33 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: the QLine”

  1. Light rail in the right lane? Sweet mother of all that’s holy, do transit agencies *never freaking learn*?

  2. I have to say I’m happy I left the Republican Party last year over its loss of principles before it was cool. In another discussion thread, I noticed the anger about the 2015 transportation deal again. Laying half awake last night, I think the GOP lack of principles to put the gas tax up to a vote is when I started to question being a Transit Republican.

    I mean you either stand for something in politics or you stand for yourself. I mean I’m throwing my cap over the wall to get elected transit boards. I’ve been equally very firm about getting more transit to Paine Field.

    In summation, as I write from the Skagit Transit 300 on a Sunday, I just ask all of us parliamentary brawlers brawling to stop whining, stop losing our principles, and actively work to improve transit by being face forward and on committees or running for office. That’s a principle we need to adopt and fight for. Because…. “Decisions are made by those who show up.”

  3. Other criticisms have been that the streets next to it are wide open with plenty of room for a bus.

  4. The QLine looks like one of the better streetcar initiatives. I haven’t been to Detroit for a long time, but the corridor makes sense: it’s a straight line connection via Woodward Avenue from the Amtrak Station that links Wayne State University and the sports stadiums with downtown Detroit. The length of the corridor is 3.3 miles and the running time is about 22-24 minutes. That’s pretty typical for an urban transit corridor. Metro’s route 3 is 3.3 miles from SPU to 3rd and Union and it’s scheduled at 22-29 minutes. Detroit’s street plan is mostly a square grid that will enable lots of transfer opportunities at the streetcar stations. The biggest problem I see with the QLine is a lack of frequency. Once all the streetcars have been delivered, the planned headway is 15 minutes. That’s a little long for an important urban corridor, but I assume more vehicles can be ordered and the headways could drop to 10 minutes or better.

    Also, no 62 year old woman is able to walk 3.3 miles in less than 25 minutes, even in the best of conditions. When the temperature is 15 degrees and the streets are icy, grandma will definitely appreciate an opportunity to ride the streetcar. And when the temperature is 92 with high humidity, grandma is going to love the QLine. Also, in the video, the streetcar seemed to be moving faster than the traffic on the freeway.

    I understand that it is official STB policy to ridicule any proposed streetcar project as ineffective and a waste of resources because, quite often, they actually are ineffective and a waste of resources. But I expect this line will be useful to many more people than just the local bros heading to their favorite gastopub.

    1. Please explain to me me why this will be better than a bus that could run faster, more frequently and continue on to go to more places for the same amount of money.

      1. I know a bunch of people in southeastern Michigan (I grew up there), and a bunch of them actually say they’ll use this. They’d never take a bus, however.

        While you and I may agree that buses are a better option for many reasons, there are large swaths of Americans who won’t touch a bus, but are happy to board a train.

      2. Fair enough, but I honestly could care less about them. There are people who will only ride in a purple vehicle, but I would never base public policy on them. When tax payer dollars are being spent, we should spend it on providing the greatest good for the greatest number rather than cater to a handful of people with bizarre fetishes.

      3. Every tool to its use, Ross. Good rule of thumb is that when a short-headway line runs more standing loads than seated ones, railcars are not only much more comfortable, but faster and easier to board and and get off of.

        Reason DSTT absolutely has to go rail-only now is that at light rail headways, buses with minimum one minute loading time and often five, are hopelessly in the way of trains whose average hold-time is thirty seconds.

        For future joint ops efforts, though, might be good if before buses leave tunnel, we could have station personnel standing by experimenting with equipment and techniques for getting wheelchairs on and off buses.

        Detroit’s new streetcars really are examples of things to come, not serious operating service. Just like the stretch of Woodward Avenue they serve, mostly for recalling times that used to be, and possibilities for their improved return.

