Transit :Development News

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Birmingham, Troy move forward with transit center plans

The slow train of mass transit reform may still be a bit in the distance, but it's picking up steam in Birmingham.

The city is working with Troy to create a $6 million transit center just on the Birmingham side of the border between the cities. Although still in the planning stages, the cities hope line up funding for it soon and start putting shovels in the ground within a few years.

The transit center building will cost about $4 million and will facilitate a variety of modes of transportation. It will be built along heavy rail tracks that will eventually become part of the proposed northern leg of the Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter rail line. It will also facilitate buses, cabs, bicyclists and pedestrians.

There has also been talk of building a streetcar line in an east-west direction from the transit center. Such a line would connect Troy's Somerset Collection and Pavilions of Troy to Birmingham's booming downtown, Rail District and Triangle District.

The other $2 million would pay for a tunnel underneath the tracks that could connect both communities.

Source: Mark Nickita, member of the Birmingham Planning Board
Writer: Jon Zemke

Developers, businesses move into Birmingham's Rail District

It's no secret that development has been happening in Birmingham's Rail District, but not quite as obvious is the number of businesses that have moved into the area a few blocks east of downtown.

As more and more of the old structures are rehabbed into new commercial and residential space, businesses are flocking the former industrial area. In one case, three buildings on the north side of Cole Street are now 95 percent occupied by businesses.

"Obviously occupancy is telling the story," says Danielle Workman, membership manager for the Birmingham Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce. "When they reach capacity it shows there is something going on."

She adds that about 45 businesses participated in a recent event showcasing the emerging district. And that's just the retail-based companies. Workman believes there are more service-based businesses in the area, too. She estimates that most of the businesses in this area are new arrivals.

"The reality of it is that a whole lot of these businesses (about 50 percent) just jumped in in the last year or two," Workman says.

More new arrivals are expected. City planners are preparing the district to become Birmingham's stop on the proposed northern extension of the Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter rail line. That project is expected to become a reality within the next five years.

Putting the stop there (the tracks run through the area) would attract even more developers looking to capitalize on the area's transit oriented development. And more developers would mean more businesses for the burgeoning urban center.

Source: Danielle Workman, membership manager for the Birmingham Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce
Writer: Jon Zemke

Regional transit plan calls for lightrail, BRT and improved bus service

Some light rail down Woodward Avenue for Metro Detroit. A commuter rail between Detroit and Ann Arbor. Some bus rapid transit along Gratiot Avenue.

Those mass transit features and more are on Metro Detroit Transit Czar John Hertel's shopping list. His organization, the Regional Transportation Coordinating Council, released details this week of its new transit plan for the Tri-County area.

The plan as presented, at public meetings throughout Metro Detroit this week and next, has four main points:

  1. Enhancing existing bus services
  2. Introducing rapid transit corridors of light rail, commuter rail and bus rapid transit
  3. Creating seamless connections between mass transit lines
  4. Finding funding sources

"We address the first three in the open houses" says John Swatosh, deputy director of the Regional Transportation Coordinating Council.

The plan calls for a number of ambitious yet realistic goals to be accomplished by 2011, 2015, 2020 and 2025. The end result would produce an extensive and comprehensive regional mass transit system with a variety of options that is light years ahead of what we have now.

Within the next three years the plan calls for the following mass transit features to be up and running:

  • A streetcar line along Woodward between Jefferson and Grand funded by private investors
  • A commuter rail line between Detroit and Ann Arbor with stops at Dearborn and Metro Airport
  • Creating Hub Connectors, small buses that go between major population centers such as Eastland and Westland malls
  • Arterial Rapid Transit corridors along Woodward, Michigan, Gratiot, Telegraph, Warren and Van Dyke

ART is the light version of bus rapid transit. It is much cheaper to set up but features more advantages than regular bus service, such as traffic signal priority, enhanced shelters and signs that say when the next bus will arrive.

"The concept with ART is entry-level rapid transit," Swatosh says.

The idea is to install it in a cost-effective manner along heavily traveled corridors. That will help enhance ridership so those corridors have a better chance of qualifying for federal funding, which would allow the jump to BRT or light rail to occur sooner.

