For Detroit, BRT or Rail First?

» The Motor City must get its priorities straight to move ahead with a new transit system.

After receiving millions of dollars in commitments from private foundations and a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Detroit’s planned M-1 Streetcar is virtually assured of completion as planned in 2013. The $125 million project will be the first major transit investment in this vast city since the opening of the one-way downtown People Mover loop in 1987. Construction is planned to commence by the end of this year.

But that 3.4-mile line, running in lanes shared with automobiles along Woodward Avenue between downtown’s Campus Martius and the New Center at Grand Avenue, will make just a blip in what is a huge, sprawling region housing more than four million inhabitants. As a result, Wayne County (whose seat is Detroit) and its neighbors Macomb and Oakland Counties have recently advanced a plan for expanding transit access throughout, focusing on an extension of the Woodward rail project and series of bus rapid transit lines. With suburban interests holding major sway in the process, the extended bus lines appear likely to be built before the inner-city rail project.

The previously prioritized effort to build a commuter rail line between Detroit and Ann Arbor is apparently on the far back burner, put off in favor of high-speed rail, for which Michigan has recently received funds.

Politicians and businesspeople from Macomb and Oakland Counties, representing a large section of the region’s population, have been quick to point out the limitations in the Woodward Streetcar line: at a total cost of $425 million, it will cover only nine route miles, all within the city of Detroit. For about twice that cost, advocates of a “Golden Triangle” bus system argue that they could build a 67-mile network of lane-separated lines along Woodward Avenue, Gratiot Avenue, and M-59, connecting downtown Detroit with Pontiac and Clinton.

In theory, this program of investments would encourage increasing transit ridership in the region, a first step before making much larger investments in rail.

And it is true that far more people will be within commuting distance of the three-line bus system than would be close to even the longer light rail line; Detroit’s residential density is relatively evenly distributed throughout the city, not concentrated in the core (parts of which the mayor has recently announced plans to transform into farmland). Meanwhile, the fact that downtown remains a significant jobs center means that getting commuters in from across the region is an important step. Finally, buses may actually provide faster service than rail because at least as currently envisioned, the streetcars will be held up in traffic because they’ll be sharing their lanes with cars.

Simultaneously, the fact that a large number of low-wage jobs are located in the suburbs even as low-income people live in the city indicates that improving such connections is essential to promote greater equality of mobility. If local buses were designed to interface efficiently with the bus rapid transit lines, many of the commuting problems currently faced by the residents of the city’s least favorable neighborhoods would be assuaged.

Buses are unlikely to produce the build-up Detroit desperately needs, but current plans for the Woodward Streetcar line are not adequate to spur the type of intense developmental activity for which the city is currently pushing because of widely spaced station stops and a lack of independent rights-of-way. This implies that many of the aesthetic and perceptual advantages of rail-based transit will be lost when implemented in the Detroit context and suggests that at least from a transportation perspective, improvements in bus service would be a more effective use of funds.

On the other hand, the proposed Golden Triangle makes no effort whatsoever to concentrate transit offerings within a reasonable radius of the urban center. The extremely high amount of vacant land in Detroit means that investments in new public services need to be concentrated, not spread further out. If the city commits to encouraging people to live directly adjacent to the Woodward line (or even forces them to do so by means of cutting off electricity or water to certain under-populated neighborhoods), it could not only ensure that the transit line is well used, but also that the city is economizing by densifying its public service provision around a specific corridor.

There are, in other words, advantages of both approaches — the bus rapid transit plan acts more appropriately as a direct improvement over the status quo, while the streetcar opens up potential avenues for a denser type of city — but Detroit and its region only have the funds to pay for one, at least in the short term. With high unemployment and continued population loss, the city must make a choice. Once it does so, however, it must make sure that it backs its decision with appropriate measures to guarantee the future success of the transit network.

39 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Good article. Does someone know if Detroit has bicycle paths?

