An Open Letter to Gov. Snyder: How You Can Improve Public Transportation

Here's my idea: split the Amtrak line between Pontiac and Chicago into two lines.

Dear Governor Synder,

I am writing to you today as a 32-year-old working resident of Michigan who is longing for employment and residence in a state that offers better public transportation.  I have not given up on Michigan yet, though.  I feel there are things that can be done here by our government, without spending millions on new infrastructure, to improve public transportation in Southeast Michigan.  

Why improve public transportation here?  Because I believe it would seriously stimulate our economy and attract businesses if we could get to work and play without a car, freeing up thousands a year to spend on other things.

Split the Amtrak

While it is not my field of study or employment, transportation is a passion of mine. Perhaps experts or professional research will prove me wrong but here is my thought: Split the Amtrak line between Pontiac and Chicago into two lines. One line will run between Ann Arbor and Chicago three times daily and the other between Ann Arbor and Pontiac a dozen or more times daily. This new line between Ann Arbor and Pontiac will serve those who can’t or don’t want to drive into and out of Detroit for work and recreation.  This line already exists and would not take up additional traffic lanes or require new track. 

It would also help free up our overburdened highways and bridges. This line has stops in or near major cities such as Pontiac, Birmingham, Royal Oak, Midtown Detroit, Dearborn and Ann Arbor. Increased service and use would fuel increased demand for new stations and busses to close by destinations such as Great Lakes Crossing, The Palace of Auburn Hills, DTE Music Theater, Meadowbrook Theatre, Oakland University, Somerset, downtown Birmingham, the Detroit Zoo, downtown Ferndale, Russell Industrial Center, The Dequindre Cut, Eastern Market, Hamtramck, downtown Detroit, Wayne State, The Henry Ford, Greenfield Village and Detroit Metro Airport. 

I believe this service would attract employees, employers, sports enthusiasts and consumers.  It would also compliment projects like the Troy Transit Center and the M1-Light Rail. 

The parking problem

Since most existing train stations were built well before the invention of the automobile, parking remains a constant constraint on the growth of our cities.  New construction is stunted and demolition of potential residential/business spaces results from increased demand for auto parking spaces.  Several examples come to mind.  Downtown Detroit (Foxtown) remains 50% business and 50% parking to accommodate visitors to baseball, hockey, football, concerts, casinos and other large events.  Parking fees often exceed $20 on game days. 

Unless you can bring these people, who mostly live outside of Detroit, quickly and economically by rail to downtown, the need for parking will continue to keep downtown from growing.  Another example is that of the event in Royal Oak called Arts, Beats and Eats.  It is a major automotive sponsored event that moved from Pontiac to Royal Oak a few years ago.  This event would greatly benefit from increased rail service. 

I strongly believe that if there was a train that ran between Ann Arbor and Pontiac every half an hour or hour, this event would draw more people from up and down the line than ever before and would not be constrained by the availability of parking spaces. The cost and availability of parking often deters people from attending events but most attend anyway because there is no other alternative. 

The train to work

This idea goes beyond ball games though. There are residents in Detroit who work in the Metro area who take multiple busses to get to work who would benefit from increased train traffic. There are people who have moved to the city and want to give up their car but still want to visit the suburbs for shopping and entertainment. When people fly into Detroit, they are forced to rent cars or take a long, expensive taxi ride to their destination. When I flew into Baltimore airport last year we took a free shuttle from the airport to the Amtrak station. If only we had that luxury.

I believe a better alternative is owed to the people of the state of Michigan and you are a governor who gets things done.  If you would like to hear more about my ideas, please do not hesitate to contact me.  I will do whatever I can to bring about positive change in our great state. 


David Gifford, Rochester, Michigan

To post a letter to the editor, send an email to your local Patch editor. 

