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FIRST PROJECT IN A STAGED PLAN, Serving: Michigan Central, Rosa Parks Blvd, Corktown, MGM Grand, Washington Blvd and Campus Martius

Photo of Bruce Hain
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Michigan Central Station

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If you're going to put Michigan Central on the map you've got to be able to GET there! This plan arose about two years ago in my musings about intercity rail development, which I frequently attempt to delineate on the Google Earth platform. The Michigan Avenue segment is part of a larger proposal consisting of two subway lines converging at and radiating from a central Campus Martius / Cadillac Square station hub. The initial 1.8-mile segment would be extensible from both ends, as needed, and would provide an auspicious start on achieving a safe, fast and comfortable high-volume system of transit mobility in the city. The central-hub-and-spokes configuration would allow quick high-volume transfer capacity, to enable the most convenient transit for the most passengers. A storage and maintenance facility large enough to serve the initial segment could be achieved by excavating the entire Campus Martius / Cadillac Square underground station concurrent with construction of the initial 1.8-mile line.

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Photo of David Gifford

Hi Bruce, that is an interesting idea. It was proposed by a council of transit experts 100 years ago because the streets were jam packed with cars, streetcars, pedestrians and some remaining horses. Here's a link to the study behind widening Michigan Ave to accommodate such a system ( Given the current wide width of the road still and the high cost of subway / rail infrastructure, it may be easier get similar results using the DDOT & SMART buses that are already on this route. By giving them a transit only lane the trip would be much faster and would cost less than installing a subway or light rail. The real magic trick is getting people who have never ridden a bus on the bus.

Photo of Bruce Hain

Thanks David - I've been wondering where to find a comprehensive explanation of the earlier subway plan, though believe did come across a picture of a "general plan" in my searches a couple years ago. This one is somewhat different as I recall, especially with regard to the hub-and-spokes business. I hope to produce a drawing showing a full-blown Hundred Year Plan, along with the several stages and their order.

As for subway construction, our capabilities of earth moving and construction, surveying and planning - are now so much more quick and effective, less labor intensive, time consuming, laborious and dangerous - that the "real expense" in terms of investment, commitment and risk to life and limb, is vastly less than in the first part of the 20th Century. So I don't see that as an excuse for shortchanging the public.

It doesn't seem to me the idea of a dedicated-lane bus service would be likely to attract many tony types from Downtown to explore the Bricktown/Michigan Avenue venues in large numbers. And of course any commuter or regional rail service originating at Central would be dependent on smooth connections that only a subway can provide.

Photo of David Gifford

Hi Bruce, here is a link to the actual report which was published in 1917. It is a fascinating read.

Photo of Bruce Hain

Thanks again, that IS interesting and did a search coming up with several more reports at the Hathi Trust website. Going by the 1926 commission report the initial construction called for 46.6 miles of double-track subway lines at $187,789,000 - all in one blow - which is amazingly ambitious and (not knowing much about it but)probably why nothing ever got built. This followed a city-wide vote a few years earlier in which some huge majority was FOR it, with a plan that called for fares covering something like 33% of the cost. (I didn't get into the particulars.) The Commission had somehow been elevated within the legal framework commanding more authority by that time.

Surprising to me is that in the 1926 plan Michigan Central wasn't served directly - with a station out under Michigan Avenue, which, without the as yet un-invented conveyor belt people mover, would have been a non-starter as far as most of us are concerned I think. I distinctly recall finding some kind of gratifying proof there was a plan to go right up to the station, with an option to continue under the bridge... which with the current plan would extend it to Mexicantown - or better Livernois Avenue as long as your going to the trouble of getting over Interstate 96 - which is a bit more complicated and lengthy than the M-10. Spent quite a while sketching that out with realignments of several things necessary, and will try and dig it up, but that stage is a few past the 2nd and 3rd - with the extension north from the central hub being 1st and most important to enable storage and maintenance capacity sufficient for expansion period. (which might include an at-grade extension to Belle Isle provided the bridge would support it and traffic would not be too negatively affected by tracks and adequate barriers in the middle - or build a new bridge. I suppose it could be done with a single track and a loop at the end, as traffic on an island extension would likely be mostly sparse during the week. A short-train shuttle might be best since grade separation would have to commence in the middle of the bridge approach on the island (which broadens there) in order to achieve a loop station just past it. Something like that might be well liked but is peripheral/optional vs. the two (or four) initial stages - as is the Mexicantown one though maybe not. ((I heard it's up-and-coming. And a single-track bridge on an otherwise-two-track line might be a practicable option.))

The (subway) station tracks (two) at Michigan Central (see picture) would best be as close to the surface as possible, to avoid interfering with the foundations of the bridge, which go quite deep. There was difficulty initially, and a very sturdy steel-columned arrangement of a certain extreme depth was finally built. It's owned by CP now and is succumbing gradually to the elements - and I am inclined toward the idea of reversing the customary eminent domain thing of railroads and using it against them, because their stewardship of their properties (a lot of which were land grants after all) has not been exactly stellar. Michigan Central, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Buffalo - all these fantastic stations are victims of an MO involving selling off properties crucial to the business while collecting exorbitantly on an individual basis - thereby laying it lame - while constantly pleading poverty. The railroads did not lose their US Mail contracts and passenger business because the automobile and airplane became successful - it was because they wanted it that way. Every industrialized country except the US moves their mail largely by rail - so much for the rail-oriented postal palaces of the 20th Century, most of which are now permanently blocked. (So much for reasonable carbon footprints as well I suppose.) I live in NY and in my lifetime there have been three credible attempts to demolish Grand Central that I know of. They will eventually do it if not prevented. It's one of our greatest buildings - what else? the Capital? a few things by Wright? Historic preservation laws have no effect on these things whatsoever as long as they're privately owned.

Anyway, the two tracks of the Michigan Central subway station would be close to the surface as possible, involving a tunnel beneath the platform to reach the carriage entrance of the train station, and the necessary vertical amenities to to enable it. With a 50' platform (owing to config. of the bridge supports) some very pleasing options for the said amenities present themselves. The carriage entrance is stunning in its own right: ( As a partially glass-enclosed subway-oriented lobby giving onto the concourse - with possibly-diagonal stair/escalator bank - under the high, steel-gable ceiling with lanterns - it could be more so.

Photo of Perry MacNeille

The report discusses population density of 30,000 / Mile^2. Detroit's current population density is about 5,000 / Mile^2... What a difference 100 years can make

Photo of Bruce Hain

Let's hope it isn't so reduced in the study area! I figure the desire to promote transportation solutions is pretty closely tied to stakeholders and politicians, with the aim of benefiting one or the other, and the assumption on their part that the public will also benefit. Then you have that OTHER entity, which I prefer to think of as one group - the transit experts, who often exercise the strongest influence of all - largely because no one will dare to contradict them. The interests of planning professionals, especially with rail, do not always align with those of the public. But I'm not a transit professional - so with me you're safe!

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