  • Nate

    It makes so much more sense to implement BRT and commuter rail prior to any streetcar or LRT type investments. Transit ridership is so comparably weak to do LRT, and slow to be competitive with driving in auto-centric Detroit. BRT, or some approximation of it, makes sense to serve intraurban trips, with some commuter rail for suburban to core area trips.

    I think $425 million for a streetcar is probably not that good of a way to generate activity in Detroit. Who is saying “I stayed away from the city for years, but now I’ll move/set up business there because of a streetcar”?

  • poncho

    I think $425 million for a streetcar is probably not that good of a way to generate activity in Detroit. Who is saying “I stayed away from the city for years, but now I’ll move/set up business there because of a streetcar”?

    true, but the streetcar is a major component of creating a pleasant walkable urban neighborhood and that is the selling point. detroit needs to create a truely quality desirable urban place which isnt an easy task in the best of circumstances. many from the detroit area who desire this urban lifestyle go to chicago for it and i think the plan is to capture them. something has to be done, i mean i’m a pretty die hard urbanist, love historic architecture (especially those in downtown detroit) and have visited detroit several times. That said i cant imagine living in downtown detroit under current conditions, its so depressing to see decay, hopelessness and abandonment everywhere you look, day in day out.

  • Nate

    ^I simply contend that for $425 million, one can do a multitude of things to make the City more pleasant and more attractive other than, and more significantly than, a streetcar. (There’s also the perpetual operating costs which would likely be higher than bus.) This is no small piece of pocket change. But the same amount of money could afford to renovate and rehabilitate an entire neighborhood. I don’t think enough people will be sold on a streetcar that’d be slower than a bus.

    • Woody

      The perpetual operating costs of the M1 will surely be lower than for buses. Surely. Tire on pavement causes a lot of wear and tear, steel wheel on rail not so much. That’s why buses must be replaced in half the lifetime of a train car or less.

      Immediate operating savings will come when one driver on a two-car train replaces four or five buses and drivers. The up-front capital cost of the first stage on Woodward Avenue will largely be paid by the feds and philanthropists. Seems like a no-lose situation.

      But I remain unconvinced about going on out to 8 Mile, much less beyond. This may be coming from politicians afraid that backing only the starter line linking downtown, the Fox Theatre and the opera house and symphony, the Art Institute, the Main Public Library, Wayne State’s campus, and the redevelopment around New City and the Amtrak Station will appear elitist.

      Actually, this is one symbolic project that every class and color can enjoy. The downtown baseball and football stadiums are too pricey for the poor, for example, but everyone can ride a sleek new train and feel good about their city.

      • Nate

        Woody, I agree the perpetual operating costs would be lower than buses if one driver on a two car train replaced 4 or 5 buses–and do so without compromising frequent service. Given Detroit notoriously weak transit rideshare, that seems unlikely. Now maybe Woodward is esp. favorable, I confess my ignorance here. But most cities in the US have few, if any bus lines that would be more economical as streetcar.

        Which cities or metro areas that have had flat or negative economic or population growth have built streetcars/street running LRT that have generated a discernible economic growth and physical development directly attributable to the rail? I don’t see it, but if there are some examples it’d be interesting to look at, esp. with regard to Detroit’s ideas.

  • Jason

    To Nate above:
    Streetcars have been proven to be HUGE economic catalysts where they are implemented. In areas like Portland the streetcar has brought BILLIONS of dollars in private investment along the route. In terms of return on the dollar invested 14:1 is not an unreasonable expectation and even conservative estimates show at least a 4-7:1 return on the dollar.
    I promise you that Detroit won’t be able to find another single use for that 425 million that will bring even close to that kind of return.
    Besides the economic benefits, as mentioned above, rail transit creates dense, walkable, more desirable neighborhoods and that’s where its true value lies. Detroit’s urban core could potentially become its most valuable asset again.
    Buses just won’t do that. Detroit needs to think outside the automobile for once and go with something thats proven to work.
    Build the M1 Streetcar!

