up reducing street parking, while somehow managing to make it less safe for cyclists.  It is quite literally the worst of both worlds.

2.  From all accounts, it appears that there’s no real enforcement underway for the Municipal Parking Department to begin ticketing and towing cars that are parking improperly (read: parking in the bike lanes themselves).  In order for cyclists to make these lanes successful, they have to be free of parked cars.

3.  In asking the local precinct commander from the Detroit Police Department on the east side if there was any directive to have any patrols to enforce traffic regulations as it relates to the bike lanes, I was informed that there was not.  It’s needed, as there’s a fair amount of traffic in both the bike lanes and the parking spaces on East Jefferson.

4.   Ahab had his white whale.  I have storm drains.  The storm drains along East Jefferson, in many locations, don’t work.  Which means, that every time it rains, water pools along the side of the road.  Which is where the bike lanes are.  As with parked cars, ponds in the middle of bike lanes make it less likely that they’ll actually work.

5.  Bike lanes need a bureaucratic home.  Meaning, from what I can tell, bike lanes were pushed for by one department, and the back end build out, implementation and execution on them were either missing entirely (as in the preceding four items), or the department where it should be housed, the Department of Public Works, wasn’t adequately consulted.  Word on the street has it that the City is going to be hiring a complete streets staffer, hopefully that point person that will begin to help knit all of these items together, but in the meantime, we need to push the City to make changes to the way that bike lanes in general, with an emphasis on East Jefferson Avenue in particular, are built out and supported.

I say all of this because I think bike lanes are great.  I want to see them succeed.  And I want to see more of them, but I want to see them done right.  And right now, expanding that network before we adequately address the underlying issues that are preventing them from being as successful as they could be is a bad idea.

I asked some other folks to help me out on this.  Todd Scott of the Detroit Greenways Coalition, and Wally Gilbert from Church of the Messiah agreed to help.  For those of you that are enjoy biking in Detroit and want to see bike lanes built better, drop me a line.  I’d welcome both your feedback, and support.  I hope that we can get the City to commit to making needed improvements over the next few weeks in order to making bike lanes better, not just on East Jefferson, but across Detroit.  Cyclists of Detroit, unite!

Environmental Injustice Stinks

This past July, an infrastructure conglomerate acquired Detroit Renewable Energy (DRE).  This is the entity that owns the incinerator.  Terms of the deal were not disclosed, and Atlas Holdings, LLC, a private equity firm based in Greenwich, Connecticut sold DRE to Basalt Infrastructure Partners, a multinational, privately held company that specializes in acquiring and running various forms of infrastructure assets across the globe.

For years, the incinerator has been a boondoggle.  In the early and mid 1980s, the country went through a bit of an municipal incinerator craze.  A total of four were built in Michigan: one in Jackson, one in Grand Rapids, one in Litchfield and one in Detroit.  The concern at the time was that landfills were rapidly reaching their capacity, and that we needed to do something about managing solid municipal waste.  This was during a time before the concept of residential recycling programs had really caught on, and right after various energy crises of the 1970s had driven up the costs of industrial production and jacked up the price of coal and oil.

The combination of these factors all made for a compelling case for the construction of a municipal incinerator, wherein the City of Detroit would issue debt, build and operate it and then instead of paying to dispose of garbage in landfills, they would burn it, and create both steam and electricity that could be sold.  The idea was that instead of having to pay to get rid of garbage, they could turn that garbage into a revenue stream and serve as a regional disposal syst.  The site was selected because of the confluence of interstates 75 and 94 making transport easy, and it was already an industrial park.

Instead, by the time the incinerator came online in  late 1980s, the conditions that had lead to it being built had all receded in importance.  The state of Michigan made it easier to create more landfills, energy prices had crashed and residential recycling programs were beginning to gain traction.  Even at the time of its construction, the incinerator was granted waivers by the Michigan Environmental Protection Agency at the time that allowed it to come into operation without scrubbers that cleansed the emissions of the most harmful contaminants, a state that continued for decades.

The City sold the incinerator in 1991 to Philip Morris and Aviation Services for cash purposes, but retained the public debt. Several transitions of ownership occurred but in 2009, Covanta, the publicly traded incineration company, purchased the facility. Covanta failed to earn a return and in less that a year, sold the complex to Atlas Holdings LLC in the fall of 2010. Atlas agreed to take it over, and be paid for the disposal of solid municipal waste. Other municipalities dispose of their waste here, and to this day, much of the waste that’s burned here comes from outside of Detroit.

Beginning in 2015, the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center began scrutinizing the operations at the incinerator with more rigor, and found that very serious violations were the norm at the site.

The incinerator has various revenue streams which include: 1) ‘tipping fees,’ which consist of what municipalities pay to dispose of garbage there, 2) tax credits that are granted because this is considered a ‘renewable’ power source, which is a highly dubious point, 3) electricity is generated onsite and sold to DTE and 4) steam which is produced through the combustion of garbage is sold to the steam trunk line distribution system that operates on a loop throughout Midtown and Downtown.

The rate of return to Detroiters has been abysmal.  Downwind of the incinerator is Michigan’s largest concentration of asthma cases.  The unregulated combustion of garbage cannot be a coincidence.  The overlay between the weather patterns and where folks are getting asthma on the east side of Detroit is simply to great for there not to be a connection.

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And for people who don’t live downwind of the incinerator, while you may not be subject to pulmonary or public health concerns, if you’re around Wayne State University or Midtown in general, and it’s summer, and you smell one of the most vile, rotten smells of your life, guess what?  That’s the stench of piled up refuse that’s baking in the sun.  It’s garbage that the incinerator just can’t manage to dispose of quickly enough, and the rancid smell permeates for nearly a mile, with the incinerator as the epicenter of the radius of the stench.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department also has an incinerator in which they burn waste (read: dried poop) though there’s plans on the books to construct a facility that will turn it into organic fertilizer as many other municipalities have.  Jackson and Litchfield shut down their incinerators years ago, and Kent County invested heavily in upgrading theirs so as to mitigate the environmental concerns.

So what’s to be done in in this case?  If there’s a problem, there has to be a solution, correct?  Usually.  I believe that the City government has the ability to make it illegal to burn garbage within the City limits.  In fact, they already have.  For you and me, and for any other business or household, it is indeed illegal to burn solid waste.  But not in this case.  The incinerator has an approval from the City.

And that means that you can take that approval away.  If the City saw fit to break contracts with bondholders, retirees and other creditors, we can surely break a contract, that contract being the approval itself, with the incinerator operators.  They could instead burn natural gas, which probably wouldn’t make the far left enviros very happy, but it would still be a substantial improvement over burning garbage in the midst of a relatively unhealthy, relatively poor American city on the cusp of a great comeback.

And the great thing about burning natural gas onsite is that for long periods of time in the past, the incinerator actually ran on it already, so the costs of retooling and reengineering the facility wouldn’t be that great.  Though it would cut greatly into the operating profits, the way that the setup is currently constituted.

Don’t burn our garage in Detroit.  Don’t burn garbage from other places in Detroit.  Embrace a more robust residential and commercial recycling program to get this stuff out of our waste stream.  While the up front costs would be substantial, what we have now is just about the most expensive setup possible.  I don’t know how you go about putting a dollar amount on having the highest concentration of asthma in the state.  I don’t know how you price the indignity of experiencing the scent of decay while  driving down beautiful sections of Woodward near the Detroit Public Library, the Institute of Arts, or along adjoining neighborhoods, where folks are just trying to get by.

I don’t think you can put a dollar amount on either of those things.  But I know that it’s expensive.

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.

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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.