Seven years from now the plan calls for:

  • Extending the Woodward streetcar line to downtown Royal Oak at 11 Mile Road
  • Establishing BRT on Gratiot between Woodward and M-59, and extending it along M-59 to Van Dyke
  • Extending the Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter rail line up to Pontiac with stops in between at Royal Oak and Birmingham
  • Installing ART lines on 8 Mile, Big Beaver/Metro Parkway, Fort and Grand River

A dozen years down the road the plan calls for:

  • Establishing BRT or light rail lines along Gratiot (Woodward to 9 Mile) and Michigan (Woodward to Metro Airport)
  • Creating BRT routes along Fort, Warren and Grand River
  • Adding commuter rail line routes between Port Huron and Detroit and Detroit and Monroe
  • Extending ART lines to several other major corridors, including Jefferson, 7 Mile, 9 Mile, Eureka and Greenfield

Way down the line the plans calls for:

  • Extending BRT or light rail along Gratiot/M-59 and Woodward up to Pontiac
  • Establishing BRT lines along 8 Mile, Big Beaver/Metro Parkway, M-59, Telegraph and Van Dyke
  • Adding 12 Mile to the ART lines
The plan is still being tweaked but Swatosh expects the four major leaders of the Tri-County area to sign off on a final version by the end of the year. The plan is considered a critical piece of the puzzle to fighting off the fierce competition for federal mass transit funding.

Maps and more information on the plan will be available on the meetings being held this week and next. The meetings will be held from 4-7 p.m. as follows:

For information, call (313) 393-3333.

Transportation Riders United, a local non-profit that advocates improving mass transit, will also attend the meetings to further discussions about how best to make the plan's recommendations realities.

TRU's fall meeting will also center on the new regional transit plan. The meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 7 in the lower mezzanine of the Guardian Building in downtown Detroit.

Source: John Swatosh, deputy director of the Regional Transportation Coordinating Council
Writer: Jon Zemke

SMART switches fleet to fuel-efficient buses

The traditional red, orange and white colors of the SMART buses are about to go green.

The suburban Detroit mass transit agency is transforming its fleet so they can run on bio-fuel. So far three of its 283 buses have made the switch. The rest are expected to be phased in within the next two years at a rate of 15 per month.

The buses will run on grain-based B-5 bio-fuel, which will up their fuel efficiency from 4.2 mpg to 4.9. That might not seem like much of a bump on the surface, but it represents a nearly 17 percent increase in fuel efficiency.

And the best part is SMART is making the switch for free. The buses were not living up to their normal life expectancy, so they were able to negotiate for new engines from the manufacturer. The new engines include the upgrade to bio-fuel compatibility.

Source: Beth Dryden, director of external affairs, marketing and communications for SMART
Writer: Jon Zemke

Is streetcar service possible for Ann Arbor?

Ann Arbor is looking at multiple ways of beefing up its mass transit service, including building a streetcar line.


Could a streetcar line be in the cards for Ann Arbor? It’s a distinct possibility according to the Ann Arbor Connector Feasibility Study.

The $250,000 study outlines ways to beef up the transportation options on a crescent moon-shaped line. It would connect the Plymouth Road exit for U.S. 23 to downtown. It would also travel further south along South State Street to Briarwood Mall.

Read the rest of the story here.

Hertel's office set to release regional transit plan Wednesday

What promises to be one of the most important master plans for Metro Detroit is set to be released Wednesday, when the Regional Transportation Coordinating Council starts holding public meetings about new transit plan.

The council, which is headed up by Metro Detroit Transit Czar John Hertel, created the new plan as a key approach to obtaining more federal dollars for local mass transit. It is the first comprehensive regional transit plan for the tri-county area in decades.

"What we'll be sharing is some recommendations for enhancing public transit systems for DDOT, SMART and MDOT," says John Swatosh, deputy director of the Regional Transportation Coordinating Council.

It details plans, timelines and funding mechanisms for improving bus lines and creating rapid transit initiatives, such as light and commuter rail. It will advocate for the creation of commuter rail, light rail, streetcar and bus-rapid-transit lines throughout Metro Detroit and serve as the roadmap for implementing them for decades.

What mass transit improvements will be applied where (such as light rail on Woodward Avenue) will be revealed early next week. Municipal planners and other stakeholders will review the proposal over the weekend before it's presented at public meetings between Wednesday and Oct. 2.

The meetings will be held from 4-7 p.m. as follows:
  • Dearborn on Wednesday in the U-M-Dearborn Fairlane Center, 19000 Hubbard Drive
  • Ferndale on Thursday in the Gerry Kulick Community Center, 1201 Livernois
  • Sterling Heights on Oct. 1 in the Independence Building at Freedom Hill County Park, 15000 Metro Parkway (16 Mile Road)
  • Detroit on Oct. 2 in TechTown, 440 Burroughs

For information, call (313) 393-3333.

Transportation Riders United, a local non-profit that advocates improving mass transit, will also attend the meetings to further discussions about how best to make the plan's recommendations realities.

TRU's fall meeting will also center on the new regional transit plan. The meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 7 in the lower mezzanine of the Guardian Building in downtown Detroit.

Source: John Swatosh, deputy director of the Regional Transportation Coordinating Council and Transportation Riders United
Writer: Jon Zemke

More redevelopment set for Birmingham's Rail District

Redevelopment in Birmingham's Rail District is starting to pick up steam as some projects close out and others begin.

