Local leaders honored at second annual Regional Transit Awards dinner

With southeast Michigan's Regional Transit Authority underway and M1-Rail about to break ground, a crowd of over 150 transit advocates had considerable cause for a buoyant mood as they strolled the stately gardens and ballroom of the Grosse Pointe War Memorial at Transit Riders United's second annual Regional Transit Awards dinner on May 21st.
 
"Developing a quality regional transit system is a marathon, not a sprint," said Megan Owens, TRU's Executive Director. "It's important to pause and recognize progress, and the people who are making a difference."
 
The Citizen Activist of the Year Award went to Neil Greenburg, whose Freshwater Railway website depicts a fictional Michigan rail system. Greenberg, a self-taught professional transit cartographer and operations consultant, developed the site to garner support for transit by offering a visual experience of the possibilities. Tools to rally public support are needed now more than ever, according to Greenberg.
 
"It's too early to say 'Mission Accomplished'," he said. "We are at the beginning, not the end."
 
Michele Hodges, who until recently served as Executive Director of the Troy Chamber of Commerce, won the Corporate Transit Champion Award for engaging business, education, and labor leaders in the successful fight against former Troy mayor Janice Daniel's attempt to reject federal funding for the Troy Transit Center.
 
The Unsung Hero Award went to former legislator Marie Donigan, who worked to establish the RTA and make state laws and funding sources friendlier to transit. Donigan continues her transit advocacy work, recently helping to coordinate a 2-day Metro Detroit Transit Workshop.
 
Dennis Schornack, Senior Strategic Advisor to Governor Snyder, won Most Effective Public Servant Award for his work shepherding the RTA legislation through the political process.
 
A Transit Employee of the Year Award went to Detroit Department of Transportation bus driver Michael Childs, who was nominated by a rider for being on-time with a big, welcoming smile every day, despite an increased workload owing to recent cuts in DDOT funding and service.
 
Ann Arbor Transit Authority's new AirRide program, which now provides daily round-trip service between Ann Arbor and Detroit Metropolitan Airport, won the Exemplary Innovation Award.
 
The TRU board sprung two surprises: a Transit Opportunities Award for the entire RTA Board, and an Above and Beyond Award for Owens for her work at TRU.
 
Winners were selected by a panel of 4 judges, including Clark Harder, former legislator and Michigan Public Transit Association Executive Director, Heather Carmona, chief administrative officer of M1 Rail, Sue Zielinsli, managing director of Sustainable Mobility & Accessibility & Research & Transformation at the University of Michigan, and Polly Sedewa, transit activist and past TRU board member.

Read more articles by Nina Ignaczak.

Nina Ignaczak is a metro Detroit-based writer and the editor of Metromode. Follow her on Twitter @ninaignaczak.
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