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M-1 Rail and segregation

I am a resident and I live near the intersection of McNichols Road (Six Mile) and Woodward Avenue. I spent two years anticipating the arrival of the Woodward Light Rail. I had begun to believe that it would really happen and my wife and I had even begun to think about how our lives might change if we could eliminate one of our two cars. We calculated that the money saved over four years would allow us to put new cedar siding on our house. In addition, we had begun to imagine how we would be more strongly linked with the urban environments of downtown and midtown. Then we found out that the train was not coming.

Now the concept of an M-1 streetcar has been proposed and this streetcar would only service downtown and midtown/New Center. I would have no problem with this project if it were being constructed in a manner that would allow for eventual northward expansion toward my neighborhood and communities all the way up to Pontiac. However, it is my understanding that the project will be constructed according to the will of a handful of businessmen who have generously offered to pay for the bulk of its construction (but the public will eventually assume operating costs).

Because M-1 is to be constructed as a curbside system with 11 stops between Woodward and Downtown, it will operate at much higher travel times than was originally proposed for the Woodward Light rail, which would have been a center-running system with fewer (but adequate) stops.

People living in my neighborhood have been promised a “state of the art” Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system that will eventually carry us downtown. But what will the impact of the proposed M-1 rail be on the efficiency of the BRT? It seems to me that the M-1 “streetcar” becomes more of an impediment than a help when we consider the public transit requirements of people traveling via BRT downtown from northern Detroit and southern Oakland County. Here’s why.

I have heard three proposals: In the first, a southward-bound BRT running along Woodward would stop at Grand Boulevard and BRT riders would switch modes to the M-1 streetcar. This option is not desirable because with 11 additional streetcar stops to go before reaching downtown (coupled with potential wait times for the slower-moving trains that are co-mingled with car traffic), this option would greatly prolong the journey downtown.

In a second option, the BRT would go into “express mode” (no stops) between Grand Boulevard and Downtown. This is a nicely segregated system that would not only speed up travel time but it would also keep the riff raff from my neighborhood off the shiny new M-1 rail system. Because the regional transit authority will eventually assume operating costs for the M-1 rail, I will get to pay for it but I won’t really get to use it.

In a third option that has been discussed, the issue of congestion along Woodward is addressed. Due to the presence of BRT, streetcar and car traffic on Woodward it has been suggested that the BRT might just need to head down Cass Avenue rather than Woodward. Now, I don’t know about you, but I have lived in the Cass Corridor in the past and I know what a mess the infrastructure is under Cass Avenue. For that reason, Cass Avenue is constantly being re-worked and it is a very narrow secondary street-not the kind of street that lends itself well to a “state of the art” BRT route complete with elevated platform stops, etc.

So let’s face it. This M-1 streetcar project, as it is currently proposed, is not really about mass transit. It is about development in the midtown area and we are all being asked to subsidize it. It will be an impediment to real mass transit and I will be very surprised if it’s really used as much as these business owners say it will be. I used to walk between Wayne State University’s main campus and the medical school campus all the time and I can say with certainty that, if this thing does not operate efficiently, it will not be all that useful for this type of trip even within midtown.

I would not have a problem with the project if it were to be built according to the “locally preferred” plan that resulted from the two-year long Environment Impact Statement (EIS) process that received input from hundreds of city residents. This plan had the potential to expand northward into Oakland County. Right now, SEMCOG is undergoing its own alternatives analysis looking at locally preferred options for transit along the Woodward Corridor. I have been told that the outcome of that will be BRT whether the people want it or not. But that is another story.

I am not a “sour grapes whiner” who wants to stop this project because I am not getting my way. As I said before, I would support the project if it were constructed according to the will of the people rather than the whim of a handful of business men. I want rational thought to be put into any decisions pertaining to transit and I want transit projects to benefit as large a swath of our community as possible.

Why don’t you call out M-1 for what it really is: An idea hatched by business with some very narrow business interests in mind? Thanks to the construction of the M-1 streetcar, my neighborhood is nearly assured that it will never see a smooth and efficient connection to our own downtown. Once again, the rich guys have won and we have been put back in our place as an afterthought. Please encourage the M-1 streetcar people to build their project according to the EIS that “we the people” agreed to. Ask them to help us develop a true transit system with the goals of the all the people of the Woodward Corridor (from downtown to Pontiac) in mind.

Jason Fligger,
Detroit resident

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