Finishing up first is the District Lofts, a mixed-use project that will start moving in people and businesses this fall.

Beginning is the redevelopment of 2010 Cole, from an industrial building into a retail and office structure on the district's south side.

The developer wants to turn the 1-story structure into eight commercial spaces, similar to how 2121 Cole was recently transformed into homes for the likes of personal trainer and architecture firm. The redevelopment of 2010 Cole will include repainting (dark grey) while adding doors, windows and awnings so the building can be divided into eight spaces. The three truck bays will be replaced with brick to match the building.

It's just the latest example of how the area is transforming from its Rust Belt industrial past into a vibrant urban center. Sidewalks are being rebuilt on Eton Street this fall and the sidewalks for Cole are set to be redone next year.

"We're trying to make it more walkable over there," says Jill Robinson, a city planner for the city of Birmingham. "There are a lot of businesses over there and a lot of activity."

The district, which is adjacent to railroad tracks, is primed to take advantage of a proposed extension for the Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter rail line. City planners are also looking at it as the potential hub for an east-west streetcar line connecting Birmingham and Troy.

Source: Jill Robinson, city planner for the city of Birmingham
Writer: Jon Zemke

Farmington to present details of downtown parking study on Monday

Right now there are 2,370 parking spots in downtown Farmington. City officials, however, hope to squeeze out a few more in their new long-term parking study.

City officials will present the details of the study and how they hope to use it at 6 p.m. Monday in Farmington's City Hall. That means they will show how many spots the city has, make suggestions on how to better manage those
parking spaces and discuss how to create more spots in the future.

One of the city's main goals is to search for ways to reconfigure existing parking lots to increase occupancy and ease of access.

"If you combine three lots next to each other can we gain any spots by combining them?" says Annette Knowles, executive director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority.

The city is also looking at creating parking decks as a long-term solution. Knowles says that if downtown is built out as the master plan calls for in the coming years, the city will need to double the number of parking spaces to service that growth.

Source: Annette Knowles, executive director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Jon Zemke

District Lofts in Birmingham switches from for-sale to rental

The development bandwagon for rental properties is picking up speed in Metro Detroit, especially after one prominent project has jumped on -- The District Lofts in Birmingham.

The ritzy development in the posh suburb's emerging Rail District once billed its units as some of the priciest for-sale lofts in Michigan, starting at $400,000. They're still some of the most expensive modern living spaces around, but now they're just for lease. The developer decided to make the move after witnessing the credit market deteriorate to what were once unthinkable levels.

"The lending market is in so much of an uproar right now that even buyers who have had down payments on units for 18 months are being challenged (by banks making mortgage loans)," says J.C. Cataldo, developer of The District Lofts.

But this dark cloud has a silver lining in that for-sale housing markets are slumping while for-lease housing markets are soaring. A number of other downtown developments in Metro Detroit that were once for-sale are now for lease, and filling up fast.

Among them are The Fifth Royal Oak and New Street Lofts in Mt. Clemens. Urbane Apartment's redevelopment rentals in downtowns are going fast, too. These developments are cashing in on Hollywood workers looking for a place to live to people who want to rent because the housing market scares them so much right now.

The District Lofts is cashing in now, too. So far three of the units are finished and another six of the developments original 24 are set to be done and occupied within six months. Rents in these units start at $2,700 a month for a 1,550-square-foot loft, all of the utilities and an underground parking space. They go as high as $3,400 a month for just under 2,000 square feet.

The development consists of a 4-story, mixed-use building where the homes are located above ground floor retail space and an underground heated parking garage. They are a few blocks east of downtown Birmingham on South Eaton Street in the Rail District.

The old industrial corridor dotted factory buildings and a rail line is being converted to lofts and businesses as the city redevelops it. A stop for a northern extension of the Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter rail line is also planed for the area.

For information, call (248) 593-6000.

Source: J.C. Cataldo, developer of The District Lofts
Writer: Jon Zemke

MDOT set to improve Main Street for Dearborn's West Dowtown

New pavement is one of those things we tend to take for granted and only notice when it becomes old and crumbles. That goes doubly for a place where aesthetics are at a premium, like, say, a downtown.

And even though road pavement isn't as sexy as new streetlights, benches or bike lanes, its one of the first things people complain about when they fall into disrepair. Well, there are some sections of road in Dearborn's West Downtown that qualify in spades.

"We have some sections of pavement that are in dire need of some work," says Rob Morosi, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Transportation.

That's one of the reasons why MDOT plans to revamp the pavement on the main thoroughfare for Dearborn's West Downtown – Michigan Avenue. MDOT intends to repair nearly a mile of road along Michigan, between Brady and Washington streets, starting next week.