    • allen

      “Streetcars have been proven to be HUGE economic catalysts where they are implemented. In areas like Portland the streetcar has brought BILLIONS of dollars in private investment along the route. In terms of return on the dollar invested 14:1 is not an unreasonable expectation and even conservative estimates show at least a 4-7:1 return on the dollar.” –Jason

      Actually, conservative estimates indicate far more money spent on the street cars and other development subsidies (TOD subsidies, property tax breaks, et al.) than the value of what was built let alone the revenue that actually brings the city and county.

  • Jason

    “Who is saying “I stayed away from the city for years, but now I’ll move/set up business there because of a streetcar”?”

    Nate, you’d be surprised to find out that actually A LOT of people are saying that and even more will say it as its being built.
    Again, streetcars create the kind of dense, livable, walkable communities that people want to live in. The trend in the future will not be suburban, auto dominated areas. Urban communities are highly favored among young, talented, educated individuals. These are exactly the type of people that cities desire because they bring money through taxes, shopping, entertainment, and private investment.

  • Chris

    Who is going to ride these bus lines? There is no bus that goes currently from Pontiac to Mt Clemens. Why not start a regular bus route before you spend $316 million on a M-59 BRT that nobody will ride because there is nothing at most of these stations? Between Birmingham and Pontiac on Woodward is nothing. The current bus route acts like an express because one municipality in that stretch has opted out of the regional bus system. Gratiot is probably the best candidate but there should be stops every mile, not every 2 – 3 miles. At least the streetcar goes where people already ride the bus: at peak times approximately 15 – 20 buses per hour go along the streetcar corridor. Woodward north of Birmingham: 1 bus per hour, Gratiot 2 buses per hour, M-59 no buses per hour. Let’s spend money where people actually want to ride transit first.

  • Nate

    Sorry, Jason. I’m not convinced streetcars do much of anything. Most investments happen near streetcars because of other incentives logically independent of the streetcar. Frequently, the region in question was experiencing higher population and economic growth than the nation as a whole anyway (like Portland).

    Yeah, obviously, Detroit needs to think outside the auto, but the streetcar ain’t it. Are you claiming Detroit can’t competently spend large sums of money? I can’t argue one way or the other on that, but if they can’t invest it better than a trolley, it’s certainly not a good sign. One could build a mile and a half of subway for that cost.

    Detroit lacks a reason for its existence. The City needs an economy first and foremost. Look at Cleveland’s LRT-style streetcar and the neighborhoods by Philly’s subway-surface lines. What have they done for revitalizing those cities lately?

    • poncho

      I’m a regular Portland Streetcar rider and think they hit the ball out of the park with it. The current streetcar line got so many things right both by existing conditions and in its planning. The route is perfect, runs on the right streets, hits the right destinations, runs through a good mix of established neighborhoods and developing neighborhoods and just overall ‘fits’ the neighborhoods that it runs through. I’m not sure thats going to be the case with other streetcars around the country and even the eastside streetcar in Portland. I will say that the streetcar is not a magic bullet as unfortunately many are painting it out to be. The Seattle Streetcar is nowhere near as successful as the PS.

      The main thing is that “high quality, attractive, frequent mass transit” is a very critical ingredient to a desirable walkable neighborhood. That need not necessarily be a streetcar but a streetcar is on the cheaper end of transit solutions that fits that bill. Quality transit is certainly not the only ingredient to walkable neighborhoods but is probably the equivalent of flour to baking a cake.

      Unless they’ve changed the plans somewhat isnt the M1 more of a light rail line than streetcar? Is it in-street or in a separate median? Hell, Detroit has so much vacant land they could create its own private right of way for it to run (or use the Dequindre (sp?) Cut)

      • poncho

        yeah it looks like it is more in-street streetcar than light rail, I assumed this was still the plan…
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dO2-IKM9Jpo

        thats a bummer. dedicated lanes in the center of the wide woodward would have been much better from a transit rider and pedestrian perspective. detroit has the most oversized roads and streets, why they are saving that much auto lane capacity is beyond me (other than the fact it is Motown).

