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I would love to see this happen down there!

By Mike Scott, contributing writerFebruary 15, 2010: 4:58 AM ET

DETROIT (CNNMoney.com) -- Can Motor City combat its economic ills by becoming Rail City?

Along Detroit's Woodward Avenue, a downtown stretch that seems permanently stuck in the "emerging" phase of business development, community leaders are hoping a new light rail system will help spark a renaissance. The city plans to break ground this year on stage one of a $420 million project: the first modern, mass-transit initiative in a city long synonymous with automobiles.

"Transit in Detroit has kind of been a joke," says Matt Cullen, CEO of M1 Rail, a private consortium heading the development effort. "We've been a victim of vulcanized politics and other efforts. But now we have a plan in place. We'll get it done, and we feel it will have a huge impact on this region."

In most cities, civic cash would pay for major infrastructure projects like a new mass transit system. But in Detroit, which faces a $300 million annual budget deficit, private backers have stepped in to try to kick-start the venture.

It's the only project of its kind in the U.S., and the donor list reads like a Who's Who of area megamillionaires: Compuware (CPWR) CEO Peter Karmanos, Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert, Penske Corporation CEO Roger Penske and Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch are among those ponying up $125 million to cover the project's entire phase-one price tag.

The planned 3.4-mile first stretch of light rail service would encompass some of Detroit's best-known entertainment districts, including Comerica Park, home of baseball's Tigers, and Ford Field, where the Lions play football. The route winds past the Fox Theater district and extends into Detroit's New Center area, the center of gravity for many local hospitals and medical facilities, as well as much of the Wayne State University campus.

"With this light rail system we will have a much greater concentration of business investment possibilities," says Rip Rapson, CEO of the Kresge Foundation, which awards grants to nonprofit organizations in a variety of fields. The foundation has committed $35 million to the M1 Rail project.

The obstacles
Is a rail line the best way to bring much-needed shoppers into Detroit's retail zones? That question -- and political skirmishes over funding for the rail line's future extensions -- kept the M1 plans stalled last year.

Proponents say there's little to lose.

"If we can pull something off of this magnitude I think businesses will see Detroit in a different light," says Sarah Hubbard, senior vice president of government relations for the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce. "Business leaders have come to the table and are ready to act on this. It's going to be as much of a psychological benefit as anything."

Khalid Diab, manager of The Whitney -- a high-end restaurant on Woodward Avenue -- sees the rail line as "free advertising" for businesses on the route.

"You're not zipping by at 50 miles an hour. Your attention is on what you are passing by, rather than the road you are driving on," he says. He thinks trains could make downtown Detroit a more popular nighttime destination.

But some on the proposed route are skeptical.

"I just don't know how significant the impact would be, because most of our foot traffic drives and wouldn't take mass transit anyway," says Kevin Prihod, CEO of the Detroit Science Center.

Funding is another challenge. M1 was ready to break ground last year, but the project went on temporary hiatus when Detroit's Department of Transportation got involved. DOT had its own light-rail plans percolating, for a more extensive system reaching several miles further to 8 Mile Road, the traditional dividing line between urban Detroit and the city's suburbs. (Eminem's 2002 movie 8 Mile popularized the cultural boundary.)

DOT had plans, but not enough cash. Its executives hit on a novel solution. The rail project would qualify for federal matching funds if Detroit coughed up a chunk of the project's cost. Could the $125 million in M1 Rail funding -- contributed entirely from private backers -- be used to fulfill the matching-funds requirement?

It can. In December, Congress blessed the unusual maneuver, tucking approval for it into an omnibus spending bill. With that green light, it's game on for the rail construction.

The first, privately financed phase -- built and operated by the M1 consortium -- plans to start construction by the end of this year and have trains running by 2012. The second stage, adding at least 4.5 miles of track at an estimated $250 million price tag, is tentatively scheduled to start soon after 2012. The federal government will pay 80% of its cost, with the city of Detroit picking up the bill for the remaining 20%.

Civic planners hope the sight of trains carrying shoppers and workers through Detroit's fledgling business corridor will win over the project's doubters.

