Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Vote today

Gentle readers, if there is an election where you live, please vote today. Locally I know we have the AAPS Millage. There are also elections in Saline, Chelsea, and Milan. These elections will have low turnout, so you vote is extra important. Please vote if you are able. There is also same day voter registration in the State now. So even if you are not yet registered to vote locally, you could be by the end of the day.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: November 4th 2019

Gentle readers, tonight is the first #a2council meeting of November. Here's the agenda.

The fun starts off with a moderate 16 item consent agenda. CA-1 is approval of street closings for Kindlefest, Dec. 6th. CA-2 brings a new property into the Greenbelt in partnership with the county and the township. CA-3 is the appropriation of money from the parkland preservation millage to purchase a wetland near Traver Creek.

There is one public hearing tonight. PH-1/B-1 would amend the zoning ordinance to allow for increased floor area ratio (FAR) and increased heights Commercial and Downtown zoned areas for new buildings that incorporate subsidized/affordable housing units. Given that the state greatly limits the ways municipalities can coerce the construction of affordable units, this change to the zoning code seems like a great idea. Thought given the current makeup of council, I would not be surprised if there is heated debate about this ordinance tonight.

This brings us to the final spicy meatball of the evening: DC-5 Resolution in Support of Creating a Plan to Achieve Ann Arbor Community-Wide Climate Neutrality by 2035. Given that this is just a resolution to create a future plan, it will probably not be too controversial. Still I would be surprised if members of council did not take this opportunity to make big statements about climate change.

Gentle readers, what agenda items are you most interested in? Make sure you tune in to the action tonight 7:00 on CTN and follow along with the #a2council hashtag on twitter.

Opinion: vote yes on the AAPS millage tomorrow

Gentle readers, tomorrow there is an election for those of you living in the AAPS district. You will be asked if the district should float a millage for a 30-year billion dollar bond. Here is more information about the specifics.

Here's my tl;dr: I am for the AAPS millage. Public schools are a public good, and it makes sense to do what we can to support the schools in our community.

In the last two decades, public schools in Michigan have gone from middle of the pack nationally to below 45th. At a state level, we have a broken system for funding public schools. This millage will not fix that. However, it will help to insulate AAPS against the budgetary reality at the state level (I think Michigan is the only state that has not increased school funding in the last 10 years). There are some folks saying we need to fix school funding at the state level rather than put this local bandaid on the budget. There is no way we will have a shot at fixing the school funding until the state legislature is not gerrymandered. So that means waiting until at least 2022 before we can even have a plan put forward at the state level. There is the possibility of a voter initiated petition drive, but I am unaware of any group working on this currently. A petition drive would require at least a year of work and likely millions of dollars. In short, I don't think it is reasonable to wait for school funding to be fixed at the state level before we try to make sure our local schools are OK.

The billion dollar price tag seems like a lot. AAPS has 32 buildings with an average age of 62 years. The millage comes out to about one million per building per year for the life of the millage. Without the millage, I am unsure how AAPS will pay for needed upgrades and it will certainly put the schools in a worse position.

Some people are upset that last year the school board dropped ~$800k to purchase a property next to a school where a daycare was going in. They see this as an example of how the board is out of control and making wastefull decisions. I think the board was largely responding to parent pressure. Also, $800k is only 0.08% of the millage amount. One example of a small, potentially wasteful purchase is not a great reason to not support the School District. Rather, it's a reason to work harder to ensure the district makes responsible choices in the future.

The anti-millage side has a lot of the usual anti-tax suspects. Now they don't say that they are anti-tax, instead they nitpick about this millage. I think this is disingenuous. I am seeing shades of the opposition to the 2009 Washtenaw County Schools Millage here. Note: the anti-millage group has not submitted a donor list at this point so I can't say which monied interests are opposing the millage this time. In 2009, it was the county's largest landlord.

