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Monroe and Lews in Grand Rapids.

Yet another fantasy Detroit transit map has come out. Following in the footsteps of other aspiring commuting enthusiasts, it has undoubtedly generated thousands of page views for the blogosphere. And it’s pretty.

However, it just gets us mad.

Not the design. Or the creator. Probably every single one of the creators of these maps over the years are wonderful people. They are not who we’re angry at.

It’s our leadership that has for decades shared a lack of vision and the will to make anything close to these maps a reality. Last year we were on the precipice of progress, and now we’re stuck in neutral.

Speaking of reality, it’s the perfect time to have a reality check about metro Detroit transit.

The fact is the oft-celebrated Regional Transit Authority (RTA) is in practical danger. Sure, we all got excited about the framework for it passing, but without proper funding, the paper it was written on may as well of been exposed filament left to burn in a flash. The prospect for the head of the RTA, John Hertel, recently backed away from the position, putting it at “square one.” The legislature has balked at putting the right amount of seed money (about $900,000 in the proverbial “kitty” is not enough) to even begin the process of finding a way to get a long-term funding source found, let alone start coordinating systems. That situation makes taking the job a fool’s errand at this point.

We should hold our leaders accountable on this one. We were promised the creation of an RTA. We currently have a shell that isn’t serious.

You may not know this but the Grand Rapids region with a population less than ours (and a transit system with significantly fewer annual riders) already has the beginnings of their Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) program (9.6 miles for their Silver Line) that is almost ready to go and on target to open in August. You can see a completed station in the picture above. It’s very real. If it is in fact a success, which we believe it will be.. sure we can point to it that it works in Michigan.. but Detroit will also now be behind. With the stalling of the previously mentioned RTA, we here in metro Detroit are still years away. And few seem to be putting the requisite political pressure to make something go here.

Our young people are looking at that progress and making decisions. We work with them, we talk with them, we are them, and.. why not metro Detroit?

Of critical importance for city residents, many of whom have no other options, Detroit’s Department of Transportation continues to falter. They’re still running 25 buses short on a daily basis and looking at leasing buses to fill in the gaps. It doesn’t necessarily require the leap of regional cooperation to make DDOT run efficiently.

We want to believe Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s early efforts will bear fruit (he’s apparently making DDOT leadership ride the bus, and early on changed directors). We deserve not only to see progress, but at least live in a City that can take care of it’s own. If the city itself can at least get the buses we have running on time, that would be a start.

It is also ridiculous that a rider needs to take two buses to go from the suburbs to the city any time except for a few hours per day. Usually a transfer at the State Fairgrounds near 8 mile between SMART and DDOT is required. A regional solution, which is preferable, would help fix that.

After all, the economic reality is that many people simply don’t work 9-5 shifts, in reality many are  juggling multiple jobs on tight schedules. Working mass transit should be a stable rung on the ladder of life for Detroiter. It is an example of a hand up, not a hand out. With more and more poor living in America’s suburbs, it’s important that all of us in the Metro Area have reliable transit options.

M1 Rail is the brightest spot in this picture, even though their Executive Director recently left her post after less than a year. With the combination of federal and private dollars, it should get over the finish line.. but honestly, it is not all that it could be.

The M1 Rail is a little over a third of the length of what Grand Rapids is doing and runs $100 million more in total project costs because it is a streetcar. You could conservatively construct more than 28 miles of Bus Rapid Transit in Grand Rapids ($40-ish million for 9.6 miles)  for what the 3.3 miles of M1 Rail in Detroit ($137-ish million) will run. Multiplying those costs out at the Grand Rapid BRT spend levels we possibly could of gone all the way up Woodward to Pontiac with room to spare. Instead, we get to the Fisher Building.

Now, that is a discussion for another day, and it’s important to remember that it is private sector dollars that make up the bulk of the M1 Rail budget and its ongoing subsidy. M1 Rail should be a positive addition to greater downtown and aims to turn the Woodward corridor into a more cohesive whole and spur even more physical development. But the significant cost difference is something to think about as we roll forward.

In short, we don’t want to see another fantasy Detroit transit map. If we want Detroit to come back in earnest, we need to continue to demand that we see an actual transit map with the resources smartly deployed behind it.

Photo above is of an actual Grand Rapids BRT stop: The Rapid Facebook Page

Below you’ll find the well done fantasy Detroit mass transit map:

detroit-fantasy-transit-map-cropped