Weeklong protest claims M-1 RAIL is divisive
By Phreddy Wischusen
The Michigan Citizen
DETROIT — The North End Woodward Community Coalition (NEWCC), a coalition of bus riders and their supporters, are marching every day for a week to challenge ideas about the planned M-1 RAIL, a Woodward Avenue streetcar service.
According to their Web site, “M-1 RAIL is a 501(c)3 organization managing the design, construction and operation of a circulating streetcar that will initially run 3.3 miles along Woodward Avenue from Congress to Grand Boulevard.” Construction of the streetcar will begin sometime this year and should be operating by the fourth quarter of 2015, say M-1 representatives.
NEWCC members feel the “M-1 actually serves a small number of people and is indicative of the emerging two Detroits, one being developed at the expense of the other.” On each day of the week-long campaign, dubbed the Jericho Journey, the NEWCC will focus on a different issue they believe will be created by the construction/implementation of the planned line.
Protesters want to know whether maintenance stations will damage the local environment. They also believe the system will create challenges for bicyclists, bus riders and the disabled. M-1 representatives assert the planned system will enhance access to transportation for those groups, and state the rail will not disrupt current bus schedules or routes.
Additionally, the NEWCC is concerned that Black-owned businesses along Woodward will lose sales and customers during construction of the line, and won’t be able to fully recover — similar to the loss of Black neighborhoods and businesses during the construction of I-75.
Reverend Joan Ross, organizer and leader of the Jericho Journey, says $25 million from a federal TIGER grant allocated for the M-1 project would be better spent on improving the ailing bus system, noting also the Detroit Department of Transportation’s recent loss of $7 million to Southeast Michigan Council of Governments was going to have a negative impact on city transportation. “If you wanted to put $135 million into something, you could get bus rapid transit all the way to Pontiac with some money left over,” said Ross.
Ross also said the design of the rail system itself indicates the project being more about business development than public transportation. The system is set to run alongside the curb of Woodward in many places, which favors access to businesses, rather than up the middle of the road, which studies, she says, show is better for efficient transportation.
Ross says she isn’t against business or development, but what protesters want is “fair development with community involvement. Fair development has our voice in it.”
M-1 representatives say the federally approved “placement of the streetcar tracks — a combination of center and side running — is conducive to allowing for frequent and safe stops that support walkability, rider accessibility, economic growth and attraction, and support for the existing businesses along the corridor.”
Johnny Thomas lives close to Bethune and Woodward. He relies on a wheelchair and uses the bus for transportation. He wants to know that walkers and wheelchairs easily enter the street cars. M-1 representatives told the Michigan Citizen: “Making streetcars easily accessible for disabled passengers is not only a top priority for M-1 RAIL, but also a federally mandated requirement. Plans are for all six of our streetcars to be ADA compliant as well as our stations.”
Thomas says, “It’s going to be hard for wheelchairs to cross the street (over gaps made by railroad tracks).” On one occasion, after exiting the bus in Highland Park, he “busted a front wheel going across a railroad.” He doesn’t want to be stuck like that again.
Organizer Kim Hunter says the march is not just about the planned rail system, but “a lot of crises coming together for regular people. The resources are not there for people to stay in their homes, for the bus system. The resources just aren’t going to where the people are.”
Marches continue Oct. 3-5. People who wish to join the march can meet on the east side of Woodward at Bethune at 5 p.m. those days.