Transit authority unveils Gratiot plans

Final plans, proposed millage to be publicly released May 31

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published May 3, 2016

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ROSEVILLE — The Regional Transit Authority presented its proposed transit plans for the Gratiot, Woodward and Michigan Avenue corridors at Roseville’s City Council meeting April 26. The plans would connect Ann Arbor, Mount Clemens and Pontiac to downtown Detroit — along with the communities in between — using specialized buses.

Project Manager Sarah Binkowski said bus rapid transit, or BRT, involves light commuter rail trains that run on tires and pavement instead of tracks, capable of carrying about 60 people at a time.

The buses would only stop at specialized, enclosed stations, where riders could purchase fare cards from vending machines and use them to ride the BRT, similar to public transit systems in Chicago or New York.

Binkowski said the new proposed Gratiot route would see 19 stops, down from the originally proposed 26. Those stops would take riders from downtown Mount Clemens to downtown Detroit at a speed comparable to driving without heavy traffic.

“We want to keep it fast, so we’ll have stations every mile, mile and a half,” Binkowski said. “Service would be every 10 minutes during peak hours — the morning and (every) evening rush hours — and 15 minutes on off-peak hours. The service hours we’re proposing are between 5 a.m. and midnight; one comment we’re seeing is they’d like to see service later in the evening, especially if there are events going on in downtown Detroit.”

Cognizant of local communities wanting to preserve the median — as well as traffic realities — Binkowski said that for Gratiot, the RTA is proposing having buses drive in dedicated lanes next to the median, with dedicated, enclosed stations located within the median itself. The buses, she explained, would pull off the road into the stations and would return to running adjacent to the median on their way to the next station.

The BRT lanes would be newly created ones north of Eight Mile, built by digging into the median area, but Binkowski said this would preserve as much of the median as possible without causing problems for motorists trying to make right turns, as another proposal that had the buses run in the right lane would have. Within Detroit itself, the leftmost lane would be repurposed as a dedicated BRT lane.

Normal traffic using Michigan lefts would likely need to cross over into the BRT lane, Binkowski said, though in practice that would be no different than checking for a vehicle before changing lanes.

The current proposal has no parking space impacts for Roseville or Eastpointe, she said, though a large number of informal street parking spots in Detroit would be lost to make room for the BRT system. Plans have not yet been finalized for the Gratiot split in Mount Clemens, and Binkowski said that if they decide to run it along Main Street, that city would lose some of its street spaces near the courthouse; the RTA is still taking local comments for that area.

Additionally, since the proposal puts the BRT system in the right of way, Binkowski said there should not be any negative building impact along the route. Binkowski added that in similar systems in other cities — like Eugene, Oregon, and Cleveland — there is a return on economic development along the route.

“For every dollar spent, we get $4-$5 in return,” she said.

The RTA is estimating capital costs of $255 million for the full BRT system, including the Woodward and Michigan Avenue routes. Binkowski said that breaks down to about $10 million-$11 million per mile, which is on par with BRT projects in other cities. For comparison, she said, building a single new freeway interchange costs about $80 million-$100 million. Those costs include lane and station construction, bus purchases and hiring security for the BRT system.

The RTA does not yet have a finalized millage proposal to put on the November ballot. However, Binkowski said that they also want to use millage funds to improve local public transit service, such as buses traveling east-west. She expects that information to be finalized and available May 31.

The RTA also has not finalized what the BRT vehicles would run on, though RTA CEO Michael Ford said they could go with a “clean diesel hybrid.” The important thing is if it can move a lot of people quickly.

Ford also confirmed to the Roseville council that everyone would pay the same millage rate, regardless of what community they live in.
Mayor Robert Taylor asked Ford why they could not simply remove stops from the current system to make it faster, but Ford said the bigger problem is that the current system is not robust enough.

“We’re building on top of the current system, and what we’ve found is that there isn’t enough service. People can’t get to work. They can’t get to medical appointments. People can’t negotiate to get where they go. We only invest $67 per capita here, versus other places,” Ford said. “We’re just underfunded, and we need to do more. Service is desperately needed in this area so people can get to good jobs, get fresh food and go to doctor’s appointments.”

 

Ford added that a more robust transit system would be beneficial to people aging in place and would help retain millennials in the metro Detroit area. Going with BRT also allows the RTA to adjust transit frequency as needed, though they anticipate ridership of 13,500 people a day.

Under the proposal, the Michigan Avenue BRT would run from downtown Ann Arbor to Ypsilanti, with a second BRT going from downtown Detroit to Detroit Metropolitan Airport; a commuter rail line would run from Ann Arbor to the New Center, where it would then connect with the independent Detroit streetcar currently under construction.

The Woodward line would go from downtown Detroit to Pontiac, though Binkowski said that with the streetcar running from the New Center to downtown, the RTA is considering having it split off onto Cass or John R for that stretch instead.

Regardless of whether or not the millage passes in November, Binkowski said the RTA is moving forward with its unified fare card system for all transit options in the metro area.

Once the final plan is unveiled May 31, Ford said he plans on being available in communities throughout the metro area to explain everything.

Roseville Downtown Development Authority Vice Chairman Brian Shishakly said during public comments that the BRT would be “hugely important” to the area and its economic development, and asked the council to champion the effort.

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