Monthly Archives: June 2008

Erie needs to focus on ROI

This weeks release by Erie county and state officials listing hoped for transportation projects to the tune of $280 million is just the latest of announced priorities for our region.

Between the airport runway, community college, expansion and renovation of the Civic Center, bayfront development and now big ticket items like the Six Mile Creek bridges and the widening of the Peach Street interchange for I-90, our regional price tag is getting close to a half-billion dollars.

It is understood that there are multiple streams of funding that can enter into projects such as these, making the income pie larger than at first glance. But with that comes an understanding that there is a political process at play, and Erie has to spend its limited political clout for the items that will bring the biggest bang for our buck. It’s hard to imagine the region getting every project that it wants, so we need to prioritize and do some long-range planning so that we get our timing right. For example, we need the widening of Peach Street now, the Asbury Road project in about four years, and perhaps the Wintergreen Gorge bridges in six years (if there’s no visible defects).

Strong, coordinated leadership from our county, city and township officials, working in harmony with state bureaucrats, is necessary to make sure we receive the maximum funding for the maximum benefit to our community. On these big projects, our municipal borders must be eliminated as these assets benefit the region as a whole. With strong coordination and standing as one regional voice before the state and federal government, we can get the job done with the greatest return on our investment.

My new adventure: mass transit

5:30 AM: My new I-Home clock radio wakes me to praise music from my I-Pod. I’m embarking on a new adventure today. I’m going to take the bus to work.

Aside: waking up to my I-Pod instead of my favorite radio station, WCTL has me a little concerned that I’ve crossed over to some very bad parallel universe that diminishes the importance of terrestrial broadcasting. More about that in a future post.

6:15 AM: Time to go. I’ve packed my I-Pod, Bible, a book I’m reading, two Fiber One bars. I haven’t had any coffee yet

6:22 AM: My wife drops me at the bus stop, about 10 blocks from my house. I sit down on the bench. I think that I must have looked like a goober sitting there with my Targus computer case upright on my lap. But the morning is beautiful.

6:30 AM: Still on the bench. I’m afraid to put on my earbuds for the I-pod in fear of getting mugged. Stupid I know, but I’m not yet comfortable about sitting on a downtown street corner with several hundred dollars worth of technology on me. I don’t know when my bus will come. One just passed by but it was the M2 and I’m watching for the 14.

6:34 AM: Well at least that’s the time on my 20-ride ticket. I’m thinking that the ticket swiper is running about seven minute slow. No worries, however, because I’ve got plenty of time before my first meeting. The bus driver is friendly, asks where I’m heading and explains that it’s two swipes to Edinboro. Of course I knew that, since I’ve been researching what the logistics would be like to take the bus for the past month now.

For eight years of my life, taking an Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority bus was a daily occurrence. I rode Route 7 to Mercyhurst Prep for four years, getting on at 18th and State often after traversing some gigantic snow mounds at the Erie Central Mall and enduring sub-zero wind chills in my W.T. Grant parka. When college came I rode with my dad the Route 5 bus downtown to 7th and State. But it has been 24 years since those days, in which I’ve probably ridden a city bus 2 or 3 times, max.; until today.

The bus to Edinboro doesn’t really fit my schedule most of the time. During the school year I’ve got to transport kids, and need the flexibility of having my own wheels. But with that round trip to Edinboro in my car now costing $8.00, taking the bus starts looking really good, especially with the summer here. If I can do the bus even once a week, I can pocket $4, and feel good about doing something about these gas prices.

6:50 AM: We are picking people up at the mall. There’s about six or seven other folks on the bus heading toward the Boro. I’ve put my earbuds in and am reading my One Year Bible readings. It’s pretty noisy and squeaky, but for the most part I’m comfortable.

7:12 AM: I put my stuff away and ask the bus driver if could let me out at my work, which is right on the highway he is taking to Edinboro. He obliges, turns on his blinkers and pulls off to the right of the road, exactly in front of the church where I work. To the door service. As he heads on I see the line of nine cars who waited for me to disembark. I feel a little sheepish to be holding up traffic, but glad for the ride.

7:15 AM: I’m at my desk ready to start the day.

As folks come into the office a bit later they are surprised to see that I’m already there. When I tell them that I took the bus, they are kind of shocked and nearly universally exclaim, “Joel, you’re going green!” I look at the environmental-deal as being a cool, yet secondary benefit to spending less than half the cash on my commute.

3:24 PM: Time for the ride home. I’m the first one on, but by the time I get off, the bus is about 60% full. I shared my seat for a couple miles.

4:15 PM:  After getting dropped off and a brisk walk, I’m back home. I can definitely do this next week!

