Back to Basics for Detroit Light Rail

Campus Martius

» A private push to build a short line down Woodward may find itself in official plans once again.

Just three weeks after Detroit leaders announced that they had abandoned efforts to build a 9.3-mile light rail line down Woodward Avenue, the city’s central strip, Mayor Dave Bing revealed on Friday that he would allow a shorter link funded by a private group to move forward if it submitted an acceptable business plan within 90 days.

The project will have to be built right: Even at just 3.4 miles, the line could serve as a quick, reliable connector between the waterfront and the New Center, via Midtown, but that will only be possible if trains run in their own lanes, if they run frequently, and if they are funded with no negative effect on the city’s already under-financed bus system. There is evidence that those conditions will not be

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In a Failure of Municipal Ambition, Plans for Detroit Light Rail Shut Down as Focus Shifts to BRT

Detroit Regional Transit Plans Update

» More people will be served by the bus lines than would have been affected by rail, but new plans are predicated on a regional accord on funding improved regional service.

In early 2010, the U.S. DOT announced that it would award a $25 million TIGER grant to Detroit to begin construction on a new light rail line along that city’s central spine. For two years, hope spread through America’s most notorious shrinking city: This project, perhaps, would provide the boost to resurrect the Motor City.

Last week, just as the latest TIGER grants were being unveiled for other cities, local leaders announced they would reneg on that promise due to a fear that operations costs would be impossible to cover. A less aesthetically pleasing — but far more extensive and regionally funded — BRT program would be inserted in its place.

This situation speaks two realities: First, Detroit continues

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Local Neoliberalism’s Role in Defining Transit’s Purpose

» Must transit capital projects be construed either as for capitalist development or social welfare? Can the two goals be reconciled?

Detroit has staked its development hopes on the creation of a light rail line down Woodward Avenue in the heart of the city. For the past few years, public and private groups there have banded together to suggest that this project, more than any other, would provide the kind of spark necessary to spur economic growth in this city that is losing population so quickly. Thanks to government grants and private donations, the project is mostly financed and may enter construction this year.

Yet the city’s budget situation is so bad that the mayor has suggested that if the city council moves ahead with cuts it approved this week, he will have to shut off bus service at nights and on Sundays — and eliminate service on the People Mover,

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Alignment Questions for Detroit’s Rail Line, Almost Ready for Construction

Woodward

» Light rail or streetcar approach for a project whose proponents claim would restore the health of this city’s core?

Unlike similar projects in nearby cities like Cincinnati, Detroit’s planned light rail line for Woodward Avenue has near-universal support from just about everyone in local and state government — even though it is being constructed in a city that is shedding population quickly. The $528 million route, which would by 2016 extend 9.3 miles from downtown to the city’s borders at 8 Mile, has been the priority of regional transportation planners for years. And with federal support for the first phase of the corridor announced in February 2010, construction is supposed to begin later in 2011, at least for the 3.4-mile section from Hart Plaza to Grand Avenue.

Aligning the project with other transit offerings in Downtown Detroit, however, has become a contentious issue. The Detroit DOT, which

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Regional Transportation Authorities are not Necessarily the Solution to the Urban-Suburban Divide

Rosa Parks Transit Center

» Developing common goals is more productive than forcing a merger of regional transportation agencies. An authority for Detroit comes closer.

If there’s anything Detroit needs most, it may be regional cooperation, where it finds itself distinctively behind the times. While some major cities like New York or San Francisco are large and wealthy enough to be able to close themselves off politically from the surroundings, Michigan’s largest metropolis benefits from neither of those characteristics, so it must find ways to make agreements with nearby municipalities.

Frequently mentioned is the idea of a regional transportation district, which would coordinate funding and spending activities at the metropolitan scale. A proposal for one is currently being considered in the Michigan legislature. But it’s not clear that the creation of such an agency will resolve some of the structural issues complicating politics in this metropolis.

The biggest problem is the metropolitan area’s racial and class

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The Site / The Fight

by Yonah Freemark

yfreemark (at) thetransportpolitic (dot) com

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