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Detroit's Vintage Trolley System


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At one time Detroit had one of the largest trolley systems in the country. However with the advent of the freeway & this being the motor city, by 1956, the trolley system had closed. For the bicentennial in 1976, the city decided to reopen part of the system. They figured that this would also help revitalize the struggling city. The trolley was sucessful the first couple of years. As the years wore on, the ridership numbers dwindled, despite the fact that the city was begining to rebound with the new stadiums (Comerica Park & Ford Field), the restored Fox Theater, and the new casinos. In 1999 the trolley had only a about 1,000 riders per month. The trolley service was discontinued. Recently though, the city's revival has been picking up speed, & some of the historic cars were sent to Seattle for restoration. The trolley will be operating again soon (or so I'm told).


Here is a map showing the extend of the Detroit United Lines Interurban rail routes. Detroit United Lines used to own all the trolley lines in the city of Detroit. My city of Grand Blanc is on there...just to the left of Flint & down a little. It is no longer a tiny town, but rather part of the Flint-Detroit metro sprawl.

Now some random shots of the vintage trolley system:







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Detroit is having problems just getting a light rail line built between downtown & the airport, let alone a subway. Detroit does have the People Mover downtown, but that is a joke. It's a good way to tour the buildings, but that's about it. The light rail line has been talked about for years, but the only thing that's ever come of it is studies on mass transit that say that the mass transit systems here are the most ineffective in the world. I think that we'd be lucky to have any light rail lines completed by 2010. There is a line being studied that would run from Ann Arbor to Downtown Detroit. The line would also have a stop at Detroit Metro Airport. There has also been a rumor or two about a light rail line running parallel to I-75, but knowing politics around here, it'll be ditched in favor of adding HOV lanes & widening the road again.

I see transit as key to redeveloping the city. In the future I would like to see a subway system, but for right now I think a comprehensive rail network with easy transfer points to the People Mover is the best option. As for right now, reworking the entire bus system so that is efficient would help things out a lot, and wouldn't cost that much money.

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I've also never seen a double decker trolley car. Yes, people do use the top in decent weather - although there's only about 3-4 months during which it's nice enough to use.

The Detroit People Mover is an elevated light rail system which runs through Downtown Detroit. It was originally intended to be the hub of an extensive light rail service, but politics & recession in the 70s got in the way, and so only the 3 mile downtown loop was ever built. The original plan was for it to be part of a multi-billion dollar regional transit system consisting of 2 regional commuter rail lines, 4 subway lines, & an improved downtown bus service. Currently a couple of the stations are under construction, so it does not run in a complete loop, but rather goes back and forth from end to end. Construction should be complete soon, & the People Mover will again run the full loop. If you're ever in Detroit, ride around the whole system 3 or 4 times - it's one of the best 50 cents you'll spend. You'll get to see Detroit - both the nice parts & the, well, not so nice parts that you might not want to explore on foot. The entire loop takes about 14 minutes, & the trains run 2-3 minutes apart during peak times & during major events (such as the Detroit International Auto Show).

In the first year of operation, peak daily ridership was 54,000; today it's only about 5000. Hopefully ridership will increase with the revitalization that's currently taking place.

Here's a map of the People Mover System. The map isn't all that good, but it gives you the idea.





The Greektown Station


The train runs by the hole where Hudson's used to stand...it's now yet another surface parking lot for Downtown Detroit!


Grand Circus Park Station


Approaching the Times Square Station


Platform at the Financial Center Station


Artwork at the Financial Center Station. Each station has unique artwork by a different artist.


Train Crossing Jefferson Ave.


Several of the stations are Integrated into buildings, Including the Millender Center.


Milldender Center Platform.

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There is one problem in metro Detroit that makes the mass transit system here incredibly ineffective which I forgot to mention before. And that is that Downtown Detroit is not the job center for the region. Detroit is the most decentralized metro in the country when it comes to jobs. 78% of the jobs in the metro lie 10 miles or more away from downtown...that's more than twice the national average of 35%. Most jobs are in places like Troy, Southfield, or Warren, so you can't just build a rail line along Woodward, Michigan, & Grand River Avenues. Such a system would have very few riders. The bus system we do have is unreliable. The buses are often early, late, or just never show up. And with 10,000 people that rely on buses to get to work, that could easily turn into a disaster. It's not uncommon for the people who rely on the buses to have a 2 hour or more commute, or to have to switch buses 2 or 3 times just to get to work!

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