Blog: George Lenko

Look in the dictionary under community involvement and you're likely to see George Lenko's face. A second term city commissioner in Pleasant Ridge, he spearheaded the NextCruise event during Dream Cruise and has a passion for regional development and transit issues --topics he will be writing about in this week's Guest Blog.

Post 4: Regional Transit in Detroit

I collect old maps. One of my favorites is the 1925 Pocket Map of Detroit, published by National Lithograph Company.  

One inset on this map trumpets that "Detroit Leads the World in Many Activities" and goes on to call out nearly 40 bragging points including: 

  • Detroit is the leading manufacturing city in the world. Value of its products is estimated at $6,000,000 per day or $2,500,000,000 annually
  • Detroit is the fourth city in population in the U.S.
  • Detroit is the second wealthiest city in the United States based on income taxes paid to the government.
  • Detroit is the first large city in America to own and operate its Street Railways – 380 miles of track

That last point was the reason I bought this map. The map clearly shows all the streetcar lines in contrasting color and it helps show why our city grew in the way it did.   

The Woodward line, of course, is prominent on the map. It surprised me, however, that it departed from Woodward between 10 Mile and 11 Mile Roads to go through downtown Royal Oak. It was more surprising to see a second Royal Oak streetcar line in the Fourth Street boulevard median, heading east toward what would later become I-75. The path of this railway explains why there is a Nine Mile curve on the freeway. The route proceeds to Oakland Ave, and approaches the back of the Ford’s Highland Park plant. Apparently, this was an effective back route to bring workers to the plant. It’s intriguing that many of our boulevard roads had rail in their median, and these paths tied our residential areas and workplaces together.  

We’re hearing some of this same sentiment today. In recent months, there has been news of reinstituting rail service from Detroit and Ann Arbor, perhaps tying to the airport. There have been several proposals for light rail on Woodward, including a private effort from the riverfront to the New Center, and a Detroit Department of Transportation proposal extending from riverfront to Eight Mile Road. I’m anxious to hear the outcome of John Hertel’s effort to arrive at a regional consensus on mass transit (Metromode 11/15/07).   

The big questions for regional transit, of course, are "Where will it be?", "What will it be?" "What will it cost?" and "Who will use it?" 

While transit advocates are quick to say that cities as small as Kenosha WI have light rail, their light rail has low utility and low ridership. We certainly don’t want that.   

The Woodward Corridor shows great promise for successful mass transit; however, I have concerns about the DDOT proposal. That proposal would place the rail in the center of the road and eliminate street parking on most of Woodward, and it would count on suburban commuters catching the rail at the State Fair.    

I favor the private proposal for a shorter route, with one twist. Think about running the rail parallel to Woodward in a circle route, running down John R one block away to the east and up Cass to the west. With a turnaround in Grand Circus Park (an intermodal connection to the People Mover) and another at the New Center (an intermodal connection to Amtrak), it would have full connectivity to our other transit assets and its ridership would be workers, students, and also visitors to our cultural and entertainment venues. 

This configuration would not disrupt Woodward or its businesses, it would allow safe and convenient curb access, it would allow the streetcars to control the traffic lights without disrupting the flow on Woodward, and it would help extend development to blocks adjacent to Woodward including the Detroit Medical Center, College of Creative Studies, Masonic Temple, and Wayne State University.   

A system like this would be do-able, and it could be fed by broad network (and less-expensive) ‘rapid busses’ from the surrounding areas.