QLINE trolley opens along Woodward Avenue

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published May 12, 2017

 The QLINE services a 3.3-mile stretch of Woodward Ave.

The QLINE services a 3.3-mile stretch of Woodward Ave.

Photo by Donna Agusti

Detroit-area residents and officials gathered at Grand Circus Park May 12 to celebrate the opening of the QLINE trolley system on Woodward Avenue.

Those in Detroit can now ride the 3.3-mile track that leads from Grand Boulevard in midtown to Congress Street, next to the Detroit RiverWalk. A grand opening ceremony took place with speakers that included Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, U.S. Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow, as well as U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell and Brenda Lawrence and several other supporters and administrators of the new “M-1 Rail.”

“The advantage of this line is it brings people to the core of the city,” said Lawrence. “The economic development this allows and encourages will be the start of something big.”

Following speeches and a performance by the Cass Tech High School marching band, VIPs and those in attendance at the opening gathered on the nearby platform and took their rides on the new trolleys.

The line will run from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, from 6 a.m. to midnight on Fridays, from 8 a.m. to midnight on Saturdays and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays. Prices to ride are $1.50 for a three-hour pass, $3 for a day pass, $30 for a monthly pass or $285 for an annual pass. Up to three children less than 44 inches tall may ride with an adult for no additional fee, and seniors get a 75-cent discount on three-hour passes. As a promotion, rides will be free until July 1.

Organizers said this was an important step for the city, and it was a collaborative effort that began a decade ago.

“Thank you to all the people who made this happen. This was a truly private/public collaboration,” said Snyder. “This is fabulous for the people of Detroit. People talk about the differences between midtown and downtown, but this will be the glue that holds them together.”

The QLINE project cost about $180 million, and those supporting the new program touted it as part of $7 billion of investment in the Woodward corridor in the last decade. The project was funded by a combination of government funds, such as Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grants, and donations by private donors, such as Quicken founder Dan Gilbert, the Ilitch family and the Kresge Foundation.

“On April 8, 1956, the last streetcar ran down Woodward and stopped at Jefferson,” said Duggan. “People celebrated because they thought it was the start of the future, because they thought it was progress. We know today that we lost something. This is about accessibility. There is a new generation who might not want a car, or might only want one car. They want transportation flexibility. This will encourage people to come to downtown and encourage growth in the city.”

Hundreds of citizens were on hand to witness the grand opening and take part in the inaugural rides. One of them was Detroit resident Kai Rivers, who brought her two daughters, Yahri and Tyler, to the event.

“It should help a lot of people,” she said. “It will be nice to have a trolley here, like there was back in the day. I know it will help connect us to the school my girls go to for dance class, so I can say it will help my family.”

Not everyone in the state is satisfied with the completion of the QLINE, however. There were demonstrations outside of the grand opening by people who wanted to say that the 3.3-mile route is not nearly enough, and that the city needs to re-examine the Regional Transit Authority measure that was voted down by southeastern Michigan residents last fall.

Joel Batterman, a coordinator with Motor City Freedom Riders, an activist group that supports more public transportation in Detroit, believes far more options that extend to far more neighborhoods and communities are a necessity for improving the lives of local residents.

“What we’re asking is for the mayor, the county executive and the others who spoke today to commit to putting the regional transit measure back on the ballot in 2018,” said Batterman. “It only lost by 18,000 votes in 2016, and with a stronger push and more support from officials, we can win the campaign next time. I’m not against the QLINE, but it doesn’t address the larger regional transit needs of moving people from city to city or across county lines.”

Those who led the push for the QLINE are aware of those who are calling for more regional transit options beyond the Woodward line, and many said they are hoping for this to be a beginning of more comprehensive public transportation in the near future.   

“The QLINE can’t be all things to all people, but it can be some great things to a lot of people,” said Matt Cullen, president and CEO of M-1 Rail. “Some people choose to see what is wrong with Detroit; we choose to see what is right. This can be the first step in a broad regional transit system.”

Many political officials voiced their hope for the QLINE to be a first step, but wanted to ensure that the day was reserved for recognizing those who had worked hard to bring the Woodward project to life.

“I hope those who are disappointed about the Regional Transit Authority loss see this as the beginning of the next step,” said Wayne County Executive Warren Evans. “Let’s not focus on the small losses, and focus on this small win.”

Stabenow, during her speech at the grand opening, talked about the history of Woodward Avenue.

“It began as the Saginaw Trail foot trail in the 1700s,” she said. “It was called the Corduroy Road in the 1800s and was a wooden road — the first built in the city after the Detroit fire. In 1909, it was the first concrete road in the country and contained some of the first modern traffic lights. We are making history here again.”