M-1 PRT?

A light rail line running from Pontiac to Detroit could carry over half a million people in a twelve hour day. Today we have between 21,000 and 31,000 using that route. That’s about 5% of the traffic that is now riding the bus. If the projections are close to being right about 5,500 will take a streetcar between New Center and Downtown. Right now the bus ridership on the 53 is around 8,500 but most of them (from my experience) start out north of New Center.

From the perspective of running a PRT (personal rapid transit) type system from New Center to downtown 13,000 people could ride individually in a twelve hour day. That is more than the projected 5,500 people riding a streetcar.

So on to the streetcar proposal. When I attended the event on February 28th I expected the streetcar to run down the center of the street like it did in the early days like in these historical photos. That was what got me working on a proposal for PRT down Woodward.

For several years I have been working on a proposal to bring a PRT system to southeast Michigan like this July 2011 plan, but I avoided the Woodward corridor figuring that the streetcar would take care of that area. A side running route caused me to revisit this area. I am not sure what is going on but my suspicion is that it revolves around cost. During an earlier presentation when the line was to run to Eight Mile I questioned a turn around the Coleman Young Municipal Center. I was told that the train cars would have to be outfitted with special bogies like they used in Salt Lake City. They would cost several million more!

Likewise I sense that the decision to run down the side of Woodward is due to costs. I suspect that that also means that T-Rails would be run instead of“Block Rail”. The difference could run about 3.5 million and would be a big step in preventing bike riders from using Woodward. A “Block Rail” has a 1.5 inch gap where the T-Rail has a 2.5 inch gap. The cost of support wires could run a lot less as well.

The biggest concern for me is the bus service that would be interrupted by running streetcars down the side. If there are about 11,000 passengers traveling on this line (Eight Mile to downtown) and only 5,500 taking the train (which seems a little bit illogical) how do the buses get to drop people off? Does the bus not run down Woodward from New Center? If so that means two transfers, one at State Fair and one at New Center. That is not conducive to getting people to ride the streetcar.

Detroit metro area is in a unique situation in that it has a very poor transit system. As a city it does not have a cohesive system and even with the RTA it has only the ability to mandate cooperation between some of the systems in operation. It can also award the rights to roadways to a system. Without funding besides the several hundred thousand in state money it can not do much more.

As I researched PRT systems, self driving cars became real in the sense that several states actually “legalized” them. PRT (personal rapid transport) has been around a long time, since the 1970 in earnest. Yet it has never taken off. They are essentially a self driving cars on a fixed track, so why not let them get off the track?

At one point I actually thought about making PRT a pedal system as well but in talking to Bubble Motion’s founder that quickly got dropped. Yet why could not every pod become a carrier for a bicycle. That got me to thinking of a system that allowed you to get to a pod car within a few miles, by riding a bike. Something large for the metro area, like this:

If we had a system of pods that could carry a bike operating on system like this it would be easy to get around. Some of the tracks could be laid on the ground but most of them would be elevated. Some areas could have self driving routes, like at the airport or malls.

The way I see a system coming together is by starting small with private money. Right now there are no manufacturers of a PRT system made in the US. This creates a problem when funding a transit system that uses federal funds mandating that all (most, the stick that measures rail spacing is not made in the US) components be US made.

The Woodward corridor as redesigned for a PRT type system could start out by building perhaps the center loop shown below. The spaces to fill in could run up Woodward or take a detour wherever it was felt the need might be, like Henry Ford Hospital.

Getting back to the streetcar proposal there are concerns about bike riders using Woodward with side running cars but there is also the ridership projection and the bus stopping issues. Along with unexpected cost overruns such as Tucson’s that likely to cost a lot more each year.

How does a company get off the ground? Especially when the cost of doing business will likely run into billions of dollars. By forming a company that is structured to take on value each year and thus incorporating other partners over time. That would be a start and I’ll fill you in on more details in a latter posting.


Another Jam Handy Post

The Jam Handy (the lovely building that houses this little social club) is undergoing a fundraising siege! Please join us for any and all of the following events. All proceeds will go towards getting permanent heating, awesome lights, and a sweet sound system in the space. Ya!

