Thursday, September 25, 2008

Detroit's Regional Transit Plan

Yesterday (September 24) consultants for the Detroit Regional Transit Coordinating Council held their fall open house, to let the public in on their plans. There was a series of poster boards, with 4-5 staff members to give guided tours (thanks, Lynn!). The Detroit News had a survey on line: 72.86% in favor of the plan, after I voted for it (72.85% in favor before I voted). The comments area had 16 posts with a surprising number of intelligent, positive comments. Of course, all the predictable nay-sayers were there too, including the "Michigan=cars" folks, the "not with my tax dollars" folks, and those who said Detroit should be made accountable for the tax revenue it has before going out to ask for anything more. (The last is certainly true, but I fear such a requirement would doom the city to permanent stagnation.) What follows is my comment on the forum.

My main complaint about the proposed plan is that it's too slow. The completed build-out wouldn't happen until 2035, but by then the number of people who can afford to drive a car will be relatively small.

Sure, we can hope some new technology will come along to make driving cheap again, but if it does, we'll still have the congestion problem. Build more freeway lanes? Sorry - recent history shows that more lanes only lead to more congestion.

There are always people who don't want to pay taxes for which they see no immediate, personal benefit. That's understandable, but not justifiable. Our taxes should pay for investments that will benefit our community as a whole, including city, county, region, state, and nation. And not just for right now: we need to start making investments that will benefit our kids and grandkids.

If Cobo Hall and the zoo are investments that bring culture and profit to Detroit, transit improvements will be even farther-reaching. There are at least 10 US cities that have recently installed light rail transit, and every one of them has experienced increased regional growth, higher real estate values, and more tax revenues. It really isn't a boondoggle, it's an investment, not just for Detroit but for the entire region, not just for the next few years, but for the next few generations.

So let's do it, and let's do it even sooner than the plan calls for.

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