        Vividly remembering what that part of Detroit looked like in the late 1950’s, no question in my mind it’ll be worth restoring. Find the city an economy for the first time in forty years, and you’ll board a minute after you pay for your latte.

        And on your HSR rolling out of the Amtrak station a couple miles up Woodward before the cup gets cold in your hand.


      4. Mark is right on here. Busses in a dedicated tunnel can’t quite seem to do what Link does. I don’t know what the plan is for the 1st Ave streetcar, but streetcars in Seattle really need to match Link frequency (or better yet–3-5 minutes!) and be given bona fide signal priority. Laying tracks to then run the trains at 20 minute intervals and wait at every light is indeed a waste. But the train is a better overall rider experience, and this attracts riders. Quality matters! -Brandon

      5. Ross, whether you could or could not care less about them, there are huge areas of this country away from the northeast and west coast cities where buses are just not going to be considered by a large segment of the population. Most unfortunately, this often is because “those people” ride the bus (race/income) – as abhorrent as that is, it’s simply a fact of life. This has been ingrained in these areas for well over half a century, and it will take a lot of effort to turn people who think that way into supporters of transit – or at least not active foes. If that takes something “trendy” or “acceptable for me to ride,” perhaps that’s a better use of their money than a bus line in some areas. This is a problem even in cities I know well like Greenville SC, which has over the past 15 years made a wonderful, walkable, bikeable, vibrant downtown area out of nothing – but saw very little impact when they bought a bunch of nice new buses and tried to improve service. There are areas of that city in all income ranges that would greatly benefit from better transit but as long as the majority of the population sees buses as something they will never, ever ride there will be no funding. Perhaps if people in places like that are tempted by a shiny streetcar because it’s “cool” they will start to look at transit differently, and that will help in getting local support for buses. This story is played out all over the country away from the older/denser and the “hip” urban areas.

        I’m no particular fan of streetcars, and as you have so aptly pointed out on numerous occasions, our foray into them has not been the best use of our transportation budgets, but that’s in Seattle/Portland/Austin and the like. In Detroit, or Richmond, or Greenville, or Birmingham, it’s possible that they may be a way to start turning people’s thought processes around about transit. Brand new buses in painted lanes aren’t likely to do so.

      6. The real regional transit solution was supposed to be a large BRT system that failed at the polls in November. That itself is a good example of why a small street car in this metro makes a certain amount of sense. The transit situation is grim, but even saying the word bus makes certain parts of the suburbs just completely tune out. Especially when what they primarily fear about buses is poor people coming to their cities. And sadly it’s not just a handful– it ended up being a majority of metro area voters.

      7. @Mark — Sure, every tool has its use. Except that rarely does a streetcar make sense. Here are the advantages of rail transport:

        1) It carries more people per vehicle.
        2) Sometimes, there is existing rail that can be leveraged.

        That’s it. The disadvantages of rail are too numerous to mention, especially rail that runs in mixed traffic. They exist, but I really don’t want to write yet another long essay about the subject, when better writers have already done so (http://humantransit.org/2009/07/streetcars-an-inconvenient-truth.html).

        So, back to the advantages. In this case, there is no existing railway being leveraged, so you can throw out the second item. Which brings us to the first one. A streetcar can carry more people.

        Great — wonderful — happy day. Except there is one, rather obvious problem: You don’t need it!. Obviously you don’t need it, or this thing would run more often. This is not a case where you are replacing a crowded, bunching bus route, like Vancouver’s 99 B-Line with a higher capacity streetcar, while you wait to fund a proper tunnel. Far from it. This thing has much lower capacity than even a regular bus route (let along a BRT bus) simply because it doesn’t run every often. A forty footer, running every five minutes would probably have greater capacity. Of course if you run it every five minutes, you do run the chance of some bus bunching towards the end of the line. Except you don’t, because the thing is only 3 miles long!. Bus bunching isn’t a problem.

        In this case, every potential advantage of a streetcar simply doesn’t exist. Meanwhile, every disadvantage does. This includes the extra cost. That money should simply be put into better bus service.