"Once we build this system, the benefit will become obvious to everyone -- residents, business leaders and politicians," says Norman White, Detroit's CFO and former Department of Transportation director. "Already, we are getting calls every week about when ground will break and when we can get this project off the ground."

The unstated hope is that a light-rail system will do more than simply move people around. It's a sign of progress and modernization -- and a selling point for the young, creative professionals Detroit wants to retain and attract. Southeastern Michigan has suffered youth exodus, thanks to its tepid job market. Cities like Chicago, Boston, New York and San Francisco lure new residents in part because of their extensive mass-transit systems.

There's precedent for this kind of transit revitalization. In 2004, after three years of construction and more than a decade of political wrangling, Minneapolis launched a new 12-mile light-rail service connecting the city's downtown with its airport, the Mall of America and several suburbs. In just two years, the line's weekday ridership topped 25,000 -- a target the rail's developers didn't expect to hit until 2020.

"[Minneapolis] is an almost identical process to what we're working with here in Detroit," says the Kresge Foundation's Rapson, a Minneapolis native who worked on the city's light-rail development. "Getting the federal funds, though, is a key."

Even skeptics are willing to be won over. "Anything that brings people to downtown is good, and none of the non-profit or business leaders I have spoken to see a downside," says Prihod of the Detroit Science Center. "Now we just need to see if it gets completed."

Diab, The Whitney's general manager, gives the line an "80% chance" of happening.

"This rail system is the start of a new page in the city's growth and development," he says. "We haven't received a lot of positive news over the years here in Detroit, but this is great news for the city."

http://money.cnn.com/2010/02/15/smallbusin..._rail/index.htm
 

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It's gotta happen. I posted in the political forum about a show on PBS about a week ago that addressed this issue. One person in the show said that Detroit is the canary in the coal mine and that we are a generation behind Europe on public transportation. They said in the US that we have a very short attention span. Infrastructure requires a long term view of things.

This was my post:

Below is from an email I got telling me about the show last night. It will be replayed early tomorrow morning. Definitely worth watching. Detroit has such a wonderful history. This piece gave me a little hope that the future can be better than the last 40 years of slow decay.

I'm very pleased to announce that on Monday, Feb. 8th, the PBS Documentary Blueprint America: Beyond the Motor City will be broadcast nationally. This is a tremendous film by Peabody Award winning director Aaron Woolf, focusing on the future of US infrastructure, using Detroit - the Motor City - as the anchor image, and showing what Detroit could be if it makes the right investments in infrastructure going forward. You have to see the film! Major support for the PBS Documentary Blueprint America: Beyond the Motor City was provided by the Rockefeller Foundation, and it was Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin that participated as lead panelist at the screening this week at the US Capitol.

I do hope you'll check your local listing for the Feb. 8th nationwide broadcast of the film. It's scheduled for 10pm EST. You can view a clip here.

Blueprint America: Beyond the Motor City was screened at the US Capitol Visitor's Center this past Wednesday. A discussion and debate followed, focused on themes critical to building infrastructure in the US -- vision, leadership and...budget. The debate was overseen by Judith Rodin, President of the Ford Foundation, and included US Senator Robert Menendez (NJ), and Representatives Russ Carnahan (MO), and Earl Blumenauer (OR). We plan to take this show on the road in the coming months, screening the documentary for audiences around the country. Please watch the film and tell us what you think.

Thanks so much for your time - hopefully the documentary will start a serious national discussion on infrastructure, and on infrastructure-related manufacturing and innovation!
 

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A city is not stadiums, rail systems, mass transit, restaurants, or nice new buildings. A city is neighborhoods and the people in them. Detroit has a population where half is on some sort of government assistance. The education system is poor at best. The drop out rate is jaw dropping. The city government is disfunctional. The retail environment is non existent. Taxes and insurance rates are the highest in the state. Detroit has so many problem. Spending unknown millions on a rail system will do nothing for any their problems. Just a big waste of tax money.
 

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You really should check out the PBS show if it's replayed. It gave a great perspective of where we've been, where's we're at, and where we might go in the future. As we all know the riots of '67 where the straw that broke the camel's back. Detroit has been in a slow state of decay for 50 years. It started with the creation of the freeways leading out of the city.

