Thursday, September 25, 2008

Everybody else is doing it, why can't we

A comprehensive and fairly decent transit plan for Metro Detroit was rolled out last night. It wasn't the first. It may not be the last.

Michigan is not other places. It is not Charlotte (pictured above), Denver, Houston, Newark, Sacramento or Seattle - all places that now have light rail. Hell, it is not even Dallas, where, despite an initial period of mistrust and fear, light rail ridership is now exceeding projections. There's no safe bet that Metro Detroiters would overcome that initial period of mistrust and fear. Anybody who hangs out in Southeast Michigan knows that's true.

Still, there's nothing wrong with trying. Not with all this space in which one can easily experiment.

Unlike in, say, Dallas, where they ran the damn light rail down the middle of a freeway (coward's way out!) or in other places where they had to build tunnels, Detroit has all this track space just lying around. Okay, exaggerating, some of it is being used. However, this is track space a lot of cities don't have. Feasibly, taking usage rights for granted, there could be commuter rail from Pontiac to New Center to Ann Arbor next week if the will and a little bit of cash were there.

Ditto with the light-rail-on-Woodward thing. To have a boulevard that's in most places 8 or 9 lanes wide (including a median strip!) running right through the heart of the commercial center of the city - hell, that's a transit planner's wet dream. It'll be like the old Woodward Streetcar never signed off.

Go on, knock 2 or 3 lanes out; nobody will even notice. After all, save in a few key spots during events, when does Woodward really jam up, at least within city limits? Not with two highways running parallel, at least until Highland Park. (Whiners are invited to take the damn freeway.)

In summary: The rail link between Downtown and New Center could spur densification and finish off the job that's been started - rebuilding the city core. Extending the link to 8 Mile Road could continue the process. Ann Arbor-New Center and Pontiac-New Center lines would more likely than not bring jobs and people to the area around a new regional transit hub.

Again, the freedom to explore is there. Do so, and do it now. In the old days, they used to build transit on spec, as a way to grow cities. It can work again.

(image via DeritaStudio)

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