In the months leading up to the November 8th election day, we’ve spoken to a few bus riders on the Woodward #53 bus line, and at the Rosa Parks Transit Center to get a general idea of what transit riders thought about the M1-Rail streetcar project and the upcoming RTA vote. Many bus riders associated the streetcar project directly to the RTA ballot proposal. If they didn’t know what the RTA was proposing to build in the city, they definitely were aware of a connection between the QLine and the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan. The RTA was slated to take over the QLine in 2027, according to their finalized Regional Master Transit Plan. Further, bus riders along Woodward #53 route complained about long bus waits, constantly moving bus stops, lack of public notice regarding any changes with bus service along Woodward, elderly and individuals with disabilities being passed up, overcrowded buses, and the fact that what many describe incorrectly as a “streetcar” does not cross 8 Mile Road into Oakland County, and will only travel along a 3.3-mile route.
The bus riders we’ve spoken to view the QLine as a “streetcar to nowhere” or “another People Mover.” These comments speak to the increasing transit divide, driven by economic gain for the “few” vs the transit needs of the many. This transit divide is also accompanying the gentrification and displacement occurring in midtown/downtown. You do not need to be a transit expert to see that the QLine does not represent public transit, nor does it benefit the majority of the bus riders living in Detroit. The QLine project is a prime example of “transit gentrification” and highlights the growing disparity in mobility options in Detroit.
There is a growing emphasis on public-private partnerships that over-promise and often under deliver in terms of addressing the needs of community and the QLine represents such an effort. According to Crain’s Detroit Business, the QLine used $74.2 million of public funding from local, state, and federal sources . Additionally, $52.9 million from the US Dept. of Transportation and Michigan Dept. of Transportation was used for reconstruction of Woodward for the purpose of building the QLine . This is public funding that could have addressed the 30 minute to 1hr wait times that are common on many of the bus routes that travel into Detroit neighborhoods where transit options are limited.
Yet our public funds have been invested in the “modern streetcars” that will travel along the QLine route. The cars will have heated stops with corporate branding; rails that are snow plowed; Wi-Fi internet in the cars, and more bike racks than are typically offered on DDOT buses. This situation goes well beyond an example of transit gentrification, in 2017, this is transit injustice! Many who are not part of the new Detroit demographic are likely to disappear from Woodward Ave below the Boulevard. North End residents got a maintenance station for the Q Line in their neighborhood but not a Q Line stop. You cannot board the streetcar in the North End.
We believe the future of the Woodward #53 bus route is in jeopardy for several reasons. With the QLine slated to be in operation in Spring 2017, the Woodward #53 bus will compete for curb space and customers, so it may be diverted to Cass St. or John R., to be rerouted back to Woodward north of Warren or the Boulevard. Even transit decision-makers at the RTA/DDOT are unclear about the future of the Woodward #53, but they believe that the re-routing of the Woodward line is necessary. Any parking along Woodward, curbside and along the QLine track is illegal and car drivers could be ticketed up to $650 for parking along the route. Increasingly, the future of Woodward is being transformed from Detroit’s main thoroughfare to a pedestrian/walkable/bike route that will disrupt public transit for a majority of bus riders in the city. Bus riders living in the North End neighborhood (north of West Grand Boulevard) are either forced to walk past the Boulevard to board the QLine, or will be “encouraged” to ride the re-routed Woodward 53.
The conclusion is that in 2017 public transit in Detroit is likely to be more segregated by race and class. How long will riders have to wait for their route become a priority for improvements? We are cautious to celebrate any expansion or so called transit improvements, if it does not include the majority of Detroiters that use public transit for school, work, recreation, shopping, or medical needs – then we will delay the celebration until ALL Detroiters have access to a fair and just public transit system.