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