Public shares concerns, support during transit forum

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published May 1, 2013


BERKLEY — Still trying to gather public input, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments held its third of five community forums April 25 at the Berkley Community Center to discuss the Woodward Avenue Rapid Transit Alternatives Analysis.

Berkley was the most-attended location during initial public meetings in December, and residents from the surrounding communities resulted in a large attendance again as SEMCOG went over plans for a bus rapid transit system along the 27-mile Woodward corridor from the Detroit River to downtown Pontiac.

The five community forums in April are to gather public opinions on possible BRT modes, locations of bus stations and alternative routes.

Berkley resident Joel Ulferts has been using public transportation for 15 years through the Detroit Department of Transportation and Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation buses. His concern is the BRT system won’t be much different than some of the limited-stop buses provided through DDOT and SMART.

“Their focus is on rapid transit, and I don’t know if it will be much faster than what we already have,” Ulferts said. “To augment the current system, the (BRT) will have to stop less or go faster than the current system, plus nonstop buses from Pontiac to Detroit is needed, as well.”

One of the positives for Ulferts is that SEMCOG is planning on the BRT system running all day, unlike many of the current public transportation options that only run during peak times.

“Right now, you can’t take a Woodward bus all the way downtown,” he said. “I used to go to Tigers games and then come back on the same transfer for $2.25 total. Now buses only go down during rush hour, basically, for people that work down there. You can get there between 7 and 8 a.m. and back at 4 or 5 p.m., so it rules out going out to dinner because then you can’t get back after that.”

The possibility of going downtown at night and on weekends via public transportation is appealing to Pleasant Ridge’s Anna Opel and her family, as well.

“For me, I would do more of the museums, science centers, midtown and downtown if I had the rapid (transit system) and didn’t have to deal with parking,” Opel said. “It would be so easy to walk from our house to get on the bus and go. As a parent, Detroit has so many things to offer that we would definitely utilize more than we are, if there was a system.”

Parsons Brinckerhoff, who is helping SEMCOG with plans to submit to the Michigan Department of Transportation, has done rapid transit systems across the globe. Opel, who lived in Turkey for two years, has used one of Parsons Brinckerhoff’s systems in Istanbul, Turkey.

Having used a similar system, Opel said she is in favor of bringing BRT to Woodward and thinks it would work well.

“We loved it because it is very easy to access and the speed is great,” she said. “With kids, getting on and off and the speed made it very easy. We went all over around there and never needed a car in two years.”

Jamison Brown, of Royal Oak, said he commutes down Woodward Avenue every day and he would use a BRT system if he could get where he was going in a timely fashion. He wants the planning process to be easily accessible to the public, and community opinions to be a factor, but he believes it could work.

“I would use SMART right now if it did not take twice as long and cost more than driving my car,” Brown said. “I commute every day and traffic (on Woodward) is not bad and it is a very wide road. Losing one lane to transit would hopefully incentivise others to get out and use transit, as well.”

One of the factors in creating a BRT plan is where to place bus stations and how far apart the stations will be spaced. With stations farther apart, travel times would decrease, but it would be harder for patrons to reach stations. More stations would increase travel time.

Brown said more studies are needed to determine what the correct course of action should be.

“There needs to be studies so they can keep the time so it doesn’t take forever to get downtown, but much more than a mile between is inconvenient,” he said. “If you have to get in your car to get to a transit station and you are only going downtown, you will just stay in your car. They need to figure out who this corridor is serving and how they can get to stations.”