Investment in transportation infrastructure may be the only hope. It may be the catalyst for a real retail base, a catalyst for economic development, a catalyst for the re-establishment of neighborhoods. Detroit has been in a slow state of decay for 50 years. It started with the creation of the freeways leading out of the city.

I took a couple of pages of notes when I watched the PBS show. Here are some of them.

-Erie Canal connected Detroit to the East
-Detroit has a great rail heritage
-Proposed M-1 rail is only a small step in the right direction
-Detroit was the silicon valley of America in 1913
-rail brought people to Detroit from all over
-in 1950 Detroit was responsible for 80% of the world's car production
-comparison to Glasgow which was also a city of industrial waste, then resurgance
-Davison Highway nations first highway - inspired national highway system
-canals connected the midwest, rail the far west, highway the entire nation
-April 8, 1956 last streetcar ran in Detroit, then sold to Mexico City
-1947 to 1963 Detroit lost 125,000 manufacturing jobs, plants buit outside the city
-white flight led to isolationism, segregation, riots
-Detroit is 139 sq. miles, could fit Boston, San Fran, and Manhattan inside Detroit
-1976 $600m offered for rapid transit, local squabbles led to only the people mover
-1980s Washington stopped infrastructure funding for transportation, focused on arms
-Detroit has not evolved, only slow decay
-now behind European standards of a modern city
-Spain used public private partnerships to invest in transportation infrastructure
-transportation infrastructure is high risk and expensive, someone has to pay
-Spaniards now demand infrastructure from their politicians
-US politicians do not have long term view, only short term view of re-election
-in order for neighborhoods to develop we have to coexist with each other
 

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There was mass transit in Detroit and the surrounding area. Look up the Detroit Urban Railway and the Interurban. Something like that would have been cool to use. Was private company, then apparently went to city, then, well...you know what happens when government gets involved...

System had its problems over time, but in retrospect...

Links on left side of site:
http://www.detroittransithistory.info/index.html

http://www.detroittransithistory.info/TheDURYears.html

When I was working in Marine City, they rebuilt part of Water Street downtown and uncovered part of the rail bed.
 

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My first impression of this thread was the Simpsons episode "Monorail"...


"Detroit has been in a slow state of decay for 50 years. It started with the creation of the freeways leading out of the city."
Every big city in the country has freeways leading out of the city....not EVERYONE spiralled into decay!

"-1947 to 1963 Detroit lost 125,000 manufacturing jobs, plants buit outside the city"
WHY? Just because there were freeways leading out of the city -OR- because it was too difficult or too expensive to do business IN the city?? How does THAT get fixed?

"-Detroit is 139 sq. miles, could fit Boston, San Fran, and Manhattan inside Detroit"
I am always amazed by this... that Detroits borders are so much larger than many other large cities. Perhaps this was part of the problem... does the CITY have TOO much influencial power over what happened to the whole METRO AREA?

"-1976 $600m offered for rapid transit, local squabbles led to only the people mover"
I chuckled when I read this, because earlier in the thread was something like "M1 was ready to break ground last year, but the project went on temporary hiatus when Detroit's DOT got involved. DOT had its own light-rail plans percolating, for a more extensive system......DOT had plans, but not enough cash" Does anything change?

I have to dig a little to see if I really like this, but if Penske and Ilitch are on board, then it's probably a great project - those guys are awesome.
 

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QUOTE(Dos mangos @ Feb 15 2010, 08:27 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>its just not safe down there and who would want to take their kids down there ?

It is perfectly safe in downtown. We walk all the time from Greektown to Tiger Stadium or Fox Theater at night.

We have walked from Cobo to Greektown at night.

My 25 year old daughter goes to various clubs in and around downtown. She feels safe when she is down there.

I know a couple people that took their kids to the winterfest in downtown last week and had a good time.

We go to many free concerts downtown and never feel in danger.

There are plenty of places I wouldn't go in Detroit at night but the downtown area is safe in my opinion.

