James (not his real name) finally found an answer to his career ambition. Trade school offered everything he needed. The Detroit resident began taking classes at Schoolcraft College in Livonia. Half way through the two-year program he had to quit when Livonia opted out of the SMART bus program. Visually impaired, he couldn’t drive and the bus was his only way to make the commute.
Rose and Andre (not their real names) had been married 45 years when mild dementia sent Andre to a nursing home in the suburbs. Rose doesn’t drive, the kids have moved away and there are no buses close to her Detroit neighborhood. She’s devastated and is trying to figure out why it is so hard to visit her husband.
The Johnsons (not their real name) haven’t seen their family on the east side of Detroit for three years. It’s only 20 miles from their home on the west side, but they have no vehicle and bus service is spotty at best and dropped them off too far from their east side family’s home.
These are just three very human reasons why a regional transit system would be a life changer for many residents of Detroit and Southeast Michigan. While DDOT and SMART have made great strides to improve their bus system, the gaps are still huge and more is needed.
Not only would regional transportation system get James to Schoolcraft, let Rose easily visit Andre, and reunite the Johnson family, it would improve the quality of life in the city and the suburbs and boost economic activity. In short, while Detroit and Southeast Michigan have been moving forward with more businesses, more jobs, more activities and more tourists, the lack of a regional transportation system is holding the city and the region back from reaching their full potential.
The answer is “solving a 60-year long regional issue and getting a high-quality regional transit,” says Laura Trudeau, senior advisor to the president of The Kresge Foundation, which is proponent of regional transit.
Creating regional transit is no small feat. It needs to connect Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw Counties – 2,600 square miles, 4 million residents and 1.9 million existing jobs.
For the past year the Regional Transportation Authority has been trying to figure out how to develop an equitable, sustainable and safe regional system to do just that. It’s conducted surveys, held meetings, used social media and more to find out what people in all four counties want in a regional transit system. The answers were pretty simple. The top three were reliability, the ability to easily get to destination and job access.
That led to the $4.6 billion Regional Master Transit Plan (RMTP), which the RTA says will provide high-quality, reliable rapid transit.
“People don’t end at the city borders,” says Megan Owens, executive director of Transportation Riders United, a nonprofit organization working since 1999 to improve public transit in greater Detroit. “Transit covers so many parts of people’s lives.”
Let’s take a quick look at how regional transit can change lives and find solutions for Detroit and Southwest Michigan residents.
Many Detroiters commute to the suburbs for a job and many suburbanites come to downtown Detroit to work. It’s a long commute by mass transit either way – when it is available. The Coalition for Transit (ACT) says 78 percent of jobs in Southeast Michigan cannot currently be reached within 90 minutes on public transit and 92 percent are not accessible within 60 minutes. It’s worse than that for many. You remember the James Robertson, the man who walked 21 miles every day to work.
The report says the proposed regional transit system will get people to within a quarter of mile of more than 946,150 jobs.
Many residents don’t have a grocery store nearby so access to healthy food is an issue. They also want to able to easily get to parks and libraries.
The RMTP would get them to within a quarter of a mile of more than 100 grocery stores, 410 parks and 47 libraries.
Many residents can’t easily get to medical care, especially the underserved, seniors and those with disabilities. Oftentimes they don’t want to be a burden on family and friends so they skip or put off medical treatments.
With the proposed system they would be able to get to within a quarter of a mile of 22 hospitals.
Many young people have difficulty getting to school on time or participating in afterschool activities and parents of younger children find it hard to get their kids to quality child care because current transportation is unreliable. With the new system they would get within a quarter of a mile of 23 colleges and 310 schools and Head Start facilities in our region.
There’s more. Detroiters are tired of paying the humongous cost of insuring a vehicle in the city, which has the highest rates in the nation. Regional transit can be the solution.
Many suburbanites would like to find an easy way avoid the traffic and the high cost of parking and get to concerts, ballgames, restaurants and so on downtown. Again, regional transit can be the solution.
There are other pluses that don’t get as much attention. For example, senior citizens are big on volunteering. A regional transit system would allow them to expand their network and share their life experiences at local hospitals, museums and so on. Also, getting to church can be hard for many, even though many churches have their own shuttle service.
“What is it about is making life joyful,” says Owens.
The RMTP would build on and coordinate current services and introduce new transit -options. The Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) would add dedicated lanes and well-designed stations. The regional rail would connect Detroit and Ann Arbor with stations at the Detroit New Center Amtrak Station and in Ann Arbor, Wayne and Dearborn.
So here’s the bottom line. If you are a homeowner, it will cost you. In November voters in Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne Counties are expected to vote on a 1.2-mill, 20-year property tax millage to fund the project. That will cost the average homeowner about $95 a year. If it’s a million home the ticket is $120.
Not a bad investment for system that the report says will support 67,000 new jobs, add $6 billion in additional gross regional product and increase personal income by $4.4 billion over the next 20 years. A study by the American Transportation Association found for every $1 communities invest in public transportation, about $4 is generated in economic returns.
There is no way to statistically measure what the system would do to make life joyful.
Getting a regional transportation system here will require collaboration and working together across borders to make Southeast Michigan everything it can be.
Like James, Rose and Andre and the Johnsons our lives take us across those borders. No matter which county or which side of any Detroit border we live on we are all in this together.
To find out more about the Regional Transit Master Plan please go to the RTA website.
– Photos from Regional Transit Master Plan