With 91% in Favor, Detroit Opts to Bring the Trains Down the Middle

Woodward Avenue's new (old) look. Light Rail Now
Woodward Avenue’s new (old) look. Light Rail Now

It’s official: The City of Detroit has chosen to give light rail trains their own lanes in the middle of Woodward Avenue, all the way from Eight Mile to downtown. The release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement last week confirmed the compromise between the city and the M1 Rail private investors which has been whispered about for some months. Bowing to the investors’ interest in Midtown Detroit real estate, the plan includes five stations on Woodward between I-94 and I-96  I-75, instead of the two originally proposed, but they will be located in the median instead of along the curb. That’s good news for Detroit, and for democracy, since more than nine out of ten public comments on the issue supported the center-running plan.

Downtown, the trains will take a compromise route different from the alternatives previously proposed. Instead of heading straight down Woodward to a terminus near the riverfront, or detouring to the Rosa Parks Transit Center en route to that site, the trains will run down Woodward to stop near Cobo before doubling back to the transit center in a “hockey stick” pattern. (We’d rather not have seen the transit station shunted off Woodward at Campus Martius to begin with, but what’s done is done, for now.)

The Detroit Department of Transportation and the Federal Transit Administration deserve credit for Solomonic judgment in a tight spot. They’ve managed to respect the popular demand for rapid transit while still offering plenty to M1, short of the bizarre curbside alignment which would have left pedestrians scrambling to cross the street and left trains at the mercy of traffic congestion. Despite recent comments by M1’s Matt Cullen and Dan Gilbert, Transportation Riders United believes most of the group has come around to the compromise. Transport Michigan thanks the many, many members of the public who submitted comments favoring the center-running plan. There’s power in money, but also in people, thank goodness.

To be sure, the compromise isn’t without cost: in consequence of the added Midtown stops, the trains will be slower for many people making long-distance commutes, and by reaching Rosa Parks last, the downtown alignment will also tend to increase transfer times for bus riders over the City’s proposed alternatives. Yet compared with the People Mover-esque folly of curbside tracks, these faults aren’t egregious. The focus now should be on making sure the DDOT bus system continues to exist, and working for a regional transit authority. The need to ensure affordable housing in the Midtown/Cass Corridor area just got more urgent, too.