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The QLine has undoubtedly been the spark needed to invigorate Detroit’s Woodward Avenue Corridor. Will it now light the fire needed to bring mass transit to a city sorely lacking options beyond car ownership?
“The stakes are too high and the rewards are too great for this region to give up on regional transit,” said Rip Rapson, president and CEO of the Kresge Foundation, which funded free rides on the new streetcar line this past summer. “Now that we understand the possibilities – with billions in economic impact; modern, efficient service; and an overall excited mindset among riders – there’s no turning back.”
That’s the fervid hope of regional leaders who say they are not giving up on rapid transit, despite a defeat at the polls in November 2016. That Regional Transit Authority (RTA) of Southeast Michigan ballot proposal would have funded bus rapid transit, a light rail between Detroit and Ann Arbor and an airport shuttle service. The 20-year millage would have raised $3 billion and cost the owner of a $200,000 house about $120 per year. Though it garnered support in Washtenaw (56 percent) and Wayne (53 percent) counties, Oakland County was lukewarm with 50 percent approval – and only 40 percent of Macomb County voters were in favor.
Down But Not Out
The RTA will try again but hasn’t yet decided if it will be on the 2018 or 2020 ballot, said Interim CEO Tiffany Gunter. Current emphasis, she said, is being placed on strengthening the RefleX system, a new limited-stop bus service operating on Woodward and Gratiot avenues.
“We are implementing that part of the transit plan in advance of a successful millage to demonstrate the possibilities,” she said. “It is absolutely imperative that we have [regional transport]. What we are seeing is this trend of millennials who are demanding access to reliable and frequent transportation, which in other metro areas is leading to increased population and the expansion of industry. The QLine is a good first step.”
Since it launched in May, the QLine has become a popular transit option for those who travel Woodward Avenue from Grand Boulevard south to Congress Street near the riverfront.
“I would say that people are voting with their feet,” said Wayne Raskind, dean of Liberal Arts and Science at Wayne State University, as he looked around a crowded streetcar this summer.
That is what regional leaders are counting on as they try to move Detroit forward with mass transit.
“The QLine is a very important first step. You have to start somewhere and I am very happy we have at least a 3.3-mile run and we can expand from there. It not being long enough is not a reason not to do it,” said Dietrich Knoer, president and CEO of the Platform, which owns the Fisher Building and is developing a variety of projects along Woodward Avenue. “It’s a great start.”
Faye Nelson, vice president of DTE Energy, board chair and president of DTE Energy Foundation and a QLine board member, calls the modern streetcars “an extraordinary project [that] demonstrates how far we’ve come in establishing successful public/private partnerships. The streetcars are more than a mode of transportation to move through our city – they are a template for moving our city forward.”
The QLine helps free up traffic congestion along busy Woodward Avenue, noted Jon Frederick, director of parking and transportation at Wayne State University, which has allotted some of its 13,500 parking spaces for QLine park-and-riders.
“To get in and out of the city without having to worry about parking, it’s a start and I want to see it continue to expand,” Frederick said. “Will it happen? The way I look at it is, it is going to have to.”
Susan Mosey, executive director of non-profit Midtown Detroit, Inc., said she’s already seen a positive impact from the QLine.
“People are using it for a lot of different purposes – to navigate to events, to explore the neighborhoods, for doctor appointments, to get on and off at multiple stops. It is another really nice layer to add to the neighborhood, just like the MoGo bikes,” she said of the public-share bicycle system that also debuted this past summer. “All mobility options are a good step forward for Detroit. I think more and more as you present these options, people are understanding them more. Hopefully that momentum will continue to drive more voter interest.”
Gunter of the RTA agreed. “A lot of areas in the nation began with a demonstration project to give a feel for what higher-level transit could be in their community,” she said. “I hope the QLine provides that so we can start to build out from there. I feel a lot of excitement around transit that I hadn’t seen in recent years, and that is definitely a sign of hope.”
Learn more about the QLine at qlinedetroit.com.
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