There are also some AAPS teachers opposing the millage. The AAPS Teachers Union is officially neutral on the millage. AAPS administration has been pretty shitty to the teachers, who made pay sacrifices in the recession to help balance the budget. These have not been reciprocated by the administration. Teachers are rightfully pissed. The thought is that AAPS Administration should have done more to get the teachers on board and engage them with the millage. And if it's turned down by the voters the thought is that the board and administration will need to get teachers on board for a future millage. Thus the teachers will have increased leverage in upcoming contract negotiations. From my point of view, I am unsure how putting the district on a worse financial footing will help teachers.

So, I am for the millage. The Huron Valley Labor Federation/AFL-CIO support it. AAPS will need to modernize its facilities in the coming decades. If this millage is not passed, it will mean cuts to other places and painful tradeoffs to make the needed improvements. You can look at all the immediately needed repairs as well as future building needs here.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

ypsiGLOW is Tomorrow

ypsiGLOW, the autumnal luminary event from WonderFool Productions, is this Friday in downtown Ypsilanti. This event is a wonderful companion piece to FoolMoon. The party is from 7:00-9:30 pm on Washington Street. There will be music, dancing, and, ofcourse, luminaries. This event is super fun, and if you haven't been to Ypsi in a minute, why not stop by and check things out. You can pop on in on the AAATA's 3, 4, 5, or 6.

The festivities kick off with preGLOW. From 4-6:30 you can grab some last minute glowies at Cultivate. From 5:30 to 7, there is Halloween Downtown at the YDL's Michigan Ave Branch. At 6:30, simultaneous glowing processionals will leave from Sweetwater's, the YDL, and Cultivate. And at 7:00 the festivities on Washington begin. Seriously, you should check it out!

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Bang! Must Die: the History of the Sweatiest Dance Party in Town

The Bang! is a semi-regular to occasional dance party hosted at the Blind Pig. It is the sweatiest dance party in town. Known for its creative themes and overthetop costumes, The Bang! is coming to an end after 18 years. The Bang! Must Die is this Saturday Night at the Blind Pig. In honor of the occasion, I reached out to several people who had been involved with the Bang! In various ways over the years. They were kind enough to share their memories with me. Big thanks to Jeremy Wheeler and Jason Gibner who co-founded The Bang! as well as all the other members of Team Bang! who shared their memories with me.

On a personal note, the Bang! featured heavily in my early adult life in Ann Arbor. I moved back for grad school in 2009. I lived in a house on 3rd at Liberty with several of the other Damn Arbor founders. Being just around the corner from the Blind Pig, we went to almost every Bang! from 2009 to 2011.

The Early Years

Jeremy Wheeler: We were hangin’ around a bunch of indie kids at house shows at the time (at The Pirate House, a house venue on William and Thompson, in particular). Jason Gibner and I had moved to Ann Arbor the year before and *the* thing to do on the weekends was hit the nightclub The Loop in Windsor. Cool stylish kids from all over would go there. So many babes! So many tight-shirted indie dudes! They’d play everything from Bowie to Pulp to hot indie pop bands like The Push Kings. It was always a fun sweaty, sexy mess but it all ended when 9/11 happened. Suddenly you couldn’t cross the Canadian border. It was shut down. Obviously tragic, but you know, we still wanted to dance! A bunch of our pals were part of the EQMC (East Quad Music Co-Op) who booked the Halfway Inn (lovingly known as the Halfass), so we took the occasional basement parties we were doing at the Pirate House and adapted them there, mixtapes and all. We came up with The Bang! name and Gibner hyped it up on the Michigan Indie List as the biggest craziest night ever and it just took off from there. As for who was involved in that first one… mostly me and Gibner, but dear pals like Emily Linn (later of City Bird fame) were there to help, among a motley crew of others. First one’s kind of a blur. It definitely helped that our buddy Will Calcutt (Ghostly Int.) photographed it. Those photos definitely helped get us Detroit’s attention (even if there wasn’t a bar at the Halfass, much to the dismay of some Motor City rockers who made the trip).