Yours truly,


Saturday, October 20th

JAM HANDY FUN-draiser!
This weekend, there are plenty of shenanigans happening in the city, so why not stack your plate high, and add the Jam Handy to your list of things to get into!

DJs in the big room!
Amy Dreamcatcher
Uno Mas (Claire D’Aoust)
DJ Hairy Nilsson (Dan Austin)
Sabado Gigante
The Rev. Robert David Jones

The Jamison Social Club
2900 east grand blvd
detroit, MI 48202

They did a great job of getting the funding they needed to install some heating and lighting. Join them to continue the effort!

‘Motion to Makeover’ project transforms Southwest park

Home Depot redoes a city park, should they be involved if they do not keep constant tabs on it?

Alright, why will this look like a mess in a few years? Because no one is coming back to alter it. No one is taking care of it. Detroit needs concerns like businesses, organizations, and community groups to volunteer to keep its city’s parks and recreational departments. (… a new beginning?)

It’s time for a change-Detroit transit

Last Tuesday I had a chat with Marie Donigan, Megan Owens and Sean Mann on transportation hosted by The Detroit Free Press. Earlier I had read in the same paper an article that had said “Also at risk is the project to build light rail along Woodward because, Bing said, $100 million in federal transportation funds would be lost if the city can’t even provide decent bus services.” I’m wondering what the status of light rail coming to Woodward really is and so are some others.

Three articles published that week also sited possible delays and indecision by people connected to the project. The Free Press published an opinion the next day saying “Obstacles ahead…”. The South End, Wayne State’s paper published an article saying “Woodward Light Rail faces tough questions”. Finally on Thursday Crain’s published an article saying “Private money on the line: Woodward rail donors wait for layout they like”.

This week Dan Gilbert said “There’s almost nothing you can do better for an urban core than curbside light rail”. Yet most planners see curbside rail as a hinderance to bike riders. There might have to a modified system.

And thinking about a modified system I have to say that my preference to the woes of Detroit area transit come down to a combination of bus rapid transit and a personal rapid transit system. First off I don’t think the Woodward light rail line running to 8 Mile will do much for the city. There are not a lot of people in the 1/2 mile right of way along the line. A better route would be to do a personal rapid transit line that ran less than a 1/2 away, right by some of the positions that have said they would support light rail but are no where near it.

Ithaca, NY did a plan for a PRT system of 11.5 miles (5.75 miles of two way track) that would cost about 185 million. Our rial line will cost in excess of 550 million for 9.5 miles. Is it not time to consider another alternative?

Part of the problem is showing it to people. How do I do that? Well the best way is a video. So I did one. Take 6 minuets of your time and watch the personal rapid transit route I suggest for Detroit.

This route incorporates several needy areas along with several upscale areas and feeds into shopping and entertainment districts as well as job locations.

On a related note I also think PRT is a solution that could work for the Ann Arbor to Detroit route. During the past few years planners have proposed a train between the two cities. What is not outlined very clearly is how to get to the airport. Using one train route does not go by the airport so busses would have to be deployed. Doing a PRT along several train routes and through Canton would rectify this problem and provide rapid transit that could be used by a variety of people.

The map has other routes shown, but concentrating dollars on the Ann Arbor to Detroit route and the mid city and downtown routes would be a place that I would like to start.

Detroit’s Gardens & building projects

Peaches & Greens sign

This morning I saw an article in the New York Times about Detroit’s gardens and it got me thinking of a fifteen mile bike ride I had taken through the city last weekend. On my bike ride I saw one greenhouse. That’s it. So I went back out to take a shot of it.

The one garden seen on a 15 mile bike ride

The article also mentioned Peaches & Greens, a store that sells fresh produce. So I also went out to take a shot of it. One block away there is a garden that is planted and another block away there is also garden that is not planted.
The garden and greenhouse were on this street

Peaches & Greens on 3rd

A garden plot that is not planted

A garden plot down the street from Peaches & Greens

I’m not sure about gardening being the saviour of Detroit. Some may make it and some won’t.

I also took some shots of 45 homes that West Oakland Homes
is building in the Northend neighborhood. Surprising is the fact that the workers were from Fenton, which is at least 50 miles away!

Notice the Fenton address (on all trucks and equipment)

Several of the 45 new homes