Posts Tagged ‘M1 Rail’

Will M1 RAIL become an M1 FAIL?

Friday, January 18th, 2013

The opinions expressed here are those of the m-bike blog, but you already knew that right?

Bikes, walkability and good transit are keys to forming an effective urban transportation system.

The shortcomings of Detroit’s transit — built on the DDOT and SMART buses systems and People Mover — are well documented.

We wish the M1 RAIL would be complement, but from all that we know to date, it won’t be. In many ways, it will diminish the urban transportation system.


First, let’s make one clarifying point. The Detroit Woodward Light Rail project from downtown to Eight Mile was a good one, but it didn’t connect enough Detroiters to jobs nor tap into the more millage-rich surrounding counties. Governor Rick Snyder, Mayor Dave Bing, and U.S. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood changed this project into a Bus Rapid Transit system that would connect Oakland, Macomb, and Wayne Counties with a high-speed regional transit system. It’s a great solution and we support. This is exactly what this region needs for better transit.

But, once this project was no longer running on rails, the M1 RAIL investors restarted their 3-mile streetcar design — something that even they admit is a development project rather than a transit project. Development? Yes. studies show that permanent transit solutions like streetcars spur transit-oriented development along their routes. Guess what? So does Bus Rapid Transit.

There are some key points to keep in mind with the M1 RAIL. It starts at Larned and goes to Grand Boulevard. It runs mostly along the Woodward’s curbs except at the ends. Remember that Lego video that showed how curb running is slow and unsafe? The U.S. DOT’s Woodward Light Rail environmental review concurred as did the majority of the public comments.

Curb-running streets cars will run as slow as the slowest vehicle on the road. Streetcars can’t go around a stopped bus, a slow bicyclist, a parking car, etc. Even without anything in their way, the streetcars are expected to travel at 11 MPH — roughly equivalent to a beginning bicyclist.

This is a linear People Mover, but slower and is projected to carry fewer passengers.

Of course Detroit’s original street car system was center-running.

When asked, a M1 RAIL representative has said the curb versus center running was a “religious argument” among their investors.

If better transit was the goal, the M1 RAIL investors would have put money into level bus boarding stations and pre-sale ticket systems like NYC has. According to NYC’s transportation commissioner this was the best way to improve bus service reliability. It could have been implemented far more inexpensively. This would be a fix-it first strategy that relies on bus rapid transit to deliver transit-oriented development.

One other thought: why do you design a transit system that doesn’t directly connect with the Rosa Parks Transit Center or Cobo Hall or the Ren Cen?

Not Complete Streets

The reason for covering the transit issues first is to make clear that this is not an anti-transit article. We did not want this to read like bicyclists’ sour grapes. It’s not.

However, there’s another reason the Woodward Light Rail concluded that center-running operations was best rather than curb running. Curb running is significantly hazardous for cyclists. Bicycle wheels get caught in streetcar tracks causing serious injuries, and in some cities, lawsuits. This is why most cities don’t build curb running systems, or at least put them one side of one-way streets.

A very recent study found bicycling on streets with curb-running streetcar tracks is 300% more likely to cause a crash over a regular street like Woodward.

A center-running design would be a Complete Street. Putting the M1 RAIL at the curbs makes Woodward Avenue less Complete.

Now if you’ve following the recent Detroit Works Project unveiling, you’d have seen Complete Streets touted as a priority in Detroit.

According to the national experts, streetcar systems should design for safe bicycling from the start. MDOT and M1 RAIL did not. In fact, years ago MDOT’s Tim Hoefner said solving the bicycle safety issue was at the top of their to do list. Apparently they never got to it.

But its a public road

To date, MDOT has shown mostly indifference to this project’s negative impacts on bicycling. In exchange for a significantly less safe state-owned road they offered to put up some directional signs along a couple miles of Cass Avenue. Seriously.

MDOT has also said cyclists can use the sometimes parallel street, John R. Of course MDOT is removing the John R bridge over I-94 and in that project’s environmental review they said cyclists can use Woodward.

MDOT has been quick to deflect blame to others such as the Federal Highway Administration, but it’s a public road, they own most of it, and they have a Complete Streets policy. Why are they allowing a less-safe design based on some investors’ “religious argument?”

U.S. DOT’s role

From what we can gather in speaking with other sources is that the regular process rules are off the table. Secretary LaHood is so enamored with the investors’ commitment that he’s directed his staff to make it happen. And it’s Detroit — a laggard in the public transportation world.

That might explain why he’s giving the M1 RAIL group $25 million before the supplemental review process (which determines if it should be built) is even completed.

Other issues

And this discussion hasn’t gotten into other more significant issues like social equity. How do the investors justify building a redundant transit system when Detroiters and Detroit school children struggle to find mobility options with the current bus system? That is a far greater travety than any bicycling safety issue.

And where has the media been on this reporting? They’ve certainly covered the happy talk but so far have shown an unwillingness to look any deeper.

Now, what happens when Bus Rapid Transit comes to Woodward? At its ends, the M1 RAIL runs in the center where the Bus Rapid Transit will go. According to one transportation expert, M1 RAIL may have to get torn out.

There are many, many good people involved in the M1 RAIL and we all feel very passionate about doing the right thing for Detroit, but this project as currently designed doesn’t work. It’s a project heavy with investors and light on collaboration.

We need to do better.

City of Detroit submits TIGER IV grant

Monday, March 19th, 2012

We mentioned Detroit submitted a TIGER III transportation grant that would have extended the Dequindre Cut and Midtown Loop. built bike lanes from Eastern Market to the planned Hamtramck Trail, and made major street improvements at Eastern Market.

That grant wasn’t funded though the city was told by one congressional office that it scored near the top.

The City is submitting an improved version of the grant request this round.