      8. Ross, whether you could or could not care less about them, there are huge areas of this country away from the northeast and west coast cities where buses are just not going to be considered by a large segment of the population. Most unfortunately, this often is because “those people” ride the bus (race/income) – as abhorrent as that is, it’s simply a fact of life.

        Ah, OK. Well, let me be even more clear. I not only don’t care about them, they can go fuck themselves. Sorry for my French, but I really don’t think we should cater to uptight snobs who think public transportation should only serve the upper crust. Eventually, of course, it won’t (poor people take trains, too — Gasp!). This means that eventually, if this actually is effective in moving people (the way a bus would) then those who can’t rub shoulders with the poor will tire of it, and get back into their cars. I see no real long term purpose in cosmetic, superficial improvements, and that goes for our own RapidRide bus system. Yes, those buses are prettier, but unless they actually move faster and more frequently than a regular bus, you are simply wasting paint.

        Of course one of the long standing arguments for streetcars is that they improve the look of the street and help revitalize the neighborhood. Contrary studies have been done, of course, but I have a really hard time thinking this is the best way that Detroit can spend money to improve the vitality of the city. This is neither a smart transit system, nor a smart way to beautify the city. It is simply a waste of money.

        Based on what rollwhip said, the money was wasted because the dysfunctional electorate in Detroit thought it was a spiffy idea.

    2. GuyOnBeaconHill, you’re speaking as if there wasn’t any transit service on this street before. There already is a bus that runs the entire length of Woodward in the city. That bus runs every 10 minutes all day Monday-Saturday, every 15 minutes Sunday and evenings, plus hourly service all night. There is also a regional limited stop bus that runs from downtown into the suburbs.

      1. The 498 runs on 45 minute headways, yes it’s faster but it’s hard to rely on a bus that runs every 45 minutes. The 53 diverts off Woodward just south of the Amtrak station. I don’t know if it’s going to be restored to Woodward. The 53 bus comes from the city limits and likely is already quite full by the time it reaches the streetcar corridor If the streetcar does gain enough local ridership the 53 could be returned to the full length of Woodward but it could follow the 498’s stops and run as an express from Amtrak to downtown. That would create faster service to downtown for riders from the north end of Detroit and still provide plenty of reliable service via the streetcar on the Amtrak to downtown part of the Woodward corridor.

        A streetcar isn’t designed to be fast–that’s a given. Streetcars are designed for high capacity corridors which might be a good description of Woodward (like I said, it’s been a long time since I’ve been in Detroit). The Woodward corridor for the streetcar is anchored at one end by downtown Detroit and the Amtrak station at the other end. There are numerous destinations in-between and plenty of opportunity to densify between the 2 anchors. There is a tremendous amount of corporate support for the new streetcar and the possibility that it might be extended further north if it’s successful.

        Modern urbanism is dedicated to density which requires the ability to move large volumes of people in tight spaces. A streetcar, like a bus, has to fight through congestion, but if a corridor can develop sufficient density and create sufficient demand for frequent transit service, a streetcar every 10 minutes might provide higher quality service than a bunch of buses running every 5 minutes. There certainly is a high level of enthusiasm for the QLine in Detroit. As I acknowledged, I know I’m speaking heresy by defending streetcars at STB, but I’ll be interested in seeing how this project turns out.

      2. They did the infrastructure on Woodward the sewer lines fire hydrant repairs new lighting system very fantastic they should have left the Tracks out the Way

      3. “A streetcar isn’t designed to be fast”

        American streetcars aren’t designed to be fast. Other countries wouldn’t even consider putting a streetcar in a corridor like First Hill where it can’t give it exclusive lanes and signal priority. It looks like the streetcars of a century ago, but those had the right of way over cars, they didn’t crawl around in traffic and wait patiently for lights. Only a society that threw away its streetcars and forgot them for generations would believe they should be treated like just one more automobile. A typical European streetcar would be like Link on MLK, or like part of Tacoma Link in south downtown. The only time they’d run in the regular street like a car is in tiny segments where it’s geographically impossible to do anything else (e.g., narrow medieval streets with stone walls or historic buildings right next to them).

