to hell with the facts, shut down the trains, we’re a car city

The new Detroit Metro economic development e-newsletter, Metromode, just ran a nice piece on the work being done in Ann Arbor to reestablish regional rail. Here’s a clip:

…There is still hope for commuter rail in southeastern Michigan, however. The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) is working on establishing a basic commuter rail service between Detroit and Ann Arbor by the end of this year. The temporary starter line would utilize existing tracks to connect Metro Airport to Detroit, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Dearborn. It’s possible it could also connect Royal Oak, Troy/Birmingham and Pontiac. It’s a line that Ann Arbor has been championing for years.

The proposed line would connect Metro Airport to seven of Metro Detroit’s most vibrant downtowns, five of its largest sports stadiums, four of its major universities and two of the Big Three’s headquarters, among other significant institutions.

“It is unprecedented in Southeast Michigan,” Cooper said. “It’s only out-of-the-box thinking when you look at what we have seen in this community in the last 20 years.”

That has meant a complete concentration on road building and little to no attention to trains. Most other major metro areas in the world have taken the opposite approach, promoting both road and rail transportation options.

Nowhere is Metro Detroit’s dearth of options more evident than in trying to get to Metro Airport. There is no rapid transit system connecting to Metro Airport, unlike most major airports in the world. Most of them utilize light-rail, commuter-rail or bus-rapid-transit lines. Only two SMART bus lines stop at the airport…

Sounds good, right? Well, guess what? Not everyone supports it. Here’s a quote that I just happened across in the March 23-29 issue of the “Ann Arbor Business Review.” It comes from Doug Rothwell, the former CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and present CEO of Detroit Renaissance, an organization led by Detroit industry types for the stated purpose of accelerating the development of Detroit:

“Attempts at mass transportation [in Detroit] have been tried and fail every time. Let’s focus on what we can accomplish rather than an issue that we keep failing at.”

And people wonder why Detroit’s in the position that it’s in.

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  1. mark
    Posted February 2, 2007 at 12:25 am | Permalink

    How bad do things have to get before the people who run Detroit admit to themselves that the gasoline spigot isn’t going to stay on forever?

  2. muppster
    Posted February 2, 2007 at 1:00 am | Permalink

    I hope this actualizes– so exciting to see the timeline keep getting shorter, it seems (or time is going by faster maybe). Every time I read about it, though, I wonder what the story is with it stopping in Ypsi– where exactly would that happen, and how does it relate to the boarded up Depot? Anyone know anything about that?

    Wouldn’t that be awesome if we could get on a cheap rail from Depot Town to A2, and Depot Town to Detroit? Hopefully it would run later in the evening than the AATA– which is ruled out as an option if someone from A2 wants to spend the evening out in Ypsi, or the other way around… Latest bus being in the 10 o-clock hour as I recall.

  3. mark
    Posted February 2, 2007 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    I don’t know how it would impact the depot, Mup. It’s a good question. I’ll ask around for you.

  4. murph
    Posted February 2, 2007 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Latest bus from A2 to Ypsi is 10:48 – which is a plenty reasonable time for, e.g., taking leave of one ex-housemates at ABC’s all-day Monday happy hour and coming home to go to bed. I find the real problem to be weekend service. Last bus at 5 or 6 just doesn’t work.

    Any of the proposed A2/Detroit alternatives would definitely stop in Ypsi; the choice between heavy rail, light rail, and BRT would affect where. The display boards from the December round of presentations (pdf) are on the study website, and show the potential routes and likely stops. For CRT1 (the Amtrak route, which gets the most press), the Ypsi stop is just labeled “Depot Town”. I would personally expect it to be pretty much in the location of the Depot/Freighthouse, just because there’s space there to build a platform and toss people onto the train. Whether the owner of the Depot decides to get involved in this is totally unknown. Speaking from my experience with NJ Transit, though, I don’t think a “depot” per se is necessary. Ticket kiosks and a glorified bus shelter are pretty standard at non-terminal stops.

    (The issue with a Depot Town stop is that any stop on a commuter/heavy rail line naturally attracts park and ride traffic, as well it should. While I’m sure Depot Town’s businesses would ecstatically welcome a train stop, they might be less thrilled about a dozens or hundreds of new vehicles seeking parking. Maybe a stop at Motor Wheel, instead? Regardless, one big issue will be figuring out how to adjust AATA service to ensure that the commuter rail is accessible from throughout town.)

    Meanwhile, I saw yesterday – though can’t find the article – that Ann Arbor is working to get the line north from A2 into Livingston County up and running this spring, to coincide with lane closures on 23 for construction. This is of a little less immediate Ypsi-impact, but I think will be good for demonstrating demand.

  5. egpenet
    Posted February 2, 2007 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    The “far” parking lot in Depot Town, on the old Depot side and clioser to Motor Wheel is hardly used, except during events. Also, the CarMuseum might profit from a commuter lot after they get that “wedge of land” fenced along the tracks.

    Many local commuters could walk to the train. My wife did for several years while she taught in Detroit.

    Also, a secondary mini-bus service from AATA could for a small fee transpoprt locals to the Depot. There’s also a fun thing called “dropping” the guy off which spouses used to play on a daily basis. And there’s “share a ride” a medieval concept emortalized by Chaucer.

    My old joke I will share …

    Know why they call it Depot Town? ‘Cause people go there to get on and get off.

    … bring back the trains!

  6. ol' e cross
    Posted February 2, 2007 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    I can’t find the A2 Biz Review article. Was the date March 23-29 of last year?

  7. Lisele
    Posted February 2, 2007 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    Thanks SO MUCH, murph. I’ve been dying to see the routes, etc., but unless you’re willing to devote significant research time, it’s difficult to wade through all the info. JUST what I wanted to see.

    Charming story: when light rail was in place (when my house was built), commuters from Ann Arbor would alight and kids from the neighborhood would make a business of carrying home their bags and packages for penny candy change. The original owner of my house worked at a bank in Ann Arbor, a single man whose mom lived upstairs. I imagine him as Karl Malden in A Streetcar Named Desire, walking to catch the streetcar in his broadcloth shirt, hiked up trousers and short tie…

  8. robr
    Posted February 2, 2007 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Murph– Like your idea about utilizing the old Motor Wheel facility. It sounds like a relatively easy fix for that old brownfield eyesore… Besides, the rumor has it that Mr. Dahlmann (and no, my last name isn’t “French”) is just sitting on his little boarded up depot just in case light rail does decide to come through Ypsi again… Perhaps a fitting ‘slap’ if a train does stop– Several hundred yards north of his overly long land speculation… AND Yes! Bring back the trains!

  9. ol' e cross
    Posted February 2, 2007 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    The more I think about it, the more Rothwell’s view makes since. For example, I’ve tried to quit smoking multiple times and keep failing.

    Rather than quitting smoking, I should focus I what I can accomplish, like drinking more.

    (I did end up with the article and, for others who were curious, context only made Rothwell sound worse. One giddy quote gushed: “The automobile is alive and well.”)

    Ah, leadership.

  10. mark
    Posted February 3, 2007 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Yes, it was 2006, Ol’ EC, and I just sent you a scan of the article. I don’t think they keep them archived online.

    And that’s exactly waht pissed me off about Rothwell’s comment. (Rothwell, by the way, lives here in Ann Arbor, I believe.) He could have just as easily said, “Let’s do it right this time.” Instead, he said, “Public transportation will never work.” And, I suspect that it has more to do with who sits on his board than his actual beliefs. He’s a bright guy. Unfortunately, I think coming world events are going to make him look foolish. We have to start thinking about downtown density and public transportation if we’re going to make it.

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