      • Chris Stefan

        The South Lake Union Trolley in Seattle may not be a smashing success from a ridership standpoint but it certainly has helped attract investment along the line. Now one can argue that Vulcan was going to develop the land anyway, but I can’t help but think it has developed faster due to the streetcar. For example I’m not sure Amazon would have moved its headquarters to South Lake Union without the streetcar. Ridership should start going up quite a bit once Amazon starts moving in.

        The First Hill Streetcar should be much more of a success right out of the gate. It goes through a couple of fairly dense neighborhoods with an active retail strips, there is a university, a community college, two hospitals, and a major redevelopment area along the line. As part of the streetcar construction there will be major improvements to the streetscape. Hopefully the experience with this line will be closer to what has happened in Portland.

    • Frank

      Nate, if you had any familiarity with the changes Philly has seen in the past 10 years, you’d know that property values along the Rt. 34 Subway Surface have more than tripled. That far outstrips other corridors in the city as that neighborhood has aggressively gentrified. Lancaster Ave. (Rt. 10) has seen similar, although slightly less significant changes.

      Yes, Penn and Drexel also contributed to those changes, but great transportation with quick access to center city was critical. The same pattern of gentrification has followed the Broad Street Subway South, and the Market Frankford El North and East. And those neighborhoods don’t have large institutions anchoring them.

      • Nate

        I rode down most of the subway surface lines last year and the neighborhoods were in distressed condition. Now, I have no point of comparison since I had never visited them prior. But the surface rail has operated almost continuously for 100 years, no? It’s not as though they just added them and conditions have improved b/c of it. I simply don’t see a causal connection between surface rail and revitalization. (Note: I’m not talking about the heavy rail lines, which offer superior service.) I’d venture to speculate that absolute proximity to the core is a large factor, perhaps?

        But the subway surface lines are not necessarily quick, either. The single consist service gets stuck in its own tunnel traffic at rush hour. It was agonizingly slow and uncomfortable, and I think a bus on the surface with the same number of stops could have moved more quickly. It’s the same on the Girard Ave streetcar, too. It was neat to ride the first time for the experience. But I wouldn’t ride that thing again if I had another choice. It gets stuck in traffic near that bridge to West Philly and can’t move around it.

      • Frank

        @Nate

        Subway Surface is far superior to buses at rush hour (any time really). The very narrow streets in center city make buses painfully slow. Only Market & JFK have more than 2 lanes.

        In under 10 years, half the above ground length of the 34 (40th street portal to 50th) has gone from more or less bombed out storefronts to a thriving commercial strip with cafes, restaurants, pubs, bike stores, book shops, etc. And Clark Park has gone from a needle infested no-go zone to a bustling destination filled with families on the weekends. A huge amount of private money has also been invested in restoring the gorgeous victorian homes in that neighborhood. One block off Baltimore the change is even more striking.

        Other neighborhoods that have boomed recently are clustered close to heavy rail: Passyunk Ave in South Philly, Northern Liberties, Fishtown, Port Richmond, etc near the El and the eastern end of the Girard trolley.

        My point is that rail based transportation has helped foster revitalization by supporting walkable neighborhoods with attractive transportation options – including street cars. Neighborhoods that are closer to center city by distance, but with only buses for transportation have not fared as well (say in the 20’s north of Girard or south of Christian).

  • alexjonlin

    For a city as entrenched in automobile culture as Detroit, you can’t get people to get out of their cars to ride the bus. Many people will always refuse to ride a bus, but they will ride any kind of rail if it offers a fast, convenient connection to places they want to go. No matter how much you spend trying to get your BRT to seem like rail, people will always ride real rail before it.

