M-1 Rail improvements should inspire a ‘yes’ vote on RTA transit proposal

QLINE station

As a region, Detroit has long had a blind spot when it comes to public transportation. We’re the Motor City, after all, the home of the automobile. We put the world on wheels, helped build the fabled middle class and hold metal, horsepower and exhaust fumes near and dear.

Accordingly, there’s a large segment of the population — mostly older suburbanites of a certain age and mindset, I suspect — who will reflexively cast a “no” vote tomorrow on the Regional Transit Authority for Southeast Michigan’s proposal to levy 1.2 mills to improve transit service across the region.

It’s people who easily assume the tax would cost them thousands per year. (At 1.2 mills, the tax would amount to about $120 a year for the owner of a home appraised at $200,000.)

It’s decades of false starts in Lansing, of efforts sabotaged by outgoing politicians or simple parochial turf wars and mistrust. (We came damn close to repeating that depressing pattern this year.)

It’s people who have had their lives and habits shaped heavily by the automobile, who scoff at the sight of empty buses and wonder why they should help fund a service they would never be caught dead using.

A new pedestrian crossing near the Majestic Theater in Detroit.
A new pedestrian crossing near the Majestic Theater in Detroit.

But if you want a peak at what could be, take a look at what’s going on along Woodward Avenue in Detroit along the path of the M-1 Rail/QLINE.

Like many others, I confess to some skepticism about the QLINE, a 3.3-mile tram that will (very slowly) ferry passengers between downtown Detroit, Midtown and the New Center. I want to see it succeed, but the project so far has been mired in controversy over everything from the decision to make the street cars run curbside as opposed to center-running and the aches and pains the massive construction project has caused for motorists and businesses.

With construction finally entering the late innings, however, I have to say that things are looking great along portions of Woodward that were looking long in the tooth.

Construction has finally begun on several of the stations, which will be elevated so passengers don’t have to step up onto streetcars. That’s just like the RTA’s plans for stations for the bus rapid transit lines that would operate along Woodward, Gratiot and Michigan avenues, between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and critically, to Metro Airport (omg FINALLY!!!).

Also, as part of the resurfacing of Woodward, crews have installed median islands, curb cuts and well-marked pedestrian crossing lanes. That’s a huge, pedestrian-friendly improvement that will allow people to more safely cross the eight-lane Woodward Avenue near such popular attractions as the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Majestic Theater complex with no more standing completely unprotected in the center turn lane. It might even encourage motorists to drive more slowly, what with more streetcars and pedestrians using the throughway.

The 498 bus for Woodward is operated by DDOT. Fares are $1.50.
The new Reflex express bus at its terminus in downtown Detroit.

Already, you can see an incredible economic upside to the kind of infrastructure improvements the added bus service —as well as the passenger rail between Ann Arbor and Detroit — will no doubt bring. The amount of construction going on along the M-1 Rail portion of Woodward, including the new Red Wings arena, is staggering. It’s starting to look like a refreshed city down there. And I suspect we ain’t seen nothing yet.

So if I could say one thing to people who are having trouble getting behind the RTA proposal it’s this:

Don’t think of it as an added expense. Think of it as a long-overdue investment in our region.

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