In Detroit, a Long-Overdue Push to Create a Cohesive Transit System

It is nearly universally accepted that transit agencies must serve entire regions to succeed in American cities. They can’t be splintered into separate entities with one serving the center city and another serving the fringes. As homes and jobs have traversed city borders, transit agencies must not only get suburban residents to downtown jobs, but increasingly, carry urban dwellers to suburban jobs.

While most cities made the transition to regional transit years ago, one of the last and largest holdouts is the city of Detroit. For decades political leaders have intermittently pushed, and failed, to merge the urban transit authority with a separate suburban carrier in the Motor City, where the issue is complicated by an ugly history of strict racial segregation.

But now it appears the political leadership in southeast Michigan may finally be poised to act. Joel Batterman at Network blog Transport Michigan brings us details on a new state bill that would make transit regional in metro Detroit, along with a glimpse inside a rally held by a faith-based advocacy group — MOSES — that is working to make sure, this time, the measure sticks:

Faith-based advocacy group MOSES (Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength) held a meeting to advocate for regional transit last week in Detroit's Bethel A.M.E. Church. Photo ##http://www.transportmichigan.org/2010/10/rep-johnson-on-detroit-regional-transit.html## Transport Michigan##

The new bill, Michigan HB 5731, has been endorsed by two of the region’s so-called Big Four, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano and Macomb County Commissioner Paul Gieleghem. However, it still awaits the endorsements of Oakland County’s Brooks Patterson and, curiously, Mayor Bing of Detroit, which might have the most to gain from the authority. A regional transit authority in Detroit, practically the nation’s only major metropolis without one, last neared the light of day in 2002. After passage through the Legislature, the bill died awaiting a signature on Governor John Engler’s desk.

The division of the region’s transit systems into separate units, DDOT serving the city and SMART serving the suburbs, is among the clearest institutional manifestations of Detroit’s continued segregation, and among the most debilitating. With a regional transit authority, we can stitch these transit networks together, begin repairing the great tears in their tattered fabric, work to strengthen the existing threads. We can help to make this vast metropolis a place that once more is truly whole.

At the close of the meeting, Rev. David Bullock of Highland Park’s Greater St Matthew MBC gathered participants to the altar to sing “We Shall Overcome.” As the hymn soared to the church’s rafters, it seemed as though with the help of MOSES’s staff, the people of metropolitan Detroit might just manage to part the waters, bring a unified transit system across the Eight Mile moat, and win a brighter future for all.

Transport Michigan is encouraging local residents to contact Oakland County Executive Brooks Patterson and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing or write state legislators to urge support for the regional transit authority.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Transportation for America breaks down Chicago’s new comprehensive regional plan. Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space helps explain the controversy over crossing guard wages in D.C. And Grist reports that a new study has found young people prefer apartments to houses and iPhones to cars.

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