The Case for Consolidated QLine/DDOT Stations

With the opening of the QLine, Detroit welcomes streetcars back onto Woodward Avenue. The first month of operation has been a mixed bag of results; although many enjoy the streetcar and find it useful, others complain the trains are too slow, don’t travel far enough, and take too long to arrive at stations. Although steps are being taken to improve the QLine, one idea which would improve the experience for all Woodward transit users would be having the QLine and DDOT share stations.

One of the many complaints about the QLine is that it serves a stretch of Woodward Avenue that already sees many local bus lines. Indeed, Lower Woodward likely has the heaviest collection of transit in the metro Detroit Area. It runs one DDOT route (the 53) four SMART Routes (450/460+2 commuter routes) and a refleX line (498). This fact, rather than a negative, simply reinforces the idea that stations should be shared, in order to facilitate transfers between the services.

Allowing buses to use the QLine platforms would be a huge benefit. The raised streetcar platforms provide level boarding, which allows riders to board more quickly and causes the bus to have a shorter dwell time, speeding up the ride as a whole. The QLine stops serve as defacto bus bulbs; the platforms come to the streetcar tracks, meaning the streetcar/bus would not have to swerve in and out of traffic to drop off or pick up passengers.

The screens on the QLine stations could be adjusted to show DDOT routes and points of transfer. This would help integrate the streetcar into the entire transit system and facilitate transfers between the routes. The screens could even be modified to show the location of buses along the other routes as well, such as 16-Dexter, 14-Crosstown, and 31-Mack. DDOT currently provides real time information about it’s buses, so this step would simply be one of coordination.

In addition to the aforementioned points, it is a gross mismanagement of resources to have a bus and streetcar stop a few feet from each other, with no integration at all. In a bus system where most stops are simply signs in the sidewalk, it is imperative to maximize infrastructure. If this means collaborating with the QLine, so be it. The shelters currently serving bus stops on Woodward Avenue could be reallocated to other transfer points throughout the city, and riders could use the QLine shelters instead.

Even from the QLine’s perspective, the shared stop idea has its merits. The QLine has often been painted as a “driver of gentrification” and a “toy train for wealthy suburbanites”. What better way to stick it to the haters than to work with the local bus system and ensure the needs of ALL transit riders are met? The streetcar stops would all of a sudden be used by many more Detroiters, not just a select few.

Admittedly, there are obstacles to this approach. QLine operators might be loath to pay for the full maintenance of the stations, especially if more than just streetcar riders are utilizing it. The shared stop system could not be implemented on any center-running stations (therefore, between Ferry St. and Grand Circus Park). And many have complained the “shelters” currently in place hardly do anything to prevent riders from the elements.

However, these problems can (and should) be solved fairly easily. DDOT can fund some of the maintenance costs at the platforms, especially if they end up saving money by eliminating some stops. The shelters could be modified as well, but with the potentially short headways in a combined bus/streetcar system, riders would have shorter wait times than previously.

This image shows the feasibility of the shared stop idea. Both the QLine and bus doors are at the same height, meaning bus riders would be able to alight on the platforms with ease.

This level of coordination has been done before. In Seattle, the South Lake Union Streetcar shares a platform with several bus routes.

A few other points:

DDOT drivers would need to be trained to ensure there isn’t a gap between the platform and the bus. Feasibility rating 10/10

If (somehow) DDOT riders could use the QLine ticket machines to pay for their bus fare, this would greatly improve service. It would allow for riders to enter from both doors, and would ensure passengers could enter more quickly, thus increasing bus efficiency. Inspectors would need to check tickets at random to ensure payment, however. 3/10

Say someone comes downtown for an event. They’re at the QLine stop, and a bus pulls up. Would they get on the bus? Or would they wait for a streetcar to come? My guess is some wouldn’t get on the bus. Unfortunately, in the Detroit region, there a subliminal belief that buses are related to poverty; people don’t generally ride buses if they can afford another alternative.

Sarosh Irani is an undergraduate student and public transportation advocate at Wayne State University in Detroit, MI. You can follow him on Twitter at @Irani99Sarosh or visit him at www.saroshirani.wordpress.com

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