Monday, April 22, 2024
Home Travel Detroit officials consider different possibilities for People Mover

Detroit officials consider different possibilities for People Mover

by Staff

When Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan mentioned a reconfiguration as a possibility for the Detroit People Mover during the Detroit Policy Conference in January, the suggestion might have caught more than a few people off guard.

The People Mover, after all, hasn’t always been seen for its potential or its flexibility.Critics often offered it as a cautionary tale to boosters of the QLINE when the streetcar opened to the public in 2017 on Woodward Avenue.

The limits of the People Mover’s 2.9-mile public transit loop that doesn’t directly serve key sports venues and other hot spots that have grown up since it launched almost 37 years ago appeared, well, obvious to some.

But the People Mover is now getting renewed consideration for what it does well and what it could mean for downtown Detroit and the surrounding areas in the future.

City and transit leaders are actually rethinking what the system could be. Is expansion a possibility? Perhaps, although don’t expect any changes soon.

Robert Cramer, the general manager of the Detroit Transportation Corp., the entity that operates the system, said he’s looking to secure funding for a study in the coming months to “scenario plan” for future opportunities.

The study wouldn’t push a specific project at this stage, but it would seek to engage the community about how the system could be more of an asset, and if that right opportunity does come along, “we could jump on it,” Cramer told the Free Press, guessing that such a project could happen within a few years — not 10 or 20 as some might assume — with the right preparation.

Partners would be needed, and even federal assistance would likely be sought. Finding the right joint development opportunity, perhaps at an adjacent site, could help determine how to alter the system, Cramer said.

Cramer, who was deputy general manager for the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation before assuming his current role in 2022, noted that “a lot has changed” since the system was designed in the 1970s.

Part of that change is clear in the new residential tower that opened last month on the former site of Joe Louis Arena. The Residences at Water Square, an almost 500-unit luxury apartment building, showcases an evolution of sorts.

Before Joe Louis closed its doors in 2017, the venue provided lots of People Mover traffic on Red Wings game days and for concerts, but now the Wings play at Little Caesars Arena, requiring a bit of a hike to and from the Grand Circus People Mover Station or perhaps a hop on the QLINE or a MoGo bike to get there. The Grand Circus Station also gets you within a few blocks of Comerica Park, Ford Field, the Fox Theatre and the Fillmore.

More: Without the Joe, what is Detroit People Mover’s future?

More: John Cena, WWE send off Joe Louis Arena as final ticketed event

But that new apartment tower signals something else, and it’s why city officials, such as Antoine Bryant, Detroit’s director of planning and development, are looking at the People Mover for what it can offer.

“What we’re looking at right now is just a real opportunity for downtown in and of itself to be seen more as a neighborhood in addition to being kind of the commercial and retail center of the city. We’ve got more and more residents coming in there and really having the critical mass of people there, approaching an 18-hour day, so you’ve got residents there in the evening, you’ve got people working and quite frankly we’re seeing more people in our greater downtown area in the evenings either going to functions, going out to eat, so how can we maximize their ability to move around?” Bryant said.

Events like last year’s Grand Prix, when Bryant said the People Mover was packed, and the upcoming NFL Draft, when it’s expected to be heavily used, demonstrate its potential during special events.

Bryant, who grew up in Brooklyn and spent 18 years in Houston — another car-centric place, he noted — before Duggan tapped him for his current role in 2021, visited Detroit numerous times in the past, mostly for conferences.

The People Mover was “perfect” for the types of trips Bryant remembered, leaving his hotel and hopping on an easy-to-navigate transit system.

Downtown Detroit, like central business districts around the country, has experienced major changes in the last four years. The pandemic led to a big loss of workers during the day, but that’s not the end of the story as Detroit’s new residential options open and entertainment and event traffic continue to pick up.

Bryant said the planning department is viewing the People Mover from a high level, what it could look like, even if that doesn’t represent a concrete plan.

“We have a stop near Grand Circus. Do we shift it 100 yards one way or another to better align where we’ve had more residential development? Could something be a little bit closer to Book Tower? Do we lengthen or broaden or add a stop between Riverfront Towers and the convention center?” he said, referring to Huntington Place.

And he didn’t dismiss the idea of expansion, although that’s not the focus right now.

“If we were to look at an expansion, where could it go? Could it go a little farther up Woodward to connect directly or in better proximity to Little Caesars? Would it go a little bit farther east right past the RenCen?” he said. “Is there opportunity for it to go farther west … and go closer to greater Corktown?”

In the short term, Bryant said, better integration with Detroit’s current public transit offerings needs to be the focus, making it easier to connect to Detroit Department of Transportation and QLINE stops, perhaps adding scooters and electric bikes at People Mover stations if they aren’t already served that way.

Among the changes that have rolled out already for the People Mover is free fares. The system, which formerly charged 75 cents for a basic fare, is free at least for the remainder of this year.

Cramer noted that it would have cost millions of dollars to upgrade the decades-old equipment to meet current expectations for accepting fares.

He described the experience of someone coming to Detroit for the Taylor Swift concert last year, spending plenty on tickets and merchandise and then not having the pocket change available to cover the fare.

“It’s just silly,” he said. “The fares were a barrier to people being able to use the system.”

The plan is to cover any loss in fare revenue through sponsorships. The People Mover is planning an announcement for Wednesday to provide details, noting in a news release that “a local corporation is contributing $500,000 to be the presenting sponsor.”

Free fares are expected to help in one key area: Ridership on the People Mover isn’t where it used to be.

In 2016, before the demolition of the Joe Louis Arena and the alterations to the Detroit auto show timing over the last several years, ridership was listed at 2.2 million.

A December announcement on the free fare program noted that ridership, at approximately 672,000, was at 42% of pre-pandemic levels, but that it represented a doubling over 2022.

Cramer noted that on a recent Saturday, without any special events downtown, the system had almost 8,000 riders.

And this year, with major events on the horizon, it’s expected to continue the trend, with a goal of a 50% ridership increase.

Contact Eric D. Lawrence: [email protected]. Become a subscriber.

Leave a Comment

Copyright ©️ All rights reserved. | Tourism Trends