Column: QLine misses the mark

Renard Monczunski

As the media flooded the airwaves and filled pages of print with happy talk about Detroit’s new trolley, Detroit residents have been taking a deeper look at the M-1/QLine. At the start and end of the trolley’s first day of operation, two separate protests asked some pertinent and, as of yet, unanswered questions.

We have dubbed it the “Why Line.” Why all the money on a project that serves a select few; why no community benefits; and why do the funders continue to blatantly mislead us with regard to the project’s role in real regional transit?

The numbers tell a stark story: Roughly more than 100,000 riders per day rely on the DDOT (the Detroit Department of Transportation bus system) even though it is in dire need of more buses, mechanics, and drivers to keep those buses going.

More than $70 million of public money — state, federal and local — was spent on a project that serves an area populated by nearly 80 properties where Dan Gilbert is reported to have a business interest. Had the tens of millions in funds been invested in Detroit’s bus system, we’d be much closer to real regional transportation.

Despite the happy talk from the powers that be and most of the media, the current QLine is not the start of the regional transportation, nor was it ever intended to be such. Not only does the system serve very few, but it threatens to further reroute the Woodward bus line, the city’s busiest. No one is likely to dig up Woodward from West Grand Boulevard to the city limit for trolley tracks.

In terms of real regional transit, there was a plan a few years ago. The previous M1-Rail project, formerly known as the Woodward Light Rail project, died a mysterious death when then-Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced support for a bus rapid transit system instead of rail. The story of how we went from that system, designed to run from Jefferson to Eight Mile, to one that serves only the most rapidly gentrifying section of Detroit, is not even alluded to in the “official” stories of the QLine.

There is also no acknowledgment of the feelings of racial injustice the QLine invokes. That injustice comes from spending enormous amounts of money on transportation that serves a fraction of the city that happens to be one of the whitest and most affluent, while the system that serves more than a half million mostly black and brown residents is virtually ignored. Real regional transportation begins with serious support for world-class transportation for the state’s largest city and building out to the suburbs from there.

While more than three miles of a slow, expensive trolley could never attract and keep auto-averse millennials, a bus rapid transit system and support for regional transit could. The people who have stuck with Detroit through thick and thin and who rely on public transportation for commuting to school, work and medical appointments should be supported as they continue to live, work and spend money in Detroit.

It’s is time to move, literally and figuratively, beyond the barriers of race and class toward a transportation system that benefits all.

Renard Monczunski is transit organizer for Detroit People’s Platform.