  5. Problem with this video is that it’s a piece of standard transit criticism that doesn’t fit by a light year the very unstandard condition of the city of Detroit:

    One of the world’s most productive manufacturing cities, many times the size of Seattle by land-area, population, and wealth widely shared across class lines, and also racial lines except one. Guess which? Whose wages would still be envied by many of the comparable industrial workers in post-industrial Seattle.

    Detroit was a city whose main and almost only economic engine collapsed like rusty steel pickup sticks around 1970, when the World got over War II. Re-assembling itself where majority of workers whose workers still lived in Detroit had a lot of trouble affording to live. See “except one” and “guess which” above.

    Inside Detroit city limits, scene is hardly the zombie apocalypse of its reputation. No ghastly piles of deadly rotting buildings. Instead, vacant lots that used to be working and middle-class homes to the horizon. Underlaid by the urban infrastructure of a giant city. With plenty of those middle class homes still in excellent condition.

    The amount of life, health, and activity among ordinary people in who still live in Detroit deserves them better for themselves than their present municipal arrangement. The Detroit area is a ladies’ hand-held fan, a half-circle with its center, the old Downtown area on the shores of a very wide river.

    Woodward Avenue, where the streetcar line runs, is a long-important vein running northwest. Streetcars to city limits ’till early 60’s. Really was, and will be, major artery of the city its whole history. Check other vessels, Gratiot- trolleybuses. and Jefferson, streetcars.

    Outer border has a radius of eight miles, centered at the city line. Across which are hundreds of square miles of suburbs that would make Medina look like Dog Patch. History buffs, look up “Little Abner.” So Detroit isn’t a stand-alone impoverished city. Gated communities don’t need check points, especially ones that take up Southeastern Michigan. Income to afford a house works much better for same purpose.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QLine. Good summary. But letter “Q” says a lot. The line was essentially founded by the Quicken Loan Company. A major downtown economic driver is a giant casino where Greektown used to be. Not to disparage companies who’ve provided Detroit with at least some jobs. Bremerton hasn’t even got a streetcar.

    One really important thing not mentioned. The Detroit Art Museum, which civic effort did save from having to sell its masterpieces to pay off the city’s finances, really is worth a streetcar line. Which a troubled city that serious about great art deserves.

    The Q -line runs past Wayne State University, a block or so west of Woodward Avenue surrounded by usual gentrification. Which should leave many dozen blocks without either money or transit, no matter how good the espresso.

    Which is not to say that if the streetcar line and the good espresso and the other Columbia City-isms weren’t there, the money would all go to renovate rest of Detroit’s formerly first class streetcar and trolleybus lines. But underneath the Q-line and all else above, here’s main question:

    It was generally accepted that Detroit’s super-affordable housing prices would result in a whole city of new condominiums connected to that massive dormant infrastructure. Why are the gentry so slow about moving in and seizing the lands they could have for free?

    Reason? Historically “gentry” get rich from business rather than aristocratic heredity. Meaning they can read a balance sheet, no matter how much their elected politicians pretend they can’t.

    Which tells them that no matter how much private money graces the table, Detroit will have to once again be completely built before any of it it can be bought. At a cost no corporate Board on Earth can ask its share-holders to fork over.

    So from their point of view, one solution. History proves that like Bremerton, the cost of a major war will comfortably make Detroit business-comfortable, homes, factories, stores, streetcars and all. But now that business itself has gone irreparably international, the war part isn’t the point either. Just the Government money.

