Saturday, July 10, 2010

Miscellaneous rants concerning the greater Detroit area

Blanket the area with bus routes

I feel a need to reiterate my view that the poor and lower middle class populations are the natural constituency for mass transit in the Detroit area. The urban yuppies, downshifters and high-density-living trendsetters, bless their hearts, are important and vital components of the constituency, of course, and their voices need to be heard. Nevertheless, much of the Detroit area still romanticizes the postwar era, and ecological concerns being the driver of mass transit can still be framed as a call for some kind of altruism or voluntary austerity. The voices proclaiming transit as a screaming need also need to be heard.

It's reached the point where truly usable mass transit needs to be implemented immediately. Any rail-based system is a major up-front investment, and face it, the national and state polity is still such that 'infrastructure' is a fancy word for 'roads and bridges.' We need major restructuring of the infrastructure (roads and streets) and equipment (buses) that are already present. I don't personally give a damn whether DDOT and SMART can be combined into one system. As long as they continue to honor each other's transfers, their failure to do so is an inconvenience, not a deal breaker. Also, I'm willing to put my generally suspicious attitude toward privatization on the back burner if private sector bus service can actually get people within walking distance of where they have to go, especially if they have to go to work. I think a plurality of carriers can be accommodated by the road infrastructure if certain conventions and standards can be agreed on throughout the 'industry':

  • A bus stop is a bus stop, and a bus will stop at a bus stop if someone has stopped there to wait for a bus.
  • A bus route known by a certain name or number is the same bus route no matter who services it.
  • If you overlay the routes and schedules of all the carriers, you should have fewer gaps in service provision than under the status quo.
  • So I'm inclined to say, if we must do privatization, let's do it with the intent of maximizing competition (this means minimizing any hoops to be jumped through for a 'license'), and not privatization for the sake of privatization, especially whole-farm transfer of assets to a private entity, which I still think is just union busting by another name.

    Some thoughts on bus routes

    Except for 'inner city' Detroit, and some 19th century small towns that have been absorbed into greater Detroit as de-facto suburbs (Farmington, Plymouth, Center Line, Royal Oak, etc.), the whole area is under a grid of 'section line roads,' imposed by the Northwest Ordinance back in the day. In the local dialect these are of course called 'mile roads.' It seems simple enough. The name of the route is the name of the street. Instead of the Imperial Express covering most of Seven Mile road on the west side, then taking a turn on the Lodge nonstop to downtown, why not have a Seven Mile Bus that covers the length of Seven Mile all the way from the original St. John's Hospital on the east to Whitmore Lake on the west? Actually there is a Seven Mile bus, but it only goes as far west as the Detroit city limit. With a few kludges to patch in pre-war neighborhoods and natural interruptions of the mile-road grid such as rivers, such a system should be able to pick up or drop off a passenger within 0.707 miles of any location in the metro area. The Detroit system pretty consistently tracks the grid, but SMART's coverage map (pdf) has coverage gaps as much as eight miles wide, in suburbs as not-so-far-flung as Livonia (ALL of Livonia, whose residents excluded SMART service by defeating a SMART millage), Harrison Township, and more than half the land area of Sterling Heights and Troy.

    A Detroit subway?

    I half jest. Detroit, even Detroit proper, is sprawled out enough to make subways an impractical mode of transportation, but if LA can do it… Anyway, since most of Detroit's freeway miles are below-grade, I was thinking out loud the other day, what if they lay tracks, slap a roof over it and call it a subway? A web search on the search terms 'Detroit' and 'subway' of course yielded lists of locations of the ubiquitous Subway sub shop chain in Detroit, but there was a needle in the haystack, courtesy of one Matt, posting to Google SketchUp: Feast your eyes on this. Also, this. My own thought was that if the freeways become subway lines, maybe the freeway intersections become subway stations with a dual function as a locale for parking structures to accommodate the 'park-and-ride' concept. There's a lot of acreage in those fields of clover they call 'clover leafs.' Seems Matt would use the space for bus parking, which also sounds fine to me. Many current proposals by leading urban planners in Detroit call for 'transit villages,' starting with the already-operational Rosa Parks Transit Center. Given the total perfusion of the area by car culture, I think large-scale parking is an inevitably necessary feature for such a facility.


    I wish to call attention to Muskegon Critic's blog article on the Complete Streets initiative passed by the Michigan House. In it said Critic criticizes Muskegon, MI for being found wanting relative to some cities of comparable size in Iowa, in the area of walkability. This article also clued me in on experimentation by ultra-big-box retail chain Meijer with a downsized store concept in Niles, Illinois. I'm sure many of the lifestyle transit riders would like us all to shop at health food stores or better yet farmers' markets, but for many of us, there's major-chain supermarket food, and there's overpriced 'boutique' food, or worse, overpriced substandard 'urban supermarkets.' If the supermarket concept can adapt to pedestrians or bus riders, I've got no complaint. Happily the farmers' markets have been getting noticeable less 'few and far between,' although I find their hours of operation to be a rather narrow window of opportunity.

    2010 primary election

    The SMART bus system, as always, is at the mercy of the voters:

    SMART is seeking a millage renewal that will appear on the August third primary ballot. Voters in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb County will consider the 59 mill renewal, which translates into $59 per $100,000 of property value a year.

    So, unless you're some kind of anarchist (and in this case even if you are), be sure to vote.

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