  • Peter Smith

    don’t build either. instead, build real walk and bicycle infrastructure.

    the roads are all oversized, and nobody’s working so the roads are even more underutilized than they would normally be — congestion is virtually nonexistent.

    build sidewalks, improve the streetscapes, and build some real bicycle infrastructure — for a few million dollars, you could completely transform downtown Detroit into a decent place.

    after you finish with that, build your at-grade streetcar.

    BRT should not ever be built for any reason — it’s been a failure everywhere it’s ever been tried, and that’s not going to change by building it in Detroit. Cleveland was the last town to allow its transit folks to give up their city’s future — don’t repeat the same mistake.

    i’m not saying that rail will make Detroit a success, but at least they’ll have a shot. at least it won’t guarantee failure.

    and the streetcar is the right idea — concentrate on the core — rich/white/GM commuters are fine in their cars — not that we’d have to worry about them getting on a bus, as a previous commenter said.

    streetcars, then light rail, then we’ll see. rich folks will start pouring back into the city, the tax base will skyrocket, gentrification will explode and that’ll bring lots of good and bad, but the city will be on its way back in no time.

    real estate investors are *begging* to have a reason to snap up all that junked real estate — they could provide a real counterbalance to GM’s influence over the city council.

    given that this is Detroit we’re talking about, i don’t see how effective rail gets built, but we’ll see.

    the idea from GM, of course, will be to kill rail outright, and if that’s too risky, given the momentum of rail in the US right now, then killing it softly through a thousand cuts is the next strategy, which this post already alluded to.

    GM can’t allow the threat of a good example to occur right in their own backyard — they operate like the mafia — disobedience can not be tolerated — too dangerous. if Detroit gets rail, imagine what kind of example that sets to every car-dominated suburban hellhole in this nation — people might start getting ideas — like, that maybe cars aren’t such a great idea after all.

    that makes me happy. GM? not so much.

  • Chad

    Don’t play small ball, the Detroit metro area is not poor and could easily fund both of these projects. Look at what Salt Lake City is doing in a much smaller metro area. The BRT project is great for improving transit mobility within the suburbs and increasing access for Detroit residents to suburban jobs. The Woodward streetcar is great for focusing redevelopment in the City, but it should be given dedicated lanes if extended to 8 Mile.

  • Peter Smith

    i didn’t watch the video until after i posted – doh! – but the video does one extraordinary thing that all simulations should do — it seemed to at least try to portray the actual noise generated by passing motor vehicles. incredible. bravo.

    truth in advertising — gotta love it.

    i also noticed at least one of the streetcar/LRT stations had a BRT-like gerbil run so as to not impact auto traffic. fail.

  • I think the bigger question is, “What’s the point of building BRT that serves the suburbs almost exclusively, with only four extra stops in the city?”

    The name of the product connecting cities at the Detroit-Pontiac distance is known as “commuter rail” or “regional rail” in the parts of the world that manage to get non-embarrassing ridership levels on their new transit lines.

    • I should point out that the map above does not include every stop — not only have the stations on the BRT lines not yet been defined, but also the streetcar would have 12 stations just between Campus Martius and Grand Avenue, not four as shown above.

      • Well, even if there are more city stops, there’s no reason to build BRT this far into suburbia.

        The streetcar is something different – it serves the urban parts, and has a natural terminus at 8 Mile. Ideally, those extra BRT lines would end at 8 Mile, too. It would allow building more urban extensions – e.g. an east-west line on 8 Mile, commuter rail from Dearborn through Grand to Pontiac, and a connector from a northeast BRT to Grand.

      • Woody

        I’m with Alon on the high priority of commuter rail from Dearborn to Grand Ave in New City on to Troy and then Pontiac.

        Hey, that’s the current route of Amtrak’s Michigan services.

        Already a couple hundred million or so is being invested in untangling the rail & road mess in Chicago, and some work in Indiana, to cut trip times to/from Chicago. More federal money has been vaguely promised. After all, Amtrak’s 100 miles of trackage leading into Kalamazoo has already been upgraded to handle 110- mph service. So Kalamazoo-Ann Arbor-Dearborn-Detroit-Pontiac is next.