The $456,000 project, which will take place mostly at night, will replace the most heavily worked and crumbling sections of road. The idea is to make it friendlier to all of the traffic on it, whether it is commercial vehicles, commuters, bicyclists or even pedestrians.

Work is expected to wrap up by early November.

Source: Rob Morosi, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Transportation
Writer: Jon Zemke

TRU's Transit 101 workshop to discuss Woodward light rail, other transit projects

Transit 101. Sounds just like a college class doesn't it? But the people trying to bring more transportation options to Metro Detroit (i.e. rail) will use it as an excuse to school those interested in what's going on mass transit wise in southeast Michigan.

The event, set for Wednesday, is designed for those who want to know more about transit issues, such as the proposals for light rail along Woodward Avenue, improved bus service and commuter rail between Detroit and Ann Arbor. It's sponsored by Transportation Riders United, a local non-profit dedicated to improving mass transit in Metro Detroit.

The organizers will also talk about what people can do to get involved in these transit issues and how they can help make turn these proposals into reality.

The meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. in TRU's offices on the 16th floor of the Guardian Building, 500 Griswold, in downtown Detroit. For information, contact Megan Owens at or (313) 963-8872.

Source: Transportation Riders United
Writer: Jon Zemke

More people take to rails as Amtrak ridership goes up in Metro Detroit

More and more people are riding that train in Michigan as Amtrak posts significant increases in ridership over the last year on all three of the lines that go through the state.

The Wolverine line increased 5.9 percent, jumping from 369,966 passengers in 2006-07 to 391,959 in 2007-08. The six daily trains travel along the Wolverine line between Pontiac and Chicago, via Detroit and other stations.

The Blue Water line went up 6.5 percent in the same time period. Ridership went from 105,605 in 2006-07 to 112,426 in 2007-08. Trains run between Port Huron and
Chicago, with stops in East Lansing and other stations, along the Blue Water.

Last and smallest, but not least is the 7.2 percent jump for the Pere Marquette line between Grand Rapids and Chicago. The line also stops in St. Joseph and at other stations. Ridership went from 86,073 to 92,248 in the same time period, jumping 7.2 percent.

Source: Marc Magliari, media relations manager for Amtrak
Writer: Jon Zemke

Rallies and meetings attempt to advance mass transit discussion

As gas prices rise so does the popularity of mass transit, but groups like Transportation Riders United and MOSES are looking to drive that message home to local politicians.

Organizers from both groups have been organizing a series of public transit rallies this summer in each of the tri counties to motivate elected officials to improve mass transit. The last will be held tonight in Belleville at 7 p.m. in the Trinity Church, 11575 Belleville Road.

Two similar rallies have been held in Macomb and Oakland counties earlier this summer. For information, call (313) 962-5290.

The Detroit Department of Transportation is also looking for public input as it develops a 5-year service plan. DDOT will hold several public meetings about the plan, which will be designed to address the region’s transportation needs, such improved bus lines and light rail.

Information on the meetings and the plan can be found here or call (313) 933-1300.

Source: Transportation Riders United
Writer: Jon Zemke

Farmington to hold final public info meeting for streetscape vote

The last public information meeting about the proposed streetscape improvements for downtown Farmington is set for Friday, a few days before Tuesday's vote on the project.

The designers of the project and local officials will be on hand to take questions from 5-7 p.m. at the Sundquist Pavilion in Riley Park. Voters will decided whether to give the green light to the $3.2 million project during Tuesday's primary election.

City officials have been fighting to keep the project afloat, holding meetings and releasing a video depicting what the new streetscape will look like if and when it's installed next year.

The proposal calls for rebuilding Grand River Avenue between Farmington Road and Warner Street. That stretch of road will receive the lion's share of upgrades, except for a boulevard set to be developed on Grove Street between Grand River and Orchard Street.

The project will expand the sidewalk area and add bump outs around parallel parking spaces, while installing new sidewalks, crosswalks, benches, bike racks, trashcans and decorative streetlights.

The idea is to make downtown, particularly Grand River Avenue, friendlier for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians as well as more aesthetically pleasing. Local leaders hope this will help encourage vibrancy and increased business investment in downtown.

Source: Krista Wolter, marketing and promotions coordinator for the Farmington Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor DDA exploring options for Fifth Ave underground parking garage

Ann Arbor's leaders are pushing for homes for people and cars in downtown with equal zeal. The latest effort is for a 500-car underground parking garage next to the Ann Arbor District Library's main branch.


More parking is on its way to downtown Ann Arbor, but to a place most people won't see it.

The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority wants to build a 500-space underground parking garage where the massive surface parking lot now stands adjacent to the Ann Arbor District Library's main branch. The DDA presented some ideas to the City Council Monday night and expects to present a site plan to the city in September.

Read the rest of the story here.
187 Transit Articles | Page: | Show All