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Mass Transit Plan Update

January 11 2012 | 2 comments

Light rail. Rapid buses.  Trolleys.  Streetcars.  The plan for regional mass transit is changing faster than Michigan weather.  But here is the most recent information we’ve been able to gather about the metro Detroit mass transit plan.

Almost everyone agrees the current system just won’t do.

For years we’ve waited for the promised M-1 rail — a 9-mile light rail system that would run along Woodward from the river to 8 Mile Rd.  In December hopes for light rail were dashed.  In its place, Mayor Dave Bing proposed a regional authority that would manage a 110-mile rapid bus system.

Then the new year brought a new plan — with part of the light rail system back on track.  It would be coordinated with the rapid bus system, and financed largely by the private sector.

But now we’re hearing the light rail system won’t be true light rail.  It will actually be more like a streetcar — riding on rails, but sharing the car lanes and subject to the same traffic jams as cars and buses. Experts say one big difference is that streetcars are smaller and carry fewer passengers than light rail cars.

If the current plan is adopted, what will it look like?  Let’s start with the streetcars.  They will go from the river, past Midtown to the New Center Area.  Supporters like Megan Owens, Executive Director of Transportation Riders United,say it will not only transport passengers, but it will “also boost economic development and the vibrancy of that area.”

It is the rapid bus system that will take riders back and forth from the city to the suburbs.  The hope is “rapid” means the buses may actually run on time.  There are several things that can delay buses — like long lines to climb onto the bus, or waiting for all the passengers to pay their fa res.  Then once the bus gets going there are traffic lights at almost every block.  And when the bus fills up, customers just have to wait for the next one — or the one after that.

In 2008, Cleveland instituted the 7-mile HealthLine, a rapid bus system named for the hospitals that contributed to it.

Customers wait in relatively comfortable station in the middle of the streets.  They buy their tickets in advance.  During morning and evening rush hours, the bus arrives every five minutes.  Ramps allow passengers to walk straight on — using more than one door.

On the road, the buses have their own lanes.  In some systems, buses can even control traffic lights to turn them green as the bus approaches.

Megan Owens says some combination or maybe all of these features can be used in this new rapid bus proposal that’s being talked about, “That would run along Woodward, Gratiot, maybe M-59 or something east-west between Macomb county and then out to the airport and Ann Arbor.”

In many ways the rapid buses are a cross between regular buses and rail cars.  That could make them more attractive to some passengers.

In Cleveland, use of the rapid buses continues to increase.  In less than two years, they served 10-million customers.

The cost of building the system is cheaper than constructing light rail.  but operating 110-miles of bus routes will be expensive.  The region will have to work together to operate and finance it.  Megan Owens says, “This will certainly take some tax dollars to make it happen, but it should be a very good investment for improving our region.

The 100,000 people who rely on our existing bus service each day want to see something change.  Soon.

Let us know what you think.


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  1. Sandy Moynihan January 11, 2012

    I am from Chicago, I think the L train is wonderful idea for detroit, we never had to wait long, No traffic jams, you could go anywhere in the city & surrounding areas, maybe that is what detroit needs, raise it above the streets & problem solved….I’m sure that is WAY out of the buget line but its worth putting on the table


  2. knairn January 11, 2012

    Just build light rail or better and be done with it. There are too many excuses from Detroit and they just aren’t valid anymore. This should have happened a long time ago (at least several years back) and saved us the heartache of loosing the auto industry.


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