        So shouldn’t Michigan be hurrying to do a two-fer on upgrading the right of way from Dearborn to Pontiac? It will need work, and probably will get lots of federal funding when this is “the next 110-mph route.” Rebuilding platforms and station buildings, adding sidings, etc. for commuter rail should be done at the same time.

        Of course, bringing commuters to Grand Ave might bring new users to the M1 light rail line to downtown. I don’t see any synergy with BRT to the burbs.

      • I should probably add that when I say “commuter rail,” the last thing on my mind is service that runs five times a day.

        Now, if Michigan had its mind set on using the Amtrak lines to provide half-hourly regional service between Ann Arbor, Detroit, and Pontiac, then it would be something else…

      • Woody

        I wasn’t at all confused. I’m certainly not suggesting using the current or future Amtrak trains Chicago-Niles (South Bend)-Kalamazoo-Battle Creek-Ann Arbor-Dearborn-Detroit-Pontiac as commuter trains. I’m suggesting that Amtrak will be running 110-mph trains on most of this route a few years after St Louis-Chicago gets to that speed. And when it squeezes an hour or hour and a half out of the Chicago-Detroit schedule, Amtrak will be running eight trains a day on this route.

        I am suggesting that this right of way should be wide enough in the metro area to allow commuter trains to use some of the same stations and platforms, etc. So any upgrades for Amtrak should be planned to accommodate commuter rail as well.

        In fact, train service Detroit-Toledo-Cleveland-points east could start in the same timeframe. In that case, commuter rail could be local trains feeding the other line, e.g. Ypsilanti-Dearborn-change for Toledo-Cleveland, or Ypsilanti-Ann Arbor-change to 110 mph-Kalamazoo-Chicago.

        I understand that commuter rail can’t be five trains a day. That leads to disappointments like Nashville’s line or Austin fiasco. Build a robust system, like New Mexico’s Rail Runner, or fugetaboutit.

  • Nowooski

    Alon —

    Most cases, the distinction between the city and the suburbs is important in terms of density. But in Detroit this is not the case. Detroit has always been a city of single-family homes. Even when it was fully built up, most of the city was not any more dense than the inner-ring suburbs this plan would service. Today, after the city has been devastated, the first ring of suburbs along eight mile are significantly MORE dense than Detroit itself.

    • The issue isn’t just density; it’s that at long distances, local urban rail is slow and can’t compete with driving for more than peak-hour commutes to the CBD.

  • Jason_2

    Re: Low Detroit Transit Ridership

    While this may be true for metro area and the city in general, the Woodward bus (53) runs extremely frequently, and can get very crowded. After frequent cuts, the bus still runs all day, with headways as low as 7 minutes during peaks.

    (http://www.detroitmi.gov/Portals/0/docs/deptoftransportation/New_Bus_Schedules/green/53WoodwardMF.pdf)

  • Nate

    Jason_2, that’s not bad, however I’m not sure as a transit rider I’d want streetcar service to run every 15 minutes as opposed to 7 minutes to maintain the same economy. I think residents and decision makers should be prepared to pay more for potentially lower mobility.

  • Dan

    For anyone reading this not from Metro Detroit, I’d just like to point out the serious culture clash here both racial and socioeconomic. Macomb County (businesses) may support this as you show from the Detroit News article, but you would be hard pressed in Oakland County to convince citizens in Birmingham, Bloomfield, Rochester Hills, or Troy that there would be any positives to “promot(ing) greater equality of mobility” to Pontiac or downtown Detroit. As evidence, here are just some of the comments from that Detroit News article:

    “Darn,I figured 25 mile road was far enough, but the gangbangers & hoodlums are following us out this way…”

    “Yes indeed. This bus idea sure is grand. It will make it so much easier to get from Detroit to the suburbs. One can only imagine the crime wave this will facilitate.”

