Wednesday, December 1, 2010

002: Woodward Light Rail (Part 1)

It seems to me that a good place to start a discussion about design in Detroit is with transportation. It is the “Motor City” after all, and as the “Motor City” Detroit is great for getting around… if you own a car. The public transportation system in the city is often noted as one of the worst in the country. The system depends entirely on bus transit (with the exception of the People Mover-which we can discuss the “value” of later). Recently, with the rising costs of gasoline, the concern for global warming, and the economic recession, the city has renewed its interest in a vibrant public transportation system similar to those that can be found in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, or any modern European city. Federal grants and private endowments (around $500 million) have allowed the city to begin a 9.3 mile long two phase light rail project that would run up Woodward Ave. from downtown to 8 mile.

Various opinions on the development of this project prevail. From those in the city who believe that light rail and the redevelopment programs that often come alone with it will benefit the city inspiring more economic development and bringing jobs back to Woodward, to those who believe that the entire project is a waste of time and will result in another under used and costly transportation system similar to the now defunct People Mover. Two you tube videos, I think, illustrate the major differences of opinion regarding the light rail, and I think provide a good introduction to the design project. The first video is the mayoral candidates for interim mayor after the ousting of Kwame Kilpatrick discussing their opinions on the light rail (not surprisingly they are all in favor of it) and the second is a video created by a libertarian production company who is decidedly against the project. I have also included the promotional video from the Detroit Department of Transportation. The website for the light rail project is listed in the links page.

Does Detroit need a new transportation system? Is light rail the answer to our economic needs or is it a waste of our time and money?
 Have your say in this week’s poll. 


  1. I think that any transportation improvements in the city can only be good. However, I think that the extent and placement of this project need some re-thinking. I think that connecting Royal Oak and more northern suburbs to Detroit could be profitable and reduce commute times. But simply going as far north as the fairgrounds doesn't connect any measure of the suburbs to Detroit. I have visited patients that live in the fairgrounds area, and that is not an economically viable area.

  2. Amen Bee, we need a rail system that will pick us up in Royal Oak and blast us through the ghetto at no less than mach 8. It is completely redic that the D has 0 usable forms of mass transit.

  3. Considering that woodward bus route is one of the 5 most dangerous bus routes, I'm not exactly sure if a light rail on the same street is the best investment for the city. Perhaps the city officials could be more transparent in describing potential methods of making it safer to ride the rail. All they said was that they were going to make it safe. And how... exactly? Even in San Francisco people don't like or recommend taking the MUNI after dark.

  4. The simple fact is that people do not feel safe in detroit. Any public transportation would have to be accompanied by a concentrated police presence to make sure people feel safe. Besides, 500 million seems awful steep for less than 10 miles of light rail. Buses are by far the best option for efficient public transportation. Nobody else but the train can use the rail, and streets have many, many purposes (its hard to hold a jazz festival on an elevated track...). For 500 million you could buy 50 of the most bad ass buses ever at 10 million a piece. 50 buses for a 10 mile strip would more than sufficient and it would be great design challenge to re-invent the image of public busing.