Matt
 

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QUOTE(Dos mangos @ Feb 15 2010, 08:27 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>its just not safe down there and who would want to take their kids down there ?

I hope that was a joke. Plenty of 'safe' places in the D.

A good part of my job involves photographing derelict buildings before they get rehabbed. I've been all over the area and never had a problem with the inhabitants.

The worst encounter I had was when I was getting some "after" shots at Detroit's Breakfast House and Grill at Merchant's Row the day before the Mayoral election and Kwame walked in. Couple of his "people" wanted to know why I was photographing him. I asked them to get him out of my way so I could get shots of the building.
 

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QUOTE(Dos mangos @ Feb 15 2010, 08:27 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>its just not safe down there and who would want to take their kids down there ?

do you go to Mt Clemens? a friend was mugged there a few months ago, stuff happens everywhere. there are scary areas i would totally avoid in MC, but for the most part, the city is fun, just like Detroit. I don't have a problem going down there and enjoy myself every time I do.
 

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I'm a lot more excited abou the high speed rail connecting Detroit and Chicago.

$244 million awarded for high-speed rail from Detroit to Chicago

By Business Review West Michigan
January 28, 2010, 3:22PM

Michigan, Indiana and Illinois will receive $244 million to update 300 miles of track to accommodate high-speed rail, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced today as part of a federal $8 billion stimulus investment in high-speed rail across the country.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grants have been awarded for the corridor from Pontiac to Detroit to Kalamazoo through Northern Indiana to Chicago, what the department considers one of the country's major projects.

According to the department, existing stations will be renovated in Troy and Battle Creek, and a new station will be constructed in downtown Dearborn adjacent to the Henry Ford Museum. In the long-run, the goal would be to double the number of daily round trips between Detroit and Chicago and increasing speeds to 110 mph. The section of rail between Kalamazoo and New Buffalo can already support speed up to 95 mph.

"Through the Recovery Act, we are making the largest investment in infrastructure since the Interstate Highway System was created, putting Americans to work rebuilding our roads, bridges, and waterways for the future," President Obama said in a statement. "That investment is how we can break ground across the country, putting people to work building high-speed rail lines, because there's no reason why Europe or China should have the fastest trains when we can build them right here in America."

Source
 

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QUOTE(jrock @ Feb 15 2010, 07:32 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>A city is not stadiums, rail systems, mass transit, restaurants, or nice new buildings. A city is neighborhoods and the people in them. Detroit has a population where half is on some sort of government assistance. The education system is poor at best. The drop out rate is jaw dropping. The city government is disfunctional. The retail environment is non existent. Taxes and insurance rates are the highest in the state. Detroit has so many problem. Spending unknown millions on a rail system will do nothing for any their problems. Just a big waste of tax money.

Unfortunately, that is the truth.
 

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I remember as a kid the electric buses or trolleys that ran from 8 mile to downtown along Gratiot until 1956 when they stopped running.. I remember the mass of overhead wires that the trolley's picked up the power from and the sparking as the trolley's ran.. The trolley tracks remained in the center of Gratiot for years until they decided to rip them out to lay asphalt on Gratiot.. It was pretty amazing.
 

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QUOTE(ColPepper @ Feb 17 2010, 07:34 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>I remember as a kid the electric buses or trolleys that ran from 8 mile to downtown along Gratiot until 1956 when they stopped running.. I remember the mass of overhead wires that the trolley's picked up the power from and the sparking as the trolley's ran.. The trolley tracks remained in the center of Gratiot for years until they decided to rip them out to lay asphalt on Gratiot.. It was pretty amazing.

My Grandmother hit a trolley car and decided to never drive again
 

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I'm a fan of Downtown and love going down there. I never feel unsafe in the areas that I frequent at all hours of the day and night. However this rail thing I don't see making it. There just isn't enough people with money in their pockets to support it (the rail) OR downtown retail. The sad fact is everyone is gone to the suburbs and theres no reason to come back. Suburb living has become a way of life around here now for a couple generations. Nobody even remembers what its like to live IN a city and use public transportation. Again, nobody meaning the people with the finances that can support businesses.
Time will and always does tell.
 
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