Jason Gibner: Jeremy and I were roommates at the time we started The Bang! I remember we had no idea what to expect for the first one and we were nervous as hell. Would anyone show up? Would it be a total flop? remember walking from my job at Borders Bookstore to the Halfway Inn and my stomach just doing flips. Once friends and random people started showing up there were way more people than I expected. EVERYONE was dancing and all my nerves went away. I remember Jeremy and I ended that night on a real high. We felt great and we couldn’t wait to do more. But if someone told me I’d be talking about this 18 years later I’d say they were nuts!

Lauren Hill: I think what made the bang special for me-was that I had a bit of context within my experience of attending. I used to work with Jeremy and Jason at Harmony House on State St. I really got to know them from having quite a bit of downtime in a slow moving record store. Lots of inside jokes, drawing on computer paper, BS-ing about movies and talking about shows, house parties ect. I got to know their sense of humor pretty well, so when The Bang first started- all of those elements came to life. There was a real need to party and have a platform that encompassed the art of a mixtape, no wall flowers, the constraints and creativity of having a theme. The formula was that really there was no formula, except to have fun-which was really quiet freeing.

Dustin Krcatovitch: I first went to The Bang! in the late spring of 2005, and immediately loved it. I had been Jason Gibner's coworker at the downtown Borders Books & Music (RIP), and had known about it since almost the beginning (it started a couple months before I moved back to A2 from Kalamazoo), but didn't go the first couple years because I was a grump.

Anyway, in the spring of 2005, I'd just gone through an unnecessarily rough breakup and, in trying to cheer me up, Gibner said "how about you come to The Bang? I'll get ya in for free." He'd said the magic word; the rest is history. I became part of Team Bang a couple months later, and worked alongside all those beautiful weirdos for years. I've attended dozens of Bang!s, and often plan trips home around them.

Jeremy: We quickly outgrew the Halfass. The cops busted up the third and final one there. People were dropping 40oz bottles of Mickey’s and scattering like roaches when the lights went up! Jason Berry from the Blind Pig had already reached out to us saying they’d love to try it out at the Pig so we pretty smoothly just moved it there and then basically never stopped. Berry deserves a lotta credit for taking a chance on us and then sticking with us all these years.

Jason Berry: It was in the dead of August, I think 2002. Jeremy Wheeler had hit me up to do it at the Pig because it had grown too big for the Half Ass. Our default would have been to say no, because at that time "dance parties" made us think "Necto." But it was August, so fuck it. Little did we know that we were a part of perhaps the most perfect event/venue match in all of human history. Chocolate and peanut butter from day one.

Phil Attee: My first Bang! is surprisingly clear in my memory. It was May of 2006, Pirate Bang! I had a few friends that had been going to The Bang! for a while and had tried to explain it to me, but weren't doing a great job. The Bang! has never fit easily into any category. I was working full time and doing 18 credit hours at U of M, so I didn't have a lot of free time. Truth be told, in those years, I was not the type of guy who danced at bars or parties; so a dance party seemed like a waste of time that I already didn't have. But I loved dressing up in costumes for any reason I could find, so when they told me there was pirate-themed party coming up, I was totally into it. I went to the thrift store and put together a ridiculous pirate costume from head to toe and made a bunch of my friends do the same. When we got there, however, we discovered that it was a pirate themed party, not a pirate costume party. So most people were wearing their regular clothes, embellished with some pirate regalia, like a plastic eye patch, nautical striped shirts, or a bandana on their head. I was definitely too dressed up, but I didn't really give a shit because my friends were over the top too and the music was awesome. I was hesitant to start dancing, but then the booze kicked in and rock jams got me moving. I ended up dancing my ass off. At the end of the night, me and my sweaty friends were handed a flyer for the Physical Bang! and I got super pumped about the spandex-clad possibilities.

