Because Detroit is Bus Nerd’s hometown, we visit on occasion. I’ve been a total of four times — most recently last month. As much as I enjoy our trips to Detroit, it is, without question, the most transit-poor major city I have ever visited.
In Seattle, folks tend to be surprised if you use the bus as your primary form of transportation. In Detroit, they are surprised if you use the bus at all. It’s not that people in Detroit don’t ride buses; it’s that people who have a choice don’t ride buses. As I mentioned in my post-Super Bowl column last year, the bus-stop signs don’t even tell you which routes stop there. There are no schedules, and maybe that’s a good thing, since buses are regularly very late. Sometimes, they don’t come at all. Heading to an unfamiliar destination? Don’t try the trip planner on DDOT’s website. It was down for our entire trip last month and is still down as I type.
Many factors have contributed to the state of Detroit’s transit system:
1) The Big Three: These guys have been undermining and outright blocking efforts to create real transit in the region for decades. It also doesn’t hurt that almost everyone who lives there (and is actually employed) is employed by the industry, so folks are justifiably proud of what they produce.
2) Sprawl: Detroit is a huge, spread-out city with no real central point of commerce. Many of its employment and commercial centers are in surrounding suburbs. Not surprisingly, planning routes and transfer points under these conditions is a challenge.
3) Poor environment for pedestrians: Even downtown, something as simple as crossing the street might take five minutes and several lights.
4) Two systems that don’t play well together: The Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) runs the city buses, but Suburban Mobility Authority for Rapid Transit (SMART) runs the buses in the suburbs, including buses that go from the suburbs to Detroit. Individual cities elect to participate in SMART, and some have elected not to. This means no bus service whatsoever for the residents of those cities.
5) Racism: Detroit is one of the most segregated metropolitan areas in the country. The city is predominantly Black, and the suburbs are predominantly (often exclusively) white. Many suburban cities see transit to and from Detroit as a threat, so they don’t support it.
6) Funding: The region is losing population and jobs, and there’s precious little money to invest in major projects — even those that would have a long-term benefit.
Despite these obstacles, Detroit has some very dedicated and motivated transit activists (www.detroittransit.org) who are working hard to change the climate (and the on-the-ground options) in the region. Here in Seattle, with our thriving economy, comparatively compact development, and federal grant money, we have a relatively easy challenge. Let’s make sure we rise to it.
By Carla Saulter
Got something to say about public transportation in Seattle? E-mail Bus Chick at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit blog.seattlepi.nwsource.com/buschick.
For copy of actual issue, go to https://www.realchangenews.org/2007/03/28/mar-28-2007-entire-issue