    “Detroit folks despise people from the ‘burbs. Bus stops would entail them to stand in a fixed spot at fixed times. Might as well hand out shirts with targets on them!”

    “I am so glad that I will be moving as far away from this system the crime rate well sky rocket for sure with the help of more out bound Detroit traffic”

    You might argue that I’m cherry-picking, but growing up in Rochester Hills I can honestly (and unfortunately) say that this group-think attitude is pervasive and near ubiquitous.

    The challenge of unifying the city and suburbs in Detroit metro is far more about culture than it is about which commuter trains or bus lines to build and buy.

  • Patrick

    I agree with Dan above that the decision about where to put in BRT or rail lines is much more cultural than any one on here has seemed to give credit thus far. The term “White Flight” originated in Detroit…

    However I don’t think its as bad as Dan made it seem. For the first time ever, the City Manager and Mayor of Rochester both collectively agree that connecting themselves with Detroit would be a good thing. Many of the cultural boundaries in Detroit are starting to disappear too; most people wouldn’t know this unless you lived there but a few decades ago a wall was built along 8 Mile to keep the city of Detroit out of the affluent neighborhoods beyond that point. this wall is finally coming down, and with it a lot of the fear/anger residents had for the other side of the wall.

    I believe that the city is right to focus on its downtown which has seen recent improvement. Detroit is facing a major issue with how to shrink its city, right now entire neighborhoods are abandoned except for a few houses which requires the city to still provide, fire and police protection, as well as utilities. creating an extensive bus system in the city and out would never find enough riders to support it.

  • Matt Owen

    If Detroit implements this “Golden Triangle” they might as well call it the “Golden Shower” for all the money they’ll be pissing away. I live in one of the suburbs along the proposed M-59 route and I will tell you first hand that PEOPLE OUT HERE WILL NOT RIDE BUSES!!!

    If the Metro Detroit area is going to make any progress with a regional transit system, they might as well do it right and go with the LRT. It will take a little longer to implement a system on the this same scale as this “Golden Triangle” but it will be more effective at serving the right kind of communities and the right kind of transit oriented people.

    Additionally, I would like to add that the suburbs aren’t really built to support transit. M-59 is kind of a meaningless route to propose regardless of the how many people live along that corridor. This area contains nothing but big box stores with vast parking lots that people aren’t going to ride a bus to visit. I’ll pose this question and please think about it for a second.

    Would you ride a bus in the suburbs to visit a Lowe’s store and then in order to shop at another big box store (for instance Target) cart your purchases from Lowe’s across 3 gigantic parking lots and across one major intersection? Don’t forget you have to walk back too.

    My point is that this BRT would be a boon and another failure for this region for three reasons:

    1.) we wouldn’t be placing routes in the proper communities.
    2.) we wouldn’t be utilizing the proper transit resources like LRT (Faster and more conducive to transit oriented developments).
    3.) we wouldn’t be servicing the right transit oriented people.

    • Matt Owen

      Just wanted to revise one thing in my previous post. Some suburban communities are not developed with transit in mind. The Woodward Corridor would probably work fairly well (i.e. Pontiac, Birmingham, RO, Ferndale etc…) and maybe Gratiot too. It is the M-59 route that has me screaming.

  • Robert

    I think that we should combine if possible the existing rail system from Pontiac to the New Center and then build an underground subway for the rest of the line from New Center to downtown. I am against an above-ground light rail going up and down woodward. In addition, I favor two slight modifications if possible with the existing rail lines with respect to Ferndale and Birmingham. It would be ideal if the line could diverge from the existing line and go underground acroos 9 mile for a stop at 9 and Woodward, then continue underground and reconnect to the line via 10 mile. The same in Birmingham so that a stop could be at Maple and Woodward: the heart of Birmingham. So in all, there would be a combination of the above ground rail, then underground rail in Birmingham, Royal Oak, and then from New Center to Downtown. Plus its cold in the Winter. Waiting underground will not be a burden. Plus the center median of Woodward between New Center and Downtown could be beautified with fountains, trees, and Lighting.

