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‘Trains down the middle’ video creator has Portland roots

Posted by on March 16th, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Rap-tivism at its best.
(Still from video by Joel Batterman)
– Watch the video below –

As an advocate, what do you do when you feel passionate about a project and want to convince others to share your perspective? If you’re former Portland resident and now Detroit-based transportation activist Joel Batterman, you get out some Legos and planning documents, write a rap song, set it all to music and make a hilariously wonky and informative video.

“We’ve considered asking the Feds to mandate the use of music videos in the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process, since they may reach a wider audience.”
— Joel Batterman

Batterman released his video last week and it’s already got well over 10,000 views on YouTube. We featured it on the Monday Roundup, but I was so impressed I felt it deserved a bit more attention. It also turns out that Batterman is a former Reed College grad who has even been featured here on BikePortland in the past.

Batterman, who now runs TransportMichigan.org and is a student at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, says his mission with the video is to educate Detroit residents about what’s at stake with the Woodward Avenue light rail project. “The private investors want the last three miles to run in traffic [curbside] like the Portland Streetcar,” he wrote to us via email, “That doesn’t serve the goal of rapid, reliable regional transit. For the sake of effective transit and environmental justice, I and other local transit advocates think that should be the priority, just like it was in Portland.”

With his video, Batterman has taken a confusing set of project options and given them new life in a way that is much easier for everyday citizens to comprehend. “I know everyone loves to curl up in an armchair with a thousand-page environmental impact statement,” he says, “but some people might just not have the time or the inclination. In fact, we’ve considered asking the Feds to mandate the use of music videos in the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process, since they may reach a wider audience.”

Batterman says his video has already gotten a lot of attention, being picked up by local media and noticed by transit agencies across the country.

Familiar with a certain project in our region that has its own set of confusing alternatives to choose from and struggles with a lack of citizen engagement, Batterman offered these words of advice, “I do hope someone will give the CRC a similar treatment.”

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  • kiel johnson March 16, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    i am fortunate to have worked with joel on several environmental projects while I was at LC (he attended REED). he has a great attitude towards advocacy and is able to articulately and effectively communicate his passion and ideas with people. I hope he makes it back to portland someday. here he is speaking at the CRC rally.

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  • Spencer Boomhower March 16, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    Loved the video. Joel does great work! He was the one who came up with the phrase “windmill dressing” to describe the little tacked-on design-by-greenwashing windmills that were proposed for the CRC bridgezilla.

    “In fact, we’ve considered asking the Feds to mandate the use of music videos in the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process, since they may reach a wider audience.”

    Makes perfect sense :). But why stop there? Health reform, tax policy, budget issues could all use this kind of explaining too. (Though to be honest, the phrase “federally mandated music video” sends chills up my spine.)

    “I do hope someone will give the CRC a similar treatment.”

    Trying! But we have obviously, tragically overlooked the winning combination of rap and Legos.

    Keep it up, Joel!

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  • Todd Scott March 16, 2011 at 7:07 pm

    Hey! We want to keep Joel here and help us continue to shape the transportation and urban planning discussion in the Motor City.

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  • Hart Noecker March 16, 2011 at 8:33 pm

    Putting light rail down the middle of Woodward instead of along of storefronts is the worst possible design on the drawing board. Nobody should be applauding this. As I commented previously:

    “The people promoting the ‘down the middle’ design are the car lovers who don’t want light rail slowing down cars, which is EXACTLY what light rail is supposed to do, in addition to getting more cars off the road.

    Making peds stand unnecessarily cross this busy street just to stand in the middle of fast moving traffic is totally dangerous.

    Not to mention the wasted money that could be made from keeping the platforms in front of storefronts where waiting riders could spend more time shopping.

    It’s as though the ‘down the middle’ planners don’t even understand how much they’re throwing away by isolating the tracks and the riders.”

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    • Mike March 17, 2011 at 1:16 pm

      Are you familiar with the area they are talking about? If the last 3 miles are those that terminate at the fairgrounds, there are no businesses. Look at the aerial maps and you will see alot of green space and not many buildings.
      If it is the last three miles that terminate in Downtown Detroit, welll, there are no businesses. (Sorry Detroit, low blow).

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  • Todd Boulanger March 16, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    Where are the rapping legos and weebeles when we need them for the CRC: pick a topic: tolling, crime loot train, park and rides in the sky, bike ped, etc.

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  • Todd Scott March 16, 2011 at 9:43 pm

    @Hart: The car lovers want curb running on Woodward. It means having 7 vehicle lanes versus only 4 for center running. Curb running mean cars and bikes will slow down the trains and leads to unpredictable train travel times. Curb running will not slow cars but it will definitely make biking much less safe.

    And peds have to cross more lanes of vehicle travel to use the trains in the curb running design. Yes, a ped does have to cross the street if the train they want is heading in the other direction.

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  • Hart Noecker March 16, 2011 at 11:41 pm

    The video itself claims curb rail will slow cars. Watch it.

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  • Todd Scott March 17, 2011 at 8:35 am

    Both curb-running and median-running will slow cars according to the DEIS. Current motor vehicle peak travel time along the study area is 15-17 minutes. For median running it becomes 24-26. For curb-running its 24-25.

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  • Hart Noecker March 17, 2011 at 11:50 am

    Yet the video still argues that slowing car traffic is a bad thing. Who’s side is this guy even on here?

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  • paul March 17, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    Lesson here – Learn from Portland and then take the gospel to a place that doesn’t have it. I think of Portland much the same as Mormans view SLC – the Holy Center. However, the “mission” work of the cycling community must be spread to other cities too. Great work Joel.

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  • Joel Batterman March 17, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    Thanks for the comments, everyone, and for the ongoing example of your work out west.

    Hart, the video states that cars would slow curbside trains, not the reverse. On the contrary, it’s the center-running option which would slow auto traffic, by reducing the number of lanes (and making Woodward a less threatening street for pedestrians and transit riders to cross).

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  • Peter W March 19, 2011 at 1:15 am

    Joel! Nice work!

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