The Themes

Monday, October 21, 2019

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: October 21, 2019

Gentle readers it's time for the final spooktacular #a2council meeting of the year. Here's the agenda.

The evening starts off with a scant, 7 item consent agenda. CA-1 is interesting and would allow the digitization of historic city code books. Nice.

There are 5 Public hearings on the docket. I am just going to focus on 4 and 5.PH-4 is for the approval of the brownfield site plan for Leslie Science and Nature Center. If you will recall, there was recently an old chemical dump found on the city property. PH-5 is on approval of fees for cannabis use establishments.

Elsewhere in the agenda there are 3 township island rezonings. There is also DS-1, which would allow the DDA to issue $23 Million of Bonds to finance the construction of an addition to the Ashley/Ann structure.

Gentle readers, what agenda items are you most interested in? Make sure you tune in to the action tonight 7:00 on CTN and follow along with the #a2council hashtag on twitter.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: Oct. 7th 2019

Gentle readers, tonight is the first spooktacular #a2council meeting of October. We've got a lot on the docket, so let's dive in.

Starting with the 22 item Consent Agenda. We've got a road closing for Oktoberfest on Oct. 18. We've also got CA 14, for a special assessment district for Fullter Ct. & Nixon/Traver sidewalk gaps. Here's a fun game: guess how many of the 22 items will be pulled from the Consent Agenda and which items are most likely to get pulled.

On to the Public Hearings! There are 6 and they all have to do with zoning/upcoming projects. PH-1/B-1 and PH-2/DB-1 are on the Glen project at 201, 213, 215, 217 Glen Avenue and 1025 East Ann Street. PH-1 is a modification of the Zoning Ordinance which is how one modifies or creates a PUD. PH-2 is on the site plan.

PH-3/B-2 and PH-4/DB-2 are on the PUD and Site plan for 2857 Packard.

That leaves us with PH-5/B-3 and PH-6/B-4. PH-5 would amend the zoning code w/r/t cannabis businesses and consumption facilities. PH-6 sets rules for medical and non medical cannabis establishments.

There you have it gentle reader. Our spooktacular preview of the Oct. 7rd City Council Meeting. Feel free to share the items you are most intersted in in the comments, especially if it's something I forgot. Make sure you follow all the action on CTN's live stream and the #a2council hashtag on twitter.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Ignite 12 - Call for Speakers

Gentle readers, I know that you are a passionate bunch. Here's my question to you: do you want to share that passion with others? If so, you should submit a proposal to speak at Ignite 12. Ignite presentations are fast: 5 minutes, 20 slides. They offer a great opportunity for you to get up and share something that is important to you with an engaged audience. If you are looking for inspiration, check out the setlist for Ignite 8. Ignite Ann Arbor is currently hosted by the Ann Arbor District Library. I asked AADL Deputy Director, Eli Neiburger, what makes for a great Ignite presentation. Here's what he said:

A great presentation touches on the most interesting aspects of a topic for a general audience, inspiring them to want to know more about that topic. The best talks put the presenter's enthusiasm on display and make new enthusiasts out of the audience. A story of a personal journey rarely achieves this goal; the best talks are about how to do something, or how something works, or hidden histories or unheard voices.
Gentle readers, does this inspire you? If so, submit your proposal here. The application deadline is 11:59pm, Oct 2. You will be notified whether you are successful or not on Oct. 7. Presentations for Ignite 12 start at 6:30 pm on Nov. 7.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Debunking the myth of "distracted walking"

A pedestrian crossed Plymouth Road at a RRFB, photo by Erich Z. 

