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On Dorothy, Oz, and Michigan’s Transportation Struggles

What would Dorothy have done if there had been no Yellow Brick Road to follow to get her and her buddies to Oz? I suspect there wouldn’t have been much of a Munchkin-land or Emerald City, either one…and therefore no book.

Thankfully there was, of course, and that bright ribbon of transportation infrastructure is the perfect plot device for guiding Dorothy’s troupe all the way to the Wizard, with only a few minor detours to fight off wicked witches, evil monkeys and such.

Now here’s a little-known bit of trivia: author L. Frank Baum summered here on Lake Michigan during his most prolific writing years. Some have even speculated that he got his inspiration from a road paved with bricks near the city of Holland.

Emerald_City_3

One can only hope that whatever ‘Low-Bid’ planning outfit that the Emerald City hired for this sprawling master plan design has long since closed its doors

Did you also know in the original book, the Yellow Brick Road isn’t even complete in some places? In other spots, it’s broken up and ruined by erosion. And even in the 1939 movie, poor or missing signage nearly gets Dorothy lost forever.

Which all makes me think maybe those literary legends are true…because this is starting to sound a lot like the Michigan roads we all know.

So imagine if Baum were writing his book here in Michigan today. A whole crowd of irate Munchkins is jumping around chanting in their little sing-song voices: “follow the Springport Road…” Except they’d never have made it through Jackson County because that section of Springport Road has been closed indefinitely due to massive structural failure.

Or maybe Dorothy could’ve followed the yellow dividing line through Grand Rapids with that group of lawmakers on the West Michigan Street Summit tour last April. Nope. Toto would’ve dropped out of sight forever at the first set of potholes.

I think you get the picture.

We can build wonderful cities and villages; create unique places that people want to be. But we also need to give people a way to get there, and ways to get around safely and efficiently once they do.

Thriving metropolitan regions are doing just that through multi-modal transportation systems that work for all users, from pedestrians and bicyclists to public transit riders and motorists.

No doubt about it, we need to get off our legislative backsides and come up with a funding plan to fix our roads. But bad as they are, it isn’t just about repairing our deteriorated highways and roads: it’s also about non-motorized trail networks, rural and urban mass transit systems, Complete Streets makeovers, and adequate infrastructure to support the new generation of electric and hybrid cars.

Studies have shown that every $1 invested in public transit returns about $6 in local economic activity. Each year, Metro Detroit’s peak-time commuters spend an average of 52 hours sitting in traffic congestion, wasting 34 gallons of gas per person.

A major new report from the Frontier Group and the U.S. PIRG Education Fund shows young people ages 16-34 drove 23 percent fewer miles in 2009 than they did in 2001. During the same time period, they took 24 percent more bike trips, walked to their destination 16 percent more often, and rode a whopping 40 percent more passenger miles on mass transit.

Fixing our roads and highways will save lives, create jobs and cut vehicle repair costs for Michigan motorists. Fixing our outdated ideas about transportation will save our future.

And that’s a Yellow Brick Road that we all need to follow if we really want to reach the Michigan of our dreams. But it all has to start right here. Like Dorothy said, there’s no place like home.

*Reprinted from the September/October 2013 issue of The Review magazine

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