Thursday, July 28, 2016

The future of mass transit in Detroit

Transit station - Photo by Ted C/FreeImages.com
Earlier this afternoon, representatives from Macomb and Oakland Counties blocked a key vote that would have allowed voters in southeastern Michigan to decide on a millage to improve mass transit in the region. This is the 27th time that funding for a regional transit authority has been blocked due to parochial interests.

There are many across Michigan who a disappointed by this news. Many are even confused since the bulk of new transit options that would have been created under this plan would have been in Macomb and Oakland Counties.

While I join the echo of disappointed Detroiters, I must admit that I am not surprised by this development. Many in the northern suburbs, particularly the more distant suburbs, have long been hostile to public funding for mass transit.

The question that I believe all Detroiters must ask now is: where do we go from here?

There are no doubt those who will simply give up. Others will attempt to appease Macomb and Oakland Counties with an even greater share of transit benefits, most likely at the expense of those who live Downriver and in Western Wayne County.

I, however, advocate for a different option. The City of Detroit as well as Wayne and Washtenaw Counties are the three entities that were eager to move forward with improving mass transit in southeastern Michigan. There are also a few communities in our northern suburbs, such as Ferndale, who are also eager to see a better transit system in place.

Bus stop - Photo by Andre Montejorge
Rather than continue down the same path that we've been on for decades - of constantly trying to convince our holdout neighbors that this is in everyone's best interests and constantly being rebuffed - I believe it is everyone's best interest for those communities who see the value in transit to move forward on our own rather continuing to spend more time and resources convincing the holdouts that they're wrong.

By moving forward without these skeptics, we could improve upon the QLine and take it to 9 Mile. Build upon the walkable communities in Ann Arbor, Dearborn, and Ypsilanti. Provide coordinated support to the DDOT and AATA systems in Detroit and Ann Arbor.

Based on what we've seen in other parts of the country, people and business will likely flock to those parts of our region where transit is improved. (For a detailed accounting of this trend, please see Transit-Oriented Development in the United States: Experiences, Challenges, and Prospects by Robert Cervero available for free here.)

The holdouts will likely circle behind once they see the progress and realize that they cannot extract even more from the people of Wayne County. If they don't, it's more their loss than anyone else's.

The bottom line is that I believe it is time to stop allowing a relatively small group of individuals to hold the transportation needs of more than 2.1 million Michigan residents hostage. It's time for us to move forward, with or without the holdouts.
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