(Crystal A. Proxmire, Sept. 17, 2013)
Big changes could be coming to Woodward Avenue if plans go forward for a rapid transit bus line going from Downtown Detroit all the way to Pontiac. The project is being contemplated by the recently formed Regional Transit Authority and other stakeholder groups, and could be funded by a vehicle registration tax that is likely to be on the ballot in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw Counties in 2014.
If approved, the project would likely bring a rapid bus line that could run up the middle of Woodward in some places, and on the side in others. The project would also bring in other streetscape features to improve the appearance and functionality of the corridor for pedestrians, bicyclists, and vehicle drivers.
Participating organizations gathered at Dino’s Lounge on Sept. 12 to discuss their ideas with members of the Mayor’s Business Council, Ferndale Area Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Development Authority.
Councilperson Melanie Piana, well-known for her advocacy work in favor of complete streets planning and transit, headed up the discussion. Several community meetings about the proposed project have been held along the Woodward corridor, but Piana said she felt having one during the day might be better for some business owners. She spoke about Ferndale’s commitment to complete streets planning, stating “The City Council has always been a strong proponent of transportation improvement.” In 2010, Piana led the charge for a Complete Streets Ordinance, and aspects of the City’s planning have been considered in the broader plans for Woodward.
Jason Fowler of the Woodward Avenue Action Association spoke about the need for complete streets and shared planning ideas. “What complete streets are is designing streets for everyone,” Fowler said. This includes elements like sidewalks, bike lanes, wide shoulders, crosswalks, crossing islands, mid-block crossings, bus pull outs and audible crosswalks. “Little things you might not notice make a big difference,” he said.
According to the presentation, 20% of seniors don’t drive and many millennials are rejecting car culture. A 2011 study in “Environmental Practice” showed that cities with high bicycle use have less risk of fatal accidents. Other reasons to promote public transit include environmental impacts, less traffic congestion, less expensive than owning a vehicle, reduction in parking demand, and increased walk-in traffic to businesses in downtown areas.
A high speed bus line would transport people from Detroit to Pontiac, with stops about every mile in between, in a time comparable to that of a car. Currently Woodward Avenue is served by two bus systems – DDOT in Detroit and SMART in the suburbs. A major disconnect happens at 8 Mile Road, where passengers must switch bus systems and the schedules do not coincide. These services would continue to run along Woodward, making more frequent stops. Currently to get from Ferndale to Pontiac, the bus trip is about 45 minutes. A rapid transit bus, with a dedicated lane and programmed streetlights, would cut the travel time in half.
The Woodward Avenue Action Association received a $750K grant to develop a Complete Streets Master Plan for 27 miles of Woodward, touching 11 cities from downtown Detroit to downtown Pontiac. In 2010, the cities along Woodward–with support from the Michigan Suburbs Alliance and Woodward Avenue Action Association– applied for the Federal Transit Administration’s $2M Woodward Alternative Analysis grant to study transit mode options for the corridor. These funds and the Bus Rapid Transit project are managed by SEMCOG, which is working closely with the RTA, now that its created. SEMCOG is the Woodward AA project manager and Parsons Brickerhoff are the technical project consultants
Business owners seemed overall excited about the plan. Pam Bellaver Smith, who works at the Ferndale Career Center said “43% of our clients take public transportation, so this is important to us.”
Marvin Bernstein, who owns The French Gourmet, had questions about parking and about landscaping potentially blocking business signage. Piana explained that one point of public transit is to reduce demand on the parking system, and that when landscaping is done in a way that promotes walkability people are more likely to notice the businesses and stop in.
Those who want to learn more and weigh in on the plan can do so at www.transformwoodward.com. There is also an alternatives analysis and a phone app people can use to send site-specific feedback along the corridor. There will be a final public outreach meeting in December before the plan is finalize.