Bikes, trains and buses: A week of positive transit-related news for Detroit

A Capital Bikeshare kiosk in Washington D.C.
A Capital Bikeshare kiosk in Washington D.C.

Could the Motor City, long defined by its increasingly pothole-ridden road network and an unreliable bus system, be ready to join the ranks of 21st century cities that provide a range of viable transit options? Recent developments might make even the most hardened cynic more optimistic.

Detroit Bike Share

First, Detroit is set to get a bike sharing system.

I recently ran into Lisa Nuszkowski, who has been working on this project for Wayne State University’s Office of Economic Development. She confirmed the news but asked me to hold tight until the official announcement is made later this summer. I broke the news that bike sharing could be on its way to Detroit in an interview with Lisa and her then boss back in 2012.

Today, she made it official in an email to colleagues and friends. “We’ve made significant progress in raising the funds needed to launch a 350-bicycle, 35-station system and finding a nonprofit partner that can implement and oversee it,” Nuszkowski wrote. “I’m excited to announce that I will be moving over to the Downtown Detroit Partnership starting Monday, July 6, where I’ll serve as the Executive Director for Detroit Bike Share.”

Nuszkowski told me discussions were ongoing with corporate and philanthropic backers, with the goal of launching the system next spring. A 2013 feasibility study commissioned for the project cited a strong and collaborative network of public, private and nonprofit groups “with a proven ability to deliver public-private infrastructure projects” and a robust mix of downtown commuters, students and out-of-town visitors who would make up the user base.

Organizers in the past have discussed neighborhoods including downtown, Midtown, New Center, Eastern Market, Mexicantown and Corktown as being good fits for bike sharing in Detroit, partly to capitalize on the M-1 Rail line taking shape along Woodward Avenue.

M-1 Rail spurring development

A conceptual rendering of the M-1 Rail project.
A conceptual rendering of the M-1 Rail project.

Speaking of M-1, The Detroit News ran an interesting story listing a number of big-ticket development projects that are planned or already under construction along that modest 3.3-mile corridor.

The News reported that near the 12 planned stops along the straight-line route, plans are in the works for at least 10 housing projects, including the vacant former Hudson’s department store site and the surface lot in front of Comerica Park.

Supporters predict the rail line will attract $3 billion in development and 10,000 new housing units within a decade of its launch (now slated in fall of 2016, but that’s been pushed back several times already). One developer who is renovating two vacant structures told the paper that “M-1 is not the only factor, but it is one of the big ones, why banks will finance my projects.”

“We went to Portland, Minneapolis, Denver and San Diego and … we were told light rail was the single dominating economic event that took their cities to the top,” said Dan Gilbert, the billionaire founder of Quicken Loans Inc. and a prime mover in downtown Detroit’s resurgence.

There’s been plenty of skepticism about M-1, including from some reliably pro-transit supporters, who say it doesn’t go far enough, will move too slowly to be effective and will create havoc for motorists and cyclists with its mostly dual curbside configuration. But when money talks …

Airport buses are coming

The last bit of news is admittedly not as sexy, but it will come as a relief to anyone who’s plunked down $60 to take a car service to Detroit Metro Airport. Not to mention out-of-town visitors. From the Freep:

The Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan’s plans for airport shuttle bus service to and from Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties and the City of Detroit are expected to launch incrementally beginning in next spring.

The new service would apparently be modeled after Ann Arbor’s existing airport shuttle service and cost just $12. Michael Ford, the RTA’s chief executive who formerly headed up the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, told the Freep he sees the new service as among the “appetizers” to show people in the Detroit area what a credible transit system can do before seeking a dedicated millage stream for funding.

So could Detroit be on the verge of joining the ranks of other advanced-economy 21st century cities with well-functioning transit? Will these new transportation services be viable? What do you think?

Capital Bikeshare photo via Tony Webster

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