Grant funds better access, amenities

[The following is a South Oakland Eccentric editorial by Jeremy Moss]

Two and a half years ago, a friend of mine who lived in Lansing took two job interviews: one in Southfield and one in Washington, DC. Logistically speaking, moving to Southfield was the convenient option. She instead took the out-of-state job and moved to Washington, DC because – among the many reasons that weighed in DC’s favor – she didn’t have to take a car with her.

According to Walkscore - an online catalogue of walkable cities, large and small – Washington, DC is the seventh most walkable city in the country.

Her move isn't an isolated case. After I graduated from MSU in 2008, scores of my classmates and many of my friends darted toward Chicago (Walkscore’s fourth most walkable city) without their vehicles. I suspect many of the South Oakland Eccentric’s readers have a son, daughter or grandchild who has fled Michigan, carless.

Walkscore simply ranks Southfield as “car-dependent.”

That’s why it’s significant that Southfield was recently able to utilize a federal Transportation Alternative Program (TAP) Grant while reconstructing Evergreen Road. We will soon be creating a narrower, calmer and more pedestrian-friendly Evergreen adjacent to the Southfield City Centre, our business district that has potential to become a walkable corridor.

The TAP Grant will fund pedestrian-friendly amenities including new benches, improved lighting and expanded sidewalks to compliment the new road construction and encourage dense development and economic growth.

Now, of course, I don’t think our community’s economic rebound will be credited toward expanded sidewalks. But when most young professionals seek to live in a community based on how easy it is to get around, even if they don’t have secure employment first, shouldn’t we be promoting pedestrian-friendly initiatives?

I think so, especially when significant federal money - $450,000 – has been awarded to our community to implement it.

Recently, however, one of my colleagues on the Southfield City Council lamented in the South Oakland Eccentric (“Give up grant,” Sep. 22) that because we didn’t have “parades” of walkers, bicyclists and wheelchairs using our sidewalks, it was “nonsense” to implement these pedestrian-friendly amenities. She even suggested throwing the whole grant away.

She misses the point (although, in a bit of irony, as City Council went on an on-site tour of the Evergreen construction project, a crowded group of cyclists and a few mothers with strollers traveled down the sidewalk that we are going to expand). The pedestrian-friendly amenities don’t seek to solve a problem of crowded sidewalks. Rather, we want to crowd the sidewalks with the vibrancy that more walkers, runners and cyclists will bring.

Evergreen Road will be Southfield’s largest public construction project in a long time and for a long time to come. This is a once-in-a-generation project and we can’t afford to not factor in the needs of this current generation of young professionals and their economic potential.

In full disclosure, I am a member of that generation of young professionals and am the youngest member of City Council by 30 years. But I don’t think my younger perspective is out of the mainstream (and healthy living benefits from walkable communities extend to all age groups). In order for our community – or any community - to be successful, we need to stop developing around the car and start developing around people.

My friends and your children aren’t going to return to Michigan until we do.

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Jeremy Moss is a member of the Southfield City Council