Our transit system is broken. But how do we fix it?
There have been a lot of different ideas over the years, but what I attended the other night came from the grassroots level.
I found myself in the Elizabeth Theater, which is upstairs in the Park Bar, for CONNECTION put on by Freshwater Transit. The goal was to have a conversation about our current transit situation in metro Detroit, and how Freshwater Transit wants to move the discussion about transportation past policy and into implementation.
“We want to have a conversation about transit that is actually about transit, connectivity and connecting people from A to B. We want to address it at the operational level, we want to form an entity that can vision the transit properly, engage the community in a productive way and actually operate the service,” said Neil Greenberg of Freshwater Transit who led the meeting.
This idea started two years ago with the creation of Freshwater Railways, a website that shows an alternative transit system for metro Detroit. One where we actually had a rail and bus system throughout Southeast Michigan connecting Detroit to Ann Arbor, Flint, Pontiac and Port Huron. The site, when you follow the link, is so real they got inquiries from some people wondering where the stations are when they went to the locations lined out.
I remember being in a coffee shop and seeing full-scale transit maps like you would in New York or Chicago – nothing like the poorly designed ones we have today. Freshwater Railways was just a concept, but now the organization is starting to focus on creating a corporation named Freshwater Transit that would become a community-focused transit operating entity that would eventually, if the opportunity arose, bid against DDOT or SMART to provide service.
During the presentation Greenberg brought up one of the problems with our current system. The conversation about transportation is happening outside of the community that uses it. His example related to last fall when SMART did a huge cut to its service into the city.
“Way too many conversations about transit take place to the exclusion of the community … the business community, the small business community, neighbors, commuters, people who interact with transportation on a daily basis,” said Greenberg.
Those cuts still happened and it made commuting to and from work that much harder for those of us that did not have regular 9 to 5 jobs … like me.
The main goal of Freshwater Transit is to make transit start to work for the communities it serves.
Throughout the presentation I could see how much passion Neil and the other people in the group had for fixing our current public transportation woes. I ran into a few young idealists as well, one who tried to sell me that “there is no problem” with the current system. However, unlike me, they don’t need to take two buses during non-peak hours to get Downtown to work taking Woodward from Ferndale, which is a patently ridiculous situation. Woodward should have one line, from end to end. The fact that we can’t even get this done is a mere symptom of the wholesale change required in this region for transit to keep talent here and provide opportunities for low-income individuals to help themselves out of poverty.
I would like to think one day people will wake up and see there does need to be a better way to go about our transit problems in the area. I know Freshwater Transit wants to focus on the topic of transit, however, I worry their “focusing-only-on-transit” perspective ignores the very real concerns of unions and municipalities, and therefore may be ignored.
People are set in their ways and sometimes they cannot see the forest through the trees. I see the potential of this organization, but it’s going to take a wave of public support from fed-up people from all walks of life to force the hand of the leadership in this region to listen to new ideas. I hope in the future Freshwater Transit holds meetings in churches and other places that reach into the neighborhoods of the city and region.
If you are interested in talking to this group they have office hours every Monday night from 7PM-11PM at the Park Bar Downtown. The address for the Park Bar is 2040 Park Ave. Detroit, MI. You can also find Freshwater Transit on Facebook under the name Freshwater Railway or on Twitter @fwtransit.