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Culture as a barrier

"It's the Motor City"

Photo of Mikki Hendrix
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Michigan Central Station

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One of the barriers for mobility in Detroit is culture. The Idea that Detroit is the motor city often comes up when people promote other modes. The streets are wide and the city is designed for cars to move quickly, completely disregarding those without access to cars for whatever reason. It makes simple things like crossing streets difficult for anyone and much more difficult for seniors, kids, and people with disabilities. 

There's a lot of clear ignorance and inconsideration from drivers in the city and region to those who aren't in cars. 

When bike lanes were being implemented (even on Michigan Ave) the idea that cyclists had rights to the street was not well received by many. People are used to flying up and down these major roads and even on the highways traveling often times as much as 20 miles above the speed limit. This makes talking about things like biking walking and using transit seen as less desirable.

 People often talk like because of winters, Detroit can't and shouldn't invest in other modes whereas going to Toronto, New York City or DC, even with cold winters, people walk more, use transit more, and bike more. 

Same with the scooters. although they're getting usage, many people see them as a nuisance. When in reality, they're a step toward figuring out micro transit in a city, where many neighborhoods like population and have large stretches of vacant lots/buildings.   The idea that mobility is important for EVERYONE seems to be lost on people who have access to cars. 

The idea of public transit is seen as a tool only for the poor and seniors and high school students. It's seen as a last resort and people would rather drive illegally (not having car insurance or even a valid license)

Culture shift is needed for mobility to truly be easier for all Detroiters including those in neighborhoods like Southwest and North Corktown. 

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Photo of Peter Dudley

I saw a an interesting presentation by an urban expert from South America a few years ago.
He referred to Detroit's bike lanes as "kamikaze bike lanes" (at that time, they were usually-defined by little-more than white paint applied to the pavement).
He also mentioned that Detroit held the current world's record (among cities with populations under 1 million, I believe) in the "per-capita pedestrian death rate" - category.
The opening of the Dequindre Cut Greenway rail-trail is a hopeful step forward. I had hoped that the supposedly-"preserved" double-track "light-rail easement"running parallel with Phase 1 of the Greenway project would have led to creation of a non-stop rapid transit system, connecting New Center's Amtrak Station with Renaissance Center's Detroit People Mover (DPM) Station. The recent completion of the Orleans Landing residential development permanently blocked that idea.
Along Phase 3 of the Greenway (north of Gratiot Avenue), the new trail inexplicably switches sides -- I can't quite see railroad crossing gates and flashers along a trail.
About eight miles of former - Detroit Terminal Railroad right-of-way on Detroit's west side will also become a trail.
I like M-1 RAIL's QLINE Woodward Avenue streetcar, but more than a few cyclists landed in the hospital after their front tires came to a sudden-stop in the flange-grooves paralleling the streetcar rails (M-1 RAIL suggests that cyclists use Cass Avenue).
One concept I would like to see in the Detroit area is "trails-with-rails". Most active railroads around here include parallel, long-trackless swaths of former - right-of-way. Southeast of Michigan Central Station (MCS), two active tracks descend into the 1910 Detroit River Tunnel. Southeast of the tunnel portal, the completely-vacant, grade-separated trackless swath is up to 150 feet wide.
(more later)

Photo of Perry MacNeille

Unless infrastructure is provided to separate traffic flows, either spatially or in time, the various modes of transportation and vehicle sizes are physically in conflict.

There are also cultural conflicts. People that use transit are time synchronized to the transit system. People that use cars are time synchronized with traffic. This makes it hard to cooperate. The etiquette of drivers and riders is also, of necessity, different.

Demographics matter. For low population density cars, bicycles, scooters, etc. are very effective transportation. If densities are high (as in Manhattan) transit systems become more effective. Economics also matter. If we can not afford mechanical transportation, we walk.

Transportation systems change progressively. All cities need roads for essential services like goods distribution, garbage collection, construction and emergency services. Once you have roads, you can also put cars, buses, trucks, pedestrians, bicycles, etc. on them. High-volume transportation, such as by rail, can be added to a city once the road transportation is established to meet increasing demand. Elimination of high-volume transportation may occur if demand reduces.

City planners/real-estate developers have sentiments regarding what modes of transportation should be used and have subtle ways of influencing change such as intentionally restricting parking or installing sewer grates that snag bicycle wheels.

The way drivers communicate is important. Enclosed vehicles are safer and generally more comfortable than open vehicles, but they restrict verbal communication between vehicles. Therefore, open and closed vehicles exhibit different traffic behavior.

Operating vehicles is an over-learned activity. We get so good at it we don't usually think consciously about doing it. We also get attached to a particular type of vehicle once we learn to operate it, and often resist the effort to learn to operate a new type of vehicle even if it is more effective.

Transportation systems are highly evolved. Horses continue limited use in rural settings, but were completely replaced by motorized vehicles in cities. Horses were much less effective. Mass transit systems have yielded significantly to the presence of motorcars. The least effective modes of transit tend to be eliminated over time in spite of human sentiment.

Photo of Mikki Hendrix

I agree with several points here but culture goes a long way. Yes, when parking and driving is harder, transit becomes more popular. However we've seen perception and stigma go a long way here.

-Cars are MUCH more dangerous than public transit. The fear of getting robbed on a bus overpowers the fear of getting in a car accident (one much more common than the other. and one kinda extreme)
-QLine- people were excited, people used it and learned how to do so. People will wait for hte QLine while it sayis it's 20 minutes away or Call and Uber vs walking maybe 200 ft to then wait at a bus stop for a bus that's coming sooner.
-Mogo- Not the easiest in my experience but people figure it out.
-Scooters-same. People took the time to learn how to use them and do so.
These are all new, cool and less diverse than getting on a bus ( in anyway you could take diverse)

Biggest thing with scooters and bikes and microtransit- thus far, you've got to be an able bodied, old enough, and sometimes banked person to use them and going to somewhere close enough and easy enough (I couldn't image using mogo or scooters to commute with groceries.

Photo of Perry MacNeille

All the transportation modes have their strengths and weaknesses.

The perception of safety often is not supported by the numbers. People who do not support mass transit may exaggerate crime to support their position. Commuter rail systems have a fatality rate comparable to cars, but the passengers are safer. Most of the fatalities are pedestrians.

I think the biggest problem with mass transit is over-investment. Often high operational and investment costs are not supported by ridership levels. Once installed, operators are incentivized to reduce operating costs by reducing service. Reduced service drives away riders in a viscous cycle.