Paul Juckniess August 09, 2012 at 04:35 PM
First Rail is expensive! I'm not aware of any passenger carrying rail system in America that does not require a hefty amount of taxpayer support. Bus systems are not as sexy , but are much cheaper , more flexible and much less costly to operate. Certainly there are a lot of disconnects in Michigan for integrated public transportation. We already have SMART and I use it every week. I think we might be better to leverage our regional existing service then having to deal with the Fed's and all the state rules to get an expensive white elephant.
Jenny Whalen August 09, 2012 at 06:46 PM
I know it's practically sacrilege, since we're in the Motor City and all, but I support public transportation. America had the best rail system in the world at one point. Our infrastructure could sure use a facelift, why not invest in a better rail system? Fuel prices are never going to go down, it's a step in the right direction.
Jeff S. August 09, 2012 at 07:11 PM
The roadway system in America also requires a hefty amount of taxpayer support.
John Lang August 09, 2012 at 07:21 PM
If you want to see a failed example of light rail, just go downtown and look at Coleman Young's folly, the People Mover. It runs round and round with nobody on it, in disrepair half the time, and the city of Detroit stuck with paying the bill for it. Same thing with Amtrak. Ever ride the Wolverine from Pontiac to Chicago or anywhere in between? It's fine if you don't care what time you will arrive at your destination, because you never know when you will once get on it. A million things can go wrong with trains. In California, their progressive governor Jerry Brown is pushing for a high speed rail line between Sacramento and LA. Already hopelessly over budget, the Federal government allocated funds to get it started and the state is on the hook for the rest. They are on the brink of bankruptcy as it is. To make things worse, they want to start building it it in the Central Vally where it will never connect with anything before they run out of money. Another train to nowhere. Trains went out a hundred years ago in this country. We should forget about all this and start thinking about electing a government that will help us deliver cheap gasoline instead of trying to make us into Europe.
Haulin T Male August 09, 2012 at 07:22 PM
I also, just look at what London did, survived the war, (hiding in tube) took on a million extra people, and taking them to where they were needed thru the tube, you party early in London, cause the bars last call is before the last rube train, not there you walk or sleep on a bench, and let the Bobbies get you. A rail out Woodward, Michigan ave or grand river., Gratiot (grosebeck (?) and a circle rail, either like 696, or one out at the ends, I tell you why. Using London in place of Detroit as far as location: from the river, we went to the out door gardens, it is like a Gibraltar trade center,and out door huge market, (going to 8 mile). aspiring entertainers that perform out side, (juried art freaks) Arsenal City (of Soccer fame horses with riot garb on, face shields etc), was like going to Port Huron. we then went to Wimbly to see that 140 k seat. which was like between Pontiac and closer to Flint, that was a Saturday, morning, to early after noon, all included in our rail/tube pass........ try driving that in Detroit, just drive it........ no way Hose, we were back in time to meet up for early dinner, for our "JACK the Ripper walk" Right now Olympic soccer, is at wimbly stad. the above made a believer out of me. they can not believe how much land we use just for an interchange..... waste they say. the Bobbies on the cars are like PR people, who rides, ??? people in fur coats, to people coming home from work
Robert Gauthier August 09, 2012 at 07:55 PM
Would be great. Wont happen though. Time to move on.
Mark Itall August 09, 2012 at 10:21 PM
John Lang, You are 50 years off on the railroads peak in the US. One hunred years ago trains were expanding like crazy.
Thomas Gagne August 10, 2012 at 12:48 AM
It may be a chicken-and-egg problem, but mass transit and population density are closely related. It's difficult to imagine mass transit in the metro area while Detroit and its immediate burbs are losing population, and sprawl is thinning the population that remains. Mass transit without a complimentary land-use policy is as misguided as it is popular. If anyone really wanted to take to increase ridership between Detroit and Chicago they would give passenger trains priority over freight traffic. Then the trains might actually depart and arrive when they're supposed to. Buses may be flexible, but they, too, have issues. I'll skip listing them now or recounting my Megabus trip from Detroit to Chicago. But they've recently gotten some bad press. http://articles.nydailynews.com/2012-08-02/news/33005384_1_charter-bus-crash-megabus-bridge-support http://www.wistv.com/story/19228057/megabus-catches-fire-on-i-85-near-sc-ga-line
John Lang August 10, 2012 at 02:29 AM