Living in bizarro world

It’s a bizarro world out there. Seemingly on every front, whether geo-political, economic, or environmental, it is looking bleak. At least that’s what the Associated Press said on Sunday. The AP “right direction/wrong direction” question for the country is at a fifteen-year low. It seems that every casual conversation you have goes back to the price of gasoline, or food. Yes, right now this stuff hurts.

However, we are not officially in a recession, and you really don’t have to go back too far to remember record highs in the Dow and lots of people getting rich and feeling good. In fact it was Oct. 11, 2007 when the 30 industrials closed at 14,280, the highest level ever.

The markets have totally gone “Ravine Flyer” ever since. We’ve had the toxic punch of foreclosures, Bear Stearns bailout, the credit crunch with major bankers selling off parts of their companies to foreign royals, and the crazy run-up on oil. It has been a painful eight months.

It occurs to me that it didn’t have to be this way. Instead of fundamental conservative economics dictating our mortgage system, for example, we had greed and sloppy controls rule the day.

Right now, perhaps up to half of the stated price of oil is coming from the commodities investing that your and my pension managers are doing in an attempt to make money in a market that is all over the map. The scary part is that they have created a bubble and are convincing themselves that there is fundamental oil demand to back it up. I’m sorry, but I don’t see $140 a barrel sustainable, which means that your pension and mine might be the victims (?) of a crash.

The biggest shame is the dismal dollar. Back in the early aught’s, when the dollar was strong, U.S. manufacturers were complaining about the trade deficit due to our strong dollar making US goods cost more. Now that the dollar is weak, are we really seeing a windfall of exports correcting the trade imbalance, or are we in much of the same boat, due to the much higher cost of raw materials and the unfair money practices of China, et al?

Something else about all of this makes me feel queasy. I get this sense that part of this crisis of confidence has a lot to do with the 24-hour news cycle and the fact that we are in this much contested presidential race. Come on guys, are we really living 1929 or 1979 again? Aren’t we smarter than that?

In this bizarro world, we need some Men of Steel to cut through the noise and provide some real direction, focus, and sanity. And it needs to come “faster than a speeding bullet.”

Why losing Tim Russert hits so hard

I got the news about Tim Russert dying of a heart attack while at work at NBC in Washington later than most. It wasn’t until I picked up the newspaper on my porch Saturday morning that I found out that this favorite of journalists had passed away at 58.

Ever since I’ve been captured by the coverage and moved by the memories and sheer sense of loss that the media community and the NBC family is expressing. I must say that I too have been mourning his loss.

It’s hard to explain my feelings toward a fellow I didn’t know, or didn’t know me. Perhaps it is the sheer proximity of those of us who live in Erie, a mere 90 miles from Tim’s beloved South Buffalo (there’s a Tim Russert park in West Seneca, NY, where they have been holding a nightly vigil since Friday). Or perhaps it is his faith in God as a strong Catholic; being able to hold onto his faith in the context of a very cynical capitol city environment.

What definitely comes in play is Tim’s profound love and respect for his dad, Big Russ, which he articulated in a best selling book four years ago. His description of Big Russ resonates deeply with me, with Tim’s father from the same generation as my father. When Tim says that “I stand on my dad’s shoulders,” I totally get that. It is only through the grace of God, and the sheer sacrifice and foundation I received from my parents that I am who I am today.

Tim’s sudden death has also brought to the surface some of the fears I have stuffed away about my health, my weight, and the fleeting nature of life. Still have to sort through all that.

It is really ironic that Tim’s passing comes just a week or so after the final primaries of this historical election year. For millions of Americans, he was the speaker whose words we hung on in understanding election results. My imagination still can’t conjure what the remainder of this election will look like without the even-keeled, enthusiastic analysis by Tim Russert. He will be sorely missed by both his colleagues and viewers, including this news junkie from Erie, PA.

Jack Tirak passing a blow to Erie media family

Let me express my shock and sadness on the news of Jack Tirak’s passing.

In just one of what will be many tributes, let me say that Jack was Erie Media’s best friend. He believed in the power of communication to increase people’s quality of life. He strived to do best practice with high creativity in his work, and in his role as media critic, expected the same of our local media. He knew we all have greatness in us, if we choose to achieve it.

Finally, Jack did a wonderful thing with his creation and steadfast editing of his blog, Erie Media-Go-Round. He brought the reporters, editors, producers, sales people, managers and consumers, both current and former, together in one forum. He tore down the walls that separated competitors and their public, so they could freely exchange encouragement and “barbs”, ideas and complaints in a free-wheeling discussion that made a tremendous impact.

I join his hundreds of friends in saying that Jack will be sorely missed. My thoughts and prayers are with his family in this very difficult time.