Why QLine may be more of a headache than a transportation convenience

Some public buses may be squeezed off of Woodward to give more room to the QLine.
Some public buses may be squeezed off of Woodward to give more room to the QLine.

The $179.4 million project to add streetcars to Woodward was billed as “an unprecedented public-private partnership” that would vastly improve transportation in greater downtown Detroit.

But as crews get closer to finishing the QLine, it has become increasingly clear that the streetcars may cause more headaches than solutions and may benefit visitors at the cost of resident who rely on buses.

Despite repeated claims that buses would “co-exist” with streetcars, Motor City Muckraker learned Tuesday that some public buses may be squeezed off of Woodward by the rail system, a 3.3-mile loop from downtown to New Center.

“We don’t have a set plan because we have to get more direction from QLine,” said Detroit Department of Transportation spokeswoman SuVon Treece. “Even if we have to jump over to Cass, there still would be (bus)  service.”

The QLine also may bump new bus rapid transit lines from Woodward. In 2011, the U.S Department of Transportation stopped supporting the streetcars in favor of more practical bus rapid transit lines, which would send 70 speedy buses up and down Woodward, Gratiot and Michigan avenues.

Nevertheless, DDOT approved $37.2 million in federal funding for QLine. The rest was privately funded.

The QLine, which also was billed as a faster alternative to buses, was supposed to shuttle passengers from New Center to downtown in 8 to 12 minutes. Officials now concede the ride will take more than twice as long.

“Run time is expected at approximately 25 minutes from Grand Boulevard to Congress,” QLine spokesman Dan Lijana said.

That’s roughly the same time it takes a bus, which has more stops than the QLine.

The problem is that long stretches of the QLine are on the curbside lanes. Buses and bicyclists would be competing for the space. So if a streetcar was behind a bus or bike, it would not be able to pass until the track diverges.

Transit experts encouraged officials to use the middle lanes for streetcars, which was the case when Detroit used them decades ago. But QLine officials rejected the plan, saying it wasn’t safe for riders.

Adding street cars also is going to eliminate a lot of street parking and will contribute to traffic snarls on Woodward, creating a bigger demand for parking structures.

All of this should come as no surprise. The QLine Board of Directors is led by two billionaires – Dan Gilbert and Roger Penske. The president and CEO of the QLine is Matthew P. Cullen, who happens to be the CEO of Gilbert’s Rock Ventures.

Gilbert owns more than 80 buildings in downtown Detroit, has a stake in nearly 20,000 parking spaces and is embarking on a major housing project in Brush Park, which borders the QLine.

Lijana defended the system and said QLine officials continue “working cooperatively with all transit entities, DDOT included, to ensure all modes and operations complement each other effectively. We are working with DDOT on station locations on Woodward and continue a productive dialogue.”

The QLine was scheduled to be complete this fall but was delayed. It’s now expected to be operating in the spring of 2017.

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Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.