At the July 29th Pedestrian Safety meeting at City Hall, several people made statements that went along these lines:

Drivers bear some responsibility for pedestrian safety. Pedestrians also bear responsibility. Distracted driving and distracted walking are contributing to crashes and as a community, we need to address both these issues.
To be clear, I am paraphrasing, but there were several people who spoke who brought forth the specter of distracted walking. Intuitively, this argument didn't quite sit right with me. My general thought process was something like what follows. A fast-moving pedestrian is six times slower than a slow-moving car. If you are reading a book or looking at your phone while walking, it is easy to detect changes in your environment by glancing up and using your peripheral vision. Human reaction time is generally sufficient to deal with most scenarios we encounter while walking, even when we are distracted. On the other hand, in a car, your audio and visual perception is limited and you are traveling much more quickly. It does not seem like distracted walking would be a significant contributor to the problem of drivers striking pedestrians with their automobiles.

After that meeting though, I didn't think much of the issue of distracted walking. That is, until this weekend when I found a recent New York City Department of Transportation (NYDOT) report investigating the phenomenon of distracted walking. Here's the full report. Here is a quote from the first page: In short, despite growing concerns, DOT found little concrete evidence that device-induced distracted walking contributes significantly to pedestrian fatalities and injuries. The emphasis comes from the report, gentle readers. Here's a great table from the report that looks at National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data from 2010 - 2015.

You can see that pedestrians using electronic devices are implicated in a vanishingly small fraction of crashes that result in pedestrian fatalities nationally. NYDOT also looked at data from New York City and found a similar pattern:

Records show two cases (0.2%) in which there was electronic device involvement, of 856 with available narratives. One pedestrian fatality in 2015 involved a pedestrian who was texting, and one fatality in 2014 involved a person reaching for a dropped mobile device. This lack of reported pedestrian device involvement is notable, as the crash reports rely largely on drivers’ accounts. In comparison, from 2014-2017, there were 112 pedestrian fatalities where vehicles failed to yield to pedestrians with the right of way (13%).
As for pedestrian injury, NHTSA data estimate that pedestrian use of electronic devices plays a slightly larger role in car crashes that result in pedestrian injury, than in crashes that result in pedestrian fatality. Depending on the year, somewhere between 2% and 4% of crashes that injure pedestrians implicated pedestrian use of electronic devices. This is still a very small percentage of the total number of car crashes where pedestrians are injured.

"Distracted walking" is not a thing. By that I mean it is not a phenomenon that contributes to a large number of instances where drivers strike pedestrians with their automobiles. I want to take this a step further and say that in matters of pedestrian safety, the responsibility for making sure all parties arrive to their destination needs to be apportioned proportionately to each party's ability to cause harm. A person driving a 3300 lb car 25 mph can do much more harm to a 180 lb pedestrian walking a brisk 3.5 mph, than that pedestrian can do to that driver. Distracted driving is a cause of crashes that injure and kill pedestrians. "Distracted walking" does not contribute to a meaningful proportion of pedestrian fatalities or injuries. It would be irresponsible for us to take pedestrian use of electronic devices into account in Ann Arbor's current push towards zero pedestrian fatalities. Instead we should focus on proven measures that increase pedestrian safety including slowing cars down and making sure all streets have sidewalks on both sides.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Fall River Day this Sunday in Ypsi

This Sunday is Fall River Day in Ypsilanti. From noon to 3 pm there will be tons of great activities in Riverside Park including: games, nature activities, donuts, and birds of prey! There will also be kayak rental available at Frog Island Park thanks to a partnership with Ann Arbor Parks and Recreation and Washtenaw County. This gives you the ability to experience a portion of the river that is generally not available to people without their own boats. I have it on good authority there will be more kayaks available than in years past, but I would still recommend getting to Frog Island early if you have your heart set on renting a kayak. In the past the rentals have been very popular and there has been a bit of a wait for those that did not arrive early.

As a commissioner on the Ypsilanti City Parks and Recreation Commission, I have worked at the last two Fall River Days. I am biased, but they are a great early fall activity. If you haven't been to Ypsi in a minute, you should stop by and make an afternoon of it. You can also check out the brand new barrier free play structure in Riverside Park.