One interesting wrinkle this time is it appears the M1 Rail group is applying for a $25 million TIGER IV grant as well. Even though it would be from the transit portion of TIGER IV, it’s unlikely two big grants would come to Detroit.

From the Detroit News:

[U.S. DOT Secretary Ray] LaHood said in January the government will consider awarding Detroit’s light-rail project up to $25 million on top of $25 million awarded for a bus rapid transit system.

LaHood told The Detroit News he is willing to offer additional government money if the M-1 light rail coalition can show it is financially viable.

Congressional aides said the M-1 plan assumes it will win the $25 million grant, which the FTA says is not certain.

The Detroit News is reporting the the U.S. DOT has “serious concerns” about the M1 Rail’s viability. The Detroit Free Press reports a more moderate response.

…while no decision has been made, there is skepticism in Washington, including concerns that the M-1 plan’s cost estimate — at $125 million — is too low and that the group of private investors won’t pull together enough private financing to qualify for a $25-million federal grant for the project.

Of course the other issue with M1 Rail and bicycling is their plan to run the street cars along the curbs. As we’ve said before, curbside alignments are problematic for cyclists and Complete Streets advocates.

Seattle cyclists sue

The street car tracks are a major safety issue and liability. At least a half-dozen Seattle cyclists have lawsuits against the city for crashes due to street car rails. We spoke with an attorney handling these cases and they said this would be a class action lawsuit if their office had the capacity to organize such an effort.

Does MDOT really want to open themselves up to that?

MDOT should know it’s a hazardous design for bicyclists — it’s mentioned as such in Detroit’s Woodward light rail reports.

There are safety concerns for bicycle users with [the curbside designs] due to the potential for bicycle tires to be caught within the rail flange space in the road. While alternative rail types may reduce this potential conflict, it cannot be fully mitigated.

Of course the odds are that neither project will receive the funding. It’s a hyper-competitive grant source.

Then again, Michigan’s only successful TIGER III grant was a road to a landfill, so anything is possible.

Detroit light rail comments due today

Monday, March 14th, 2011

Curb running trains and tracks aren't safe for bicyclists on Woodward

The city of Detroit is collecting comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the proposed light rail project on Woodward. Those comments are due today, March 14th.

The DEIS is large, technical, and not always fun to read. It does provide three alternatives. One difference between the three is where the tracks would be located on Woodward south of Grand Boulevard: in the center or at the curbs.

We agree with the DEIS assessment that the curb-running alignment would have a negative impact on bicycling. For that and other reasons, we support Alternative A1 with median running light rail for the entire route.

This amazing video from Transport Michigan also supports median running. This video has gone viral as we’ve received it from a number of different sources.

Some other thoughts we had:

  • Adding a two-way cycle track on the east side of Woodward that connected Ferndale’s existing Hilton bike lanes to the proposed park and ride just north of the State Fairgrounds.
  • Adding bike lanes or cycle tracks on Woodward from McNichols to Eight Mile. Woodward is unnecessarily wide and could be road dieted.
  • Adding sharrows where bike lanes cannot be added.
  • Improve the parallel streets for bicycling (Second, Third, Brush, John R) by adding bike lanes/sharrows and by making them two-way for their entire length.
  • Allowing bikes to roll on to the trains.
  • Having bike parking (preferably covered) at the transit stations.
  • Consider future implementation of a public bike sharing system located at the transit stops.

To make comments, send an email to

Detroit hearings for light rail on Woodward

Friday, February 11th, 2011

Don’t forget that the M1 Light Rail public hearings are tomorrow, Saturday February 12th.

There are two meeting options. The first is from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. with a presentation at 11:30 a.m.; the second from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with a presentation at 4:30 p.m. The public may participate in one or both events, which will be held at the Main Detroit Public Library, Lower Level Auditorium, 5201 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, MI 48202.

Note that earlier information showed the second meeting starting at 6 p.m. That was incorrect! It begins at 4 p.m.

As we’ve said before, this is a great opportunity to talk about the importance of this project positively impacting bicycling in Detroit. That means improving conditions for bicyclists using the train, riding to the transit stops, riding on Woodward, and riding across Woodward. This is an opportunity to make Woodward  a Complete Street.

And here is a video from WXYZ’s Detroit 20/20 project which provides more information on the project as well as a discussion on its potential extension into Oakland County.

Detroit Light Rail hearings on February 12th

Friday, January 28th, 2011

A proposed streetcar/bicycle design from Seattle

Below is the DDOT announcement about public hearings on the planned Woodward light rail project.

Why is light rail important to Detroit cyclists?

First, a well-designed light rail system will lets you easily take your bike on board and provides bike parking at the transit stops. The system can actually encourage more people to ride. Biking increases the light rail’s effective reach into the neighborhoods. The light rail is not going to take you to places like Hamtramck, Eastern Market, Cortktown, Mexicantown, or Ferndale — but those could be easily biked to.

Second, this project is an opportunity to get light rail on Wooward and make it a Complete Street. Can we improve biking in a way that works well with the new light rail?

Mia Birk from Alta Planning has been involved in streetcar/bicycle facility design for a some time and recently wrote an article called “Bikes & Streetcars – Let’s be Best Friends!.”

Both streetcar and bicycle transportation are highly effective, sustainable solutions with multiple benefits. Bicycling leverages enormous health and environmental benefits, while streetcar leverages development. Both use space efficiently and forward economic progress. Together, they signify the dawn of a powerful new era of transportation efficiency.

And one thing’s for sure: designing streetcar lines without serious consideration of bicyclists will cost more in the long run, as it’s always harder to fix things than doing them well in the first place.

That bolded text is perhaps the key point.  Let’s make sure things are done well from the beginning and save money.

And let’s be best friends!

More details on the public meetings