How important is transportation infrastructure to a city? Those who put up the $140 million needed (including $50 million from the Kresge Foundation) to build the new Detroit QLine — an all-electric, zero-emissions streetcar line — are about to find out. The 3.3 mile long route along Detroit’s famed Woodward Avenue will be open to the public starting on Friday, May 12.
Last November, voters in Detroit turned down an initiative that would have jumpstarted the largely defunct Regional Transportation Authority. The people behind the QLine have high hopes that it will be successful and reignite interest in public transportation in the greater Detroit area
“When we started, we wanted to be a catalyst for regional transit,” Matt Cullen, CEO of the M-1 Rail that operates the QLINE, told the Detroit Free Press during a trial run. “I’d say we have an incomplete, in that regard. We would have loved to see the RTA bill get passed last year, but we’re confident it will” in the future. Rip Rapson, CEO of the Kresge Foundation, says his organization sees its investment in the QLine as “a down payment on a larger regional system. We’ve hit a couple of roadblocks, but that’s not going to stop us. We’re going to push forward and make sure this line becomes integral to a larger system.”
What can enhanced mobility systems do for a local economy? Houston may offer the best example. In 2004, its METRORail began as a single 7.5 mile long route with 16 stops. Today, it has 37 stops along three lines and plans to add two more lines soon. Weekly ridership is more than 60,000. Total annual ridership stands at 16,500,000. By comparison, the QLine has far more modest goals. It is projecting 5,000 riders a day to start, with up to 8,000 each day over time.
To celebrate the opening, rides will be free this weekend. Several restaurants, merchants, and museums along the route are planning festivities to entice people to come downtown and try out the new street car service. The world famous Whitney Museum will host a free garden party on Friday night. A full list of events and activities are available online.
The QLine is all about stimulating economic activity in a city that has been devastated by one blow to its economy after another. The once proud Motor City was humbled by the implosion of real estate values in 2008 and the roiling of the auto industry that followed. The QLine is a pathway to recovery, but it is still a huge bet that may or may not pay off.
As John Gallagher of the Detroit Free Press puts it, “Transit systems are like the telephone network: They become more valuable as more and more people join the network. If only 5% of people have a telephone, it’s not very useful. But if 95% of people are connected, it becomes much more valuable.”
The one thing no city wants is more cars streaming into and out of the downtown area. The QLine will offer Detroit residents and visitors a convenient way to access a part of the city without waiting in traffic or fighting for a parking space. That’s good news for any merchants within walking distance of the new streetcar line.
Source: Detroit Free Press