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How Woodward could get its Avenue back: It's not all about cars

Looking south on Woodward Ave
flickr user Sean Marshall

The Next Idea

We may be living in the 21st century, but the transportation infrastructure in Southeast Michigan is lagging way behind.

The number of citizens relying on public transport to get in and out of Detroit for business or pleasure is on the rise, thanks in part to the millennial generation's growing tendency to forgo car ownership in favor of alternative means of transit.

In his storyfor HOUR Detroit, Patrick Dunn digs into a number of projects that aim to transform the way we get around Metro Detroit.

Dunn spoke with Deborah Schutt, executive director of the Woodward Avenue Action Association, about their plan to tackle some of the biggest issues surrounding public transit in the area. Schutt lives near Square Lake and Woodward, and told Dunn that she is afraid to use Woodward as a pedestrian.

“She was saying it feels almost dangerous crossing that stretch of road,” Dunn says. “It’s not really an avenue, it’s more like a highway.”

WA3 put forth a plan they’re calling the “Complete Streets” plan, a concept that Dunn explains has been used by urban planners nationwide.

“The basic idea is sort of going back to a time when cars weren’t the only thing on streets. You’d have a variety of transportation methods using that same stretch of road,” he says. “The basic idea of Complete Streets is going back to a street that is safe and accessible and welcoming to a lot of different forms of transportation, not just cars.”

Dunn tells us the main tenets of WA3’s Complete Streets plan include reducing the number of car lanes while adding pedestrian refuge islands and bike lanes.

Additionally, in what Dunn calls “perhaps the most revolutionary change for the Metro Detroit area,” WA3 is looking at adding a dedicated lane right down the middle of the avenue for bus rapid transit – BRT. TheSoutheast Michigan Council of Governments analyzed a number of rapid transit options for the 27-mile stretch and found BRT to be the most efficient and cost-effective.

"People are starting to come together more around this idea, especially the idea that this could be better for the whole region."

“The Complete Streets plan took that alternatives analysis that SEMCoG came up with and dropped it right into their plan,” Dunn says.

The Regional Transit Authority of Southeastern Michigan, established in 2012, is also looking at BRT in their effort to connect Detroit to Pontiac, Ann Arbor, Mount Clemens and other surrounding cities.

But before any of that can move forward, the project needs to find the political support and the money to make it happen.

“The money of course s a big question,” Dunn says. “Voters here in the Metro Detroit area are going to weigh in on that most likely this fall.” 

He explains that any plan proposed by the RTA has to be approved by voters in a general election.

“So they basically have to have this plan put together and they have to have a millage proposal prepared in time for the November election or else they’re waiting another four years to have any forward momentum on this master plan.”

“The divide between Detroit and its suburbs has held back this kind of progress for a long time,” Dunn says. “There’s starting to be more partnership built along those lines. People are starting to come together more around this idea, especially the idea that this could be better for the whole region.”

According to Dunn, it will likely be another decade before we start seeing any of these changes put in place. In the meantime, he says RTA has been working to better coordinate bus service between existing transit authorities in the area.  

“They’re already making some progress along those lines, and we could see more of that within a year or two. But for these larger issues, BRT, possibly even light rail at some point, definitely getting into the next decade,” Dunn says.

Join the conversation in the comments section below, on Twitter or Facebook, or let us know your Next Idea here

Josh Hakala, a lifelong Michigander (East Lansing & Edwardsburg), comes to Michigan Radio after nearly two decades of working in a variety of fields within broadcasting and digital media.
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