Great points, Thomas. You are spot on about the passenger/freight priority on the Detroit to Chicago run. Your population observation is correct as well. A trip on the Wolverine takes you through primeval forested parts of a city that was once Detroit. Leaving Royal Oak, you travel through unpopulated devastation until you reach Dearborn. Almost everyone is gone. Building a rail line to connect Detroit with any given part of its suburban environs would be misguided. At least for now.
dk August 10, 2012 at 11:03 AM
I think there are good ideas in this article. However, I could care less about Ann Arbor and would really like to get to Lansing.
rolfsy August 10, 2012 at 11:22 AM
I think if we really wanted to get serious about Chi-Det connectivity, we would reinstall the passenger-only rail running along side the freight lines that was ripped out a decade or two ago. oops. But also, check my math from Wikipedia figures. ... Detroit pop 713,777 over 143 sq mi, and Royal Oak (the 'urban core' of the burbs) pop 57,236 over 11.8 sq miles. Detroit would still rate as 'dense enough' based on the suburbs-are-denser assumption. Stopping any serious mass transit at the city's edge is like I-75 turning to gravel road at 8 Mile.
Chris P. August 10, 2012 at 12:00 PM
Love the brainstorming of this letter. Good for you taking the time to articulate your idea. One of the comments here reminded me of a letter to the editor in the Freep yesterday makes me pause about our collective criticism of the People Mover. In a letter headlined "Well Done Detroit," the letter writers who had attended a convention here in Detroit said: "... We were so pleasantly surprised by how wonderful our experiences were! The Cobo Center was beautiful. The People Mover was efficient and really a great way to see downtown. The waterfront, including a free concert, was a phenomoneal place to experience a sunset. The restaurants were fantastic ..." Sometimes it seems we are quick to criticize something that just might be an asset and prevent ourselves from realizing the true potential of Detroit and the region. We need to challenge ourselves to pause and resist that inclination. We know the issues. Now let's explore the possibilities.
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David Gifford August 10, 2012 at 01:15 PM
John, in all fairness, if you follow the tracks on Google Maps you will see that the homes along the tracks south of Royal Oak give way to industrial areas where it is not fit to have homes. It is true people have fled and population has dwindled but by supplying better rail service (on already existing rails) these old "commuter" towns would become population epicenters again. I can't think of a better way to regrow city population. People have to live places for them to come alive. Planting a shopping mall is not sustainable but replanting a city is.
David Gifford August 10, 2012 at 01:24 PM
Thanks! 12 years ago when I was at MSU, there was talk of a commuter rail between Dearborn and Lansing that never came to be. The reason I concentrate on Ann Arbor is that it is the busiest train station in Michigan and the suggested location for the start of a high speed rail between Chicago and Ann Arbor. A metro Detroit area commuter line would feed that high speed rail and carry Chicago commuters/visitors into Detroit and beyond.
Haulin T Male August 10, 2012 at 06:25 PM
In Europe you can fly in, say Switz. the rail syst. is right under the air port, no taxi needed, from there you can go to 1) any country, two) then to any large city, 3) to any smaller city, 4) to most towns, 5) jump on the clog, go up steep mt's to ski towns etc. "RAIL PASS" includes all that, also includes ground trans. and the use of boating to towns on the shores of lakes etc. boats are taxis also. The system, is used like a school bus, for students to go to school, from villages into large metro areas. The inter country train is an air ride high speed, (countries there are like states here) the large city rail is smooth not as fast, the town & village ? country side type, is a Amtrak type, the grade rail, is clickety clack type, and the clog, is similar to the first hill of a roller coaster. It was so nice that the station is right under, signs in 5 lang. oh the rail syst. runs like a Geneva movement, one train does not pull out till the connector is there, there is a time over lap, but socially accept. to get to the rails a block away to go in another direction, potty. etc. there is no all aboard, you hear ding, ding the doors shut, train starts... it was fun watching locals taking picnic baskets etc, to meet friends etc. in another ?, for wine a bite to eat, mom was taking 3 kids to another town for Easter shopping. they have it right. oh did I say, they have auto cars, where you drive your car on, sit back and travel till dest. all with one pass
Philip August 10, 2012 at 09:06 PM
