Study examines possibility of rapid transit through the township

By: Robin Ruehlen | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published February 6, 2013

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP — An enhanced bus rapid transit system could be up and running on Woodward Avenue within the next five to seven years, if a yearlong transportation study proves successful.

Representatives from the Woodward Avenue Transit Alternatives Analysis spoke at the Jan. 28 Board of Trustees meeting to introduce trustees and the public to the rapid transit study, which aims to bring premium transit to the Woodward Avenue corridor from the Detroit River to the city of Pontiac.

In a letter to the board, Elnora Austell, on behalf of the Woodward Avenue Transit AA, said the goal of the study is to recommend a rapid transit system that will significantly enhance current transit options along Woodward, encourage economic development and pave the way for a better rapid transit network in southeast Michigan.

Brad Strader of community consultants LSL Planning Inc. said the study involves working within the bounds of the master plans of all communities in the 27-mile corridor to see how public transportation could be improved and fit in with each city’s future growth plan.

“We’re looking at existing polices in the communities to guide us. In Bloomfield Township, we’d want to make sure we were coordinating with the safety path system so that people could bike or walk easily to the stops,” Strader said.

Unlike a regular bus system, a bus rapid transit system functions more like a light rail on wheels — with permanent stations instead of bus shelters, level boarding, designated bus-only lanes, pre-board tickets and passes, and less frequent stops.

“There are many rail-like features — the buses would be (Americans With Disabilities) accessible, and like a light rail, you would bring your bike on board rather than strap it to the front of the bus,” he said.

“The technology with bus rapid transit also gives the bus priority at traffic signals, where the bus would be allowed to jump ahead of cars or even have the ability to change the signals.”

The study, which is managed by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments and funded by the Federal Transportation Administration, began last fall and will finish this fall. Strader said the planners held seven meetings in both counties in December and received a surprising amount of positive feedback on the idea.

For example, the study has found that residents are more likely to use transit to reach major retail opportunities and entertainment/leisure destinations, while the senior population is more likely to use transit exclusively for leisure trips to downtown Detroit.

“We heard from township residents that the travel times should be competitive with car travel, and that the issue of security needs to be addressed. There was also the need to connect the system to the township’s safety paths,” he said.

The next step will be to present the transit alternatives study to the community during a series of April workshops and work to determine items such as possible station locations, offshoot service in certain communities, preliminary station locations, parking access and the hours of service.

Oakland County Commissioner Shelley Goodman Taub was also in attendance, and she said that although the plan contains many good ideas, there are also many questions that remain unanswered.

“For one, we do not want to assume the legacy costs of DDOT (the Detroit Department of Transportation) or SMART (the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation), particularly DDOT. There are all kinds of issues that have to be worked out by this transportation authority, and that is the main problem we’re having in Oakland County,” she said.

“Second, where is the money going to come from? Are they going to dig up Woodward Avenue that looks so beautiful? Those are answers we don’t have and that our population doesn’t have. If you’re not getting service in a community like Novi or Milford, and there’s no plan for it, those people are up in arms. Until that gets settled, nothing gets settled.”

Although the FTA pays for the study and installation of such a project, Strader said, the operation of the bus line would be run by a combination of federal and local funds.

Township Treasurer Dan Devine echoed Taub’s statements, asking if residents would be paying for the rapid transit on top of the existing SMART tax.

“There are a lot of questions, and we all need to be privy to this discussion,” he said.

Township Supervisor Leo Savoie said that from landscaping to legacy costs, the township needs to be aware of the potential impacts of the project.

“That’s why we wanted to bring this in, so these discussions could get started and people can weigh in and be aware of this as it progresses forward — because it will progress, one way or another,” he said.

“We’ve got to get all the facts out there.”