M1 trolley folly versus transportation justice
The North End Woodward Community Coalition (NEWCC) recently mounted a seven-day march. From Sept. 29 to Oct. 5, we marched round-trip from Woodward and Bethune to the Detroit Amtrak station, the closest place for North End residents to board the proposed M1 trolley. It’s not a great distance if you’re not in a wheel chair or use a walker or cane. In short, the M1 was not constructed with many North End residents in mind. Though we will get a “turnaround” facility where some form of waste will be left, no one will be able to board the trolley there.
We called the seven-day march the “Jericho Journey” after the famous biblical battle where the Wall of Jericho came down. Our goal is to tear down the wall we see developing between two Detroits. Before the march, we provided testimony to the Detroit City Council on the need for fair, community-based development to support residents and business owners whose lives and livelihoods will be turned upside down by M1 construction and traffic rerouting.
We marched and gave testimony to call attention to development for the few versus the needs of the many. In this case, the few are the folks in Midtown for whom the very expensive M1 trolley is being built versus the thousands of Detroiters who have no other means than the bus to get to work, school and medical appointments.
One of the biggest problems for working people, students and seniors in Detroit is the amazingly dysfunctional and underfunded bus system. This summer, the mayor, city council and state representatives and many community groups decried the funding change by SEMCOG that effectively removed $7 million from the already depleted DDOT budget.
What hasn’t gotten nearly as much attention is the grossly unfair funding of the M1 trolley to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars while DDOT riders wait sometimes in vain for overcrowded buses. A fraction of that money would have gotten a lot of people to work, school and medical appointments on time; made the buses safer for drivers and riders; and fixed many broken fare boxes, which deprive the system of crucial revenue.
Many of us still mistakenly believe the M1 trolley will be a light rail or the first part of a larger, regional transit system. Neither of those things are true. In fact, it’s the People Mover on steroids — totally incompatible with the current bus system or any future plans for a serious regional system. It will run along the curb, which will make the tracks that must be dug into the ground a hazard to people using wheel chairs or walkers. Cyclists will not be able to ride along the curb and buses will have to be rerouted. And all of this for 3.3 mile stretch of trolley that will go no more than 11 miles per hour, slower than many bikes.
Supporters of the M1 Trolley admit it’s a development project not a transportation project. The question is: development for whom? The answer is: development for those who need it the least — the burgeoning group of mostly young, white, relatively affluent, relatively new Detroiters in “Midtown,” to make sure they can get downtown for entertainment. No one in their right mind wants to see these folks leave. The drop in population and tax base has spurred much of Detroit’s financial crisis.
But we have to confront the obvious injustice of leaving the 100,000 daily DDOT riders in the lurch while catering to a group with other options for transportation. Ironically, what attracts young college professionals is good regional transit, not toy trains. Moreover, all Detroit residents have the right to good safe public transportation.
It’s been generations since the Renaissance Center was built with the intention of revitalizing downtown Detroit. Keen observers noted at the time there was a need to support neighborhoods. After all, Detroit, even then, had one of the largest housing stocks per capita of any city in the nation. Years later, and many downtown development plans later, vacant houses and large swaths of abandoned lots have become iconic representations of the city.
The “downtown first” development strategy that has helped put the city where it is today is sadly echoed in the M1 trolley. It’s being developed to the tune of hundreds of millions while the needs of 100,000 bus riders go unmet. We also have to note the affect of the hockey arena/entertainment area on low-income renters, who are already being summarily kicked out of their apartments, as an example of wholly unnecessary injustice.
Detroit can only thrive when we use justice as our guide. Development can’t come from the top down. It must be rooted in the needs of the community. Helping the transit-dependent keep their jobs, get to school on time and get to the medical appointments is a more than a quality of life issue — it’s the morally right thing to do.
Rev. Joan C. Ross is director of the NEWCC and executive director of Greater Woodward Community Development Corporation. She can be reached at 313.460.7076 (office) or 248.565.6572 (cell).
Editor’s note: Representatives from the M1 Rail System say there will be a boarding opportunity north of the Amtrak Station.