There are a lot of good ideas here. If Detroit is ready for a population explosion, as my son who lives in Woodbridge tells me, the New Center area is about to live up to its name - so the stop there is important. When we talk about trains here, we are talking about relatively large distances; even Birmingham to Royal Oak takes a while. When you get to the final train station, you need buses - or taxis - or walking to get to your destination. I like the original idea of many trains a day, Pontiac to Ann Arbor and fewer on to Chicago. Also separating freight from passenger rails is good. As America becomes more prosperous again, rail traffic should increase. On the other hand, a light rail line from the river to 8 Mile is stupid. Buses handle the chore much better; for one reason, they make more stops. Planners seem to forget that the purpose of transportation is to get where you want to end up as quickly and comfortably as possible.
chris murray August 12, 2012 at 12:18 AM
The summer of 1970 (I know that was long ago) I took the train from E. Lansing to Rochester Hills (Pontiac train station). It was a slow ride but as a student with no car it allowed us to get someplace we couldn't. So it did exist at one time.
Haulin T Male August 12, 2012 at 01:12 PM
Brian storming? Nothing more then History, as Chris Murray, says above, about Lansing to Rochester. Add this tid bit. Any Mr. Business man in B'field, B'ham area who worked the advert.. houses or the tall buildings in Det. including "THE G. M." building, Either took the Greyhound / Great Lakes Limited (bus transp fore runner to semta.) down Woodward. (.25 lim. might have been .35) and stood (S R O) read one of the 3 dailys, (news, times, freep) or took The TRAIN, various stops along the way, if one was standing,(red / green flag told the eng.) Yep the B'ham Station (with tunnel under the tracks if you were headed north bound), is the great building that is now a Restaurant (The Rock (?) ) at the corner of Eaton & Maple (15mile) down the tracks R. O. was pretty much the last stop (?) (blue collar) till Gand Blv. and down town, there was little leaving work early, cause the train sched. was very punctual.(3 or 4) (on those days wife drove down for P/U) , why did it stop, 1962 the northwestern conect. was done (lodge) soon after the I-75 was finish ......... and traffic jams started.... rest is history.
Haulin T Male August 12, 2012 at 01:24 PM
More History, Skiers!, park your car at the station, load the equipment, (or store up north) on Friday night, no week end warrior stuff rush up for last call, or leave early lie to the boss (lol) and arv. in Gaylord, The Ski Lodges, would be waiting, for transportation to the different Hills. Ski Sunday Morning, grab lunch, the reverse took place. a four five hr sleep , home work (?) till back down state, the ticket was for rnd trip. those were the days, no fender benders, 1 1/2 hr. back ups...... think about it, all you had to do, is what you had to do to be punctual. sweet..... (return trip did not leave till all the resorts had dropped off the passengers)
C August 12, 2012 at 11:01 PM
The last train that ran as far as the Renaissance Center, ended in the fall of 1983. As a passenger on that train, we had hired attorney's to try to keep the train running, but failed. One problem was with the City of Detroit not allowing the trains to go over a certain speed limit (believe it was 25mph), which made it too long for some people. But the train went through neighborhoods, without proper care taken to make those neighborhoods safe for the children. Also, it was reported that the rails were not adequate. That was almost 30 years ago. Yes. something should have been done before this. Plus, have you tried to go to the East Coast w/o flying? Impossible. How about to Northern Michigan via public transportation? Oh, you have a choice. You can fly/drive to Chicago, then fly from there to Northern Michigan for about the same price as to London. Or again, go to Chicago to take a combo train/bus to Philly which only takes about 2 days, then take local transportation the rest of the way to the East Coast. My point is, that Michigan is not the only one with this problem.
Haulin T Male August 13, 2012 at 02:45 AM
C: a couple of points, my daughter worked in Boston,, I picked her up in Toledo, train> how many connections ?. Both Metro, and (bishop?) has flights to Cherry Capital air port, my daughter in law, takes it to N Y, going to trade shows. Marquette NMU, there is a flight intro the closed air force base, A A work hub. it can save time, but $$$$. don't for get going into Pelston, if still avail. Now the Detroit train, I remember the kids playing on the tracks...... but in 1985, and '87 (?) their was the Santa train, on Thanksgiving Day Morning, my oldest was a senior, or it was the second oldest, which ment the oldes was a soph. at state, he came home for that.. Fishers, along the freeway this side of INDY, has a double ended train, that just goes into dwn. twn. and back, 3 x's in the morning, and also afternoon. we were dwn for a girls soccer tourn. on Sunday we decided to go to the huge State Fair they have, we took the train to, when tired we took it back to Fishers where we had our rooms. the town next to Fishers, (???) has taken all their Traffic lights out, and replaced with round abouts, 52 or so........ R hills was down there studying the W"s whats to come .......


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