An oft-discussed topic on local radio is the new mass transit line of which Phase One will start construction next year. It came up on WXYT “The Ticket” the other week where hosts Terry Foster and Mike Valenti basically tore into it as useless. After all, “who’s going to use this to go to the new sports arena?” they asked. (For context, there have been unconfirmed rumors of a new sports arena going in near the Woodward line.)
Well, Terry and Mike, this rail’s not for you. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would suggest someone would park a car just to ride an additional couple miles on the rail to get to a game. You see, there’s a lot more going on here. Here’s the rest of the story.
First let’s look at your statement “Why do it, because the city is broke?”
We could get into the semantics of bonding vs. general spending, but basically bonding is sorta like taking out a mortgage. You aren’t supposed to use it for running expenses (like an operating deficit), but for long-term improvements. This would be one. Statistics show that every $1 invested into projects like this attracts at least $6 of economic returns. Also mass transit and rail attracts young talent. No, it’s not a silver bullet. There are no silver bullets for the revitalization of Detroit. We need a series of steps. This is one of them. In fact, it’s a giant step.
Your second argument … “What’s the point? It goes nowhere” … holds no water either. That’s been used in many other cities for the rail debate before it’s put in and almost always proves wrong. Often, the initial corridors also were also small starts. Denver, for instance, started with 5.3 miles and is now 39.4 miles of track.
You need to start somewhere, and it makes sense to do it in area that could see a lot of benefit. The reality is we’re already a quarter century behind the curve. We can’t wait to start this project. We need to catch up on offering people living downtown what they want and need … mass transit.
This train isn’t to connect the suburbs to the city, yet. This rail will, in effect, create one super-neighborhood from the Riverfront to New Center.
And yes, boys, you’re right there needs to be at least a “CVS” on the line. But guess what: there already are CVS locations (3 within a couple blocks of phase one, with one of them being directly on Woodward, just north of the intersection of Michigan and Woodward). Rite Aid is on the route as well (with that directly on Woodward, over by the Biggby Coffee, a tad bit south of Warren).
There will be grocery stores, too. Mayor Dave Bing says it’s not a matter of “if” but “when” Whole Foods moves to Midtown. If that’s the case, it will want to be near that transit line. Places like Ye Olde Butcher Shoppe are coming in, too, as well as other establishments.
All these things plus light rail will help make downtown more attractive to new residents (not to dispute that there are other concerns). To borrow a sports analogy, I would argue that mass transit is part of developing our “farm system” of attracting and keeping young, educated professionals. Downtown Detroit saw an increase of 59% in college educated residents the last 10 years, leading the region. We need to build on that.
Now to your third point … “bring the jobs.” I don’t remember which one of you mentioned something like 20,000 jobs would justify the light rail. Well, the DMC-Vanguard expansion looks to spur an additional 15,000 jobs and businesses to Midtown in 2015, timed perfectly with this being ready. This isn’t even counting other investments happening in the area.
So yes, I agree with you. A development plan built on mega-stadiums is a bad idea. If this rail plan seemed predicated on that alone, then I’d agree with you that it’s a bad idea. But it’s so much more. Phase One is for the tens of thousands of people who live and work in Downtown, Midtown and New Center.
Maybe one day, Mike and Terry, you’ll be able to take that rail to the ballpark. But for now, this rail’s not for you. Maybe future phases will be.