  • Mike Cohn

    Grand Ave, Grand Ave, Grand Ave. There is no “Grand Ave” where this station is located, it’s Grand *Boulevard* the same one that’s lower on the map, which is significantly different from the pitiful Grand Avenue located in a completely different part of the city.

    If commentators are getting that major detail wrong, what else are the birds eye prognostications getting wrong?

    Is anybody commenting actually ON the streets of Detroit understanding it’s needs? Or simply comparing everything to other cities and what they already know?

    Then there is this comment: “combine existing rail to New Center then run it underground to downtown”. Hello, we already have an “underground subway” called the Dequindre Cut (or Orleans Trench by some). It’s now a bike path, but that can be turned back into a proper non-stop railroad at any time.

    Some commentators have gotten it right – the cultural issue is bigger than the infrastructure issue but that is also changing. And culture notwithstanding, weather and lack of feeder buses (and density) also make BRT in many places north of certain points a dumb investment.

    Pontiac to downtown Detroit is another story, BRT could functionally work as good as LRT, but one is sexier and has lower operating costs than the other and will more likely be used than the other.

    There is no silver bullet. (“There is no sanctuary”) But there is silver buckshot. It is silly to scrap commuter rail for LRT or vice versa. Metro Detroit needs it all, needs it now, needed it yesterday.

    The BRT triangle probably started not as a triangle, but as a V. One down Woodward, the other down Gratiot. Which make some sense. And once you’ve gotten that much done, it’s “logical” to say “why not connect the top of the V?” and make it a “saleable” or “gimmicky” package that doesn’t work better, but *looks* better, unified, complete, etc., to the average clueless voter.

    So let’s think about the Woodward Corridor from downtown up to about Royal Oak or Birmingham as a “mentality area”, unbroken by city lines. It is populated by people who are not running *away* from urban-ness, or resentfully living in it, but running *toward* it. Let’s build a system for them – because they are the only ones who will use it – for now. For them, something up the spine of Woodward makes sense.

    But really, a “cultural connector” streetcar loop should be considered equally important to other projects. Not in the center of Woodward, no further north than New Center, but one that rings through the east and west sides of Woodward, going through Woodbridge, Wayne State, New Center, Museum row, Eastern Market and downtown. The locals will actually use it to get to the places in that loop they already frequent. And it’s good for tourism (yes, there IS tourism). Like the Portland Streetcar or San Francisco F line, it’s ridership will exceed the numbers people thought an “ornamental” or “neighborhood” line could have, because it’s practical.

    It doesn’t pretend to be for commuters, it doesn’t pretend to be a visible lightening rod up and down the middle of Woodward. But it makes much more sense than the People Mover. It doesn’t need the expensive stations or cost as much to operate as LRT, is simpler to set up and will remain an important, well used fixture, in all weather conditions, even in a rebounding future of Proper Light Rail.

    But commuter rail must be first, not instead-of. It’s so close, so within reach, so planned. It should not be allowed to back burner in people’s minds or in light of the distraction of HSR or light rail. Silver buckshot.

    The argument of above vs below ground should not ignore the fact that sometimes, seeing the line actually makes more people ride it rather than hiding it amongst people you “assume” know it’s underground. This is true with the Los Angeles “subway” that many locals don’t know exists, and is even true with BART to SFO amongst that section’s locals.

    And farming downtown is not “defeatist no-growth” so it shouldn’t be so scary. It takes land off the market (which makes the rest more valuable) and out of the red and uses it until there is demand for it – like the Dequindre Cut bike path.

    http://rustwire.com/2011/03/14/the-woodward-project-a-new-model-for-detroit/

    http://www.detroitriverfront.org/dequindre/

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by Yonah Freemark

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