Anyone who followed the Great Columbus Streetcar Debate of 2008 knows what a divisive topic large capital investments into public transit can be, especially in cities that don’t already have fixed guideway transit. I ran across this article from the Detroit Free Press and was struck by the similarity to the Columbus streetcar proposal.
BY CECIL ANGEL • FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER • January 4, 2009
Despite the state’s economic woes, mass transit advocates saw significant progress in late 2008 toward proposed light rail and mass transit projects in southeast Michigan.
In early December, in a rare show of unity, government leaders in Detroit, Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties agreed on a resolution for a mass transit plan for the tri-county area.
The Michigan Legislature passed a bill on Dec. 19 giving the Detroit Regional Mass Transit Authority the go-ahead to establish a governing body that will oversee a planned $10.5-billion tri-county mass transit system consisting of buses and light rail.
The bill also gave the green light for the Detroit Regional Mass Transit Authority to create a tax increment finance authority to privately fund The Regional Area Initial Link (TRAIL), a 3.4-mile-long light rail line that will extend from Hart Plaza to New Center in Detroit. The line also will be supported with fares, but if there is an operating shortfall, the state will cover it, said John Hertel, chief executive officer for the Detroit Regional Mass Transit Authority.
“This line just got a big boost,” he said of the lawmakers’ action on TRAIL. “This can be built in a matter of two years. No federal dollars.”
Detroit is calling it light rail – and perhaps it will be – but with 12 stops on a 3.4 mile long starter line it sounds a lot like Columbus’ 2.8 mile streetcar to me. The difference is that Detroit has funding and is moving forward with it.
I found the comments at the end of the article somewhat interesting. As could be expected in the center of the US automobile industry, there is no shortage of rail critics. Here are some quotes:
It doesn’t make any sense to me to TRAIL-blaze rapid transit in Detroit with a useless “Hart Plaza-New Center” beginning. Just exactly WHO is going to use this? Rapid transit should provide a cheap and quick alternative to automobile transit. It needs to bring the commuters from the suburbs to downtown, where they can work, attend sports games, theater, concerts, and restaurants/bars. It needs to provide a way to get to the airport without having to park in one of the exhorbitant lots. It needs to reduce traffic congestion on area freeways.
First, it is always easier to criticize from the back of the room and not offer any reasonable solutions otherwise. The reason why you start in the city center is to create a starting point for transit to branch out from. While I agree Detroit’s downtown is still far from perfect, ANY successful metro area needs a strong, diverse city core.
But the real question is: Why would rail be expected to significantly increase ridership when, except for connecting Wayne with Ypsilanti, the rail system would simply duplicate or replace existing bus routes already in place??? And buses would be necessary to get to the rail system in the first place.