BY CHRIS ZADOROZNY, Staff Writer
Transportation is key to any successful city. Look at New York City, they have the subway, and cabs everywhere. Cleveland just integrated a Rapid Bus Transit system and Washington D.C. plans on opening a new streetcar system this year. Detroit needs rapid transit, or some form of improved transportation.
Detroit does have a couple of things, let’s not forget. They do have the People Mover. It’s an elevated light rail that transports people around the Downtown sector of Detroit. It’s officially 2.9 miles long, and has a daily rider ship of just around 7,000 people. The People Mover opened up in 1987, and is owned by the Detroit Transportation Corporation. The original fare that the company charged was $.50 up until this past December. The fare went up to $.75 to keep the light rail running.
The Detroit People Mover does its job; it transports people around the Downtown area, which is where many of the jobs are in the city. A few people have considered extending the People Mover farther out, towards the Midtown area, and even the New Center area. The plans for that probably won’t come to fruition as there are other plans for rapid transit in the city.
Other than light rail in the city, there is also busing. The SMART Bus system runs through Wayne County, Oakland County, and Macomb County. According to their website, www.smartbus.org, they provide 12 million rides annually, and work 22 hours a day, with 54 routes, and 275 fixed route buses. The bus system is trying to provide service to around 3 million people in the Metro Detroit area. Unfortunately, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing just cut busing in the city from 1:00am-4:00am looking to save money in their budget.
There have been many complaints about the bus system, in which the buses are always late, they need more buses, and drivers, and stops. Without a fast bus system, who would want to stay in Detroit or Southeast Michigan without reliable transportation? Many city officials, leaders, and prominent businessmen, as well as the federal government are looking to improve the transportation and solve the problems in Detroit.
One of the proposals, originally to help the transportation problem in Detroit was the M-1 Light Rail Project. Planning began in 2006 to bring some sort of light rail, or streetcar back to Detroit. From 1892-1956, Detroit had a streetcar system, but was scrapped for buses as they tried to move forward with technology. The light rail project supposedly was to be spanned from the Rosa Parks Transit Center on Michigan Avenue in Downtown Detroit, up all the way to the State Fairgrounds at 8 Mile and Woodward Avenue. There would have been 19 stops and 10 cars.
Unfortunately though, after years of planning, Mayor Dave Bing turned the idea down, explaining it was too much money for a short line, and wanted to use it for a larger system. The new idea is the Bus Rapid Transit System.
The Bus Rapid Transit System would cost the same as the M-1 Light Rail Project, $550 million, and cover 110 miles instead of just 9.3 miles. The system would be run by a regional authority, and be a lot faster than the SMART bus system that is currently in place. The system would also have a lane dedicated to just the buses, as well as larger, covered stations for passengers.
The passengers would be able to ride smaller, efficient buses around their neighborhoods, and move to the larger, more regional buses at the stations. Also, the system would include faster loading and unloading, with payment at a turnstile instead of on the bus when you get on. It seems to be supported by the federal government and the regional transportation authority. There is no date yet for when plans will be finalized for this, although it would help the region and the city especially.
The M-1 Light Rail Project isn’t dead either, despite the disappointing result of having it scrapped. The team (made up of private entrepreneurs and businessmen) is looking into a 3-mile route that would run from Downtown to the New Center Area at Woodward Avenue and West Grand Boulevard. There still aren’t concrete plans on when this could start developing either.
Detroit had some great transportation options during its heyday. Today, they barely provide adequate busing. If this possible Bus Rapid Transit comes to fruition, the Metro Detroit Region may improve and you could see more people coming to Detroit and the Downtown area. The city has so much to provide with entertainment, culture, the arts, food, and sporting events. The easier it is to access fast and affordable regional transportation, the more people will use it and come to Detroit.