    I’ll drink a ristretto to that. Leave out the war part, an in addition to a profitably rebuilt city, Detroit can also have union wages, which last World War featured. And a whole trolleybus network to go along with not only a streetcar, but reserved center lanes and signal-preempt all the way to Pontiac. Google the map.

    Mark Dublin

  6. Point of cartography. Traditional center of Downtown Detroit is where Woodward Avenue ends at the Detroit River. Really does look like the hinge at the center of an old-fashioned fan.

    With a spectacular view along and across a very wide river. Restored to life, it’ll be a beautiful place, Sew “Detroit” into the message on the front of those red (what are they, baseball hats?), and the other public entity named will still be even greater than ever.


  7. I really think Roger Penske could have made it go 8mile StateFair Grounds a waist of $ if u ask me

  8. Per capita bus ridership is at or close to Portland levels in Atlanta, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis. I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that bus ridership is only possible in bicoastal cities.

    I’m hoping to ride the Woodward streetcar and see for myself. But if you tell people that they’re special and therefore deserve streetcars I don’t think they ever make the transition to a bus. It’s asserted that racism is at play here–since when do we make policy decisions based on that? Landlords can’t deny rental units based on the tenant’s race, even if the neighbors don’t like it.

  9. Wanderer, whatever the law dictates about renting, or home sales, or schooling, or hiring, strongest legal language on Earth can’t override not just present low income, but many generations without a living wage in the family.

    Real, awful, meaning of “Institutional Racism.” Some say South Africa’s segregation laws were weak compared to our own financial realities. Our own State legislature is tied in knots over a specific question of school funding:

    Do you buy your children’s education, in location and price, along with your house? Whatever law or neighbors say, widespread positive answer says it all.

    But for Detroit:


    Fairest and best I could find at short notice. Michigan has about ten million people, about same as Sweden. So “national emergency” not bad comparison for Detroit. Don’t have stats or complete personal experience.

    But sense I’ve always had of Michigan, and Detroit, is that both constitute more of a country than a State and the city with both its worst problems and its greatest possibilities. And Detroit’s own history points the most likely way to its resurgence.

    For generations, people have voluntarily moved into and stayed in Detroit because it was the country’s easiest place for somebody to leave either a poor farm or high school and start a family with their first paycheck.

    My guess is that what IT is doing for Seattle, CNC (Computer Numeric Control) manufacture can do for Detroit. If it hasn’t already started to. We can literally 3D print human body parts. Which the old well-paid press-brakes and sheet-metal cutters often removed.

    Maybe Motor Cities can do traction ones too. What Brookville Pennsylvania can do….Just a thought.


  10. $30 car tabs are ba-a-a-ck. Eyman has a new initiative to reinstate $30 car tabs, revoke all ST MVET taxes, and require ST to retire bonds backed by MVET. Another initiative to roll back property taxes 25% failed.)

    ST1 is finished so it only has the bonds to pay. I don’t know what percent of ST2 or 3 comes form MVET but I think it’s a third for 3. Under the earlier legislative proposal to change the car-depreciation schedule, if ST had to retire the bonds it would have immediately raised new bonds to replace them (at a higher interest rate). However, this would be a bigger hit if MVET is revoked completely. In that case ST might retire the bonds and not replace them. And where would it get the money from to retire the bonds? From the other ST2 and 3 tax streams. So it could require deleting more from ST3 than just the MVET-funded parts, especially if ST3 is then used to backfill ST2. So the question of the day is, what would this mean for North King? Would we be back to West Seattle light rail and a streetcar for Ballard? Would it be possible to get ST to consider any other alternatives? Would the second DSTT survive? If it doesn’t, PSRC predicts a coming huge mobility gap downtown, with tens of thousands of people who can’t fit onto existing transit.

    On another note, this would give Mark and Joe a chance to vote for Sound Transit.

    1. It’s only unconstitutional if it makes ST default on the bonds. That’s why it says retire the bonds, which means paying them all off now, or “defeasance” as it was called in the previous proposal.

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