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Metro Detroit Traffic and Lack of Public Transportation

Last night, as I spent a typical 80 minutes traveling 39 miles on an ‘Expressway’ around Metro Detroit,  I was again reminded of the blatant, obvious, enraging fact that there is no real public transportation option in the Detroit area.  I know, I’ve heard the theories (some real and some conspiracy), about the local auto manufacturers doing everything in their evil power to keep public transportation out of the area so car sales weren’t lost, but those are anecdotes from a time long past and something needs to be done.

Those of us in Metro Detroit love our cars.  I can’t imagine ever not having one, regardless of public transportation options.  The automobile is too ingrained in our local culture to ever be replaced, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have alternatives for getting around the area.  We shouldn’t have to average 30 miles per hour for 80 minutes on roads with 70 mile per hour speed limits.  We shouldn’t have to wait 5 minutes to make it through a stop light on a 6 lane road at 4pm on a Sunday.   We shouldn’t have to be faced with deciding between a $50 cab fare, jail time, or worse when leaving an establishment early in the morning, perhaps not in the best frame of mind to make that decision.  We should have real, viable alternatives for getting around our highly sprawled Metro area.

Among the many steps Detroit has to take to become a major American city again, one of the most important is to create a great public transportation system.  With all of the no-strings attached cash that’s fallen off the federal government money tree the past couple of years, and the fact that everyone in the United States apparently wants to cut our dependency on foreign oil, I find it hard to believe that no one here asked for money to create a world class public transportation system.  Virtually every other major city in the world has one; it’s one of the main reasons they’re considered  ‘major’ cities.

Having had the opportunity to live and work in a few other large cities in the United States, I’ve been able to experience the relatively low cost, high value alternative of using a good public transportation system.  The model I would advocate for Detroit is similar to the Bay Area Rapid Transit System, or BART system in the San Francisco Bay area.  On BART trains, you can get from San Francisco to Oakland to Richmond to Pleasanton; all of the major urban and suburban cities in the area.  It’s a combination of subway and elevated trains, depending on existing obstructions  geography.  The trains run under the bay and over the freeways, through and around the cities.

Imagine being able to take a train from Clarkston to the airport, Detroit to shopping in Troy, Flint to Warren, Royal Oak to Ann Arbor; The possibilities are endless!  By running the trains down the center of our existing freeways, with stations at the freeway hubs (75/696, 275/96, 23/94, etc.), and at 2, 3, 4 miles intervals in-between, there wouldn’t much disruption to existing buildings, homes, etc., and the state owns the freeways so the cost would be much lower to acquire needed land.  Need to get to the airport?  Get on a train in Brighton, transfer at the 23/94 station, and be at the airport station in plenty of time for your flight.  Flying in for business?  Get on the train at the airport, transfer at the 94/75 station and be at your meeting in Auburn Hills in record time. No traffic delays! No airport parking fees! No rental car fees!  Woohoo!

The economic impact would be felt almost immediately through employing people to construct and run the system, and long term through increased business presence in the area. I’m not an engineer or a politician, so maybe I’m over simplifying the whole thing. But in order for Detroit and Michigan to dramatically improve our economy long term, draw businesses back to the state, and to overcome the true and false perceptions of the area, we NEED a world class transportation system.  Soon.

This isn't a new problem... Detroit Traffic Jam, 1965 (from umich.edu)

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