Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Who is the QLine (M-1 Rail) really for?

Posted By on Tue, Apr 12, 2016 at 10:17 AM

A feature in the Detroit News Monday dives into fact that the M-1 Rail (currently being rebranded as the QLine) is "crimping" business for a number of shops along Woodward Avenue between Milwaukee and Grand Boulevard.

"The M-1 Rail offers the promise of more customers to businesses along its path — if they can survive until it opens," the piece begins.

According to the News — and anyone with a car who has driven down this congested part of Woodward — construction has meant this portion of the street has zero off-street parking and very little foot traffic. The end result? Struggling businesses.

While this stretch of the street may have looked a bit more worn then the other flashier (read: Midtown and Downtown) sections of Woodard, business have still been able to stay open for years, like Roby’s Shoes, which has been on the block since 1979. 

This, however, may be changing. 

The News is reporting that D-Town Freight, which sold a smattering of video games, shoes, clothes and furniture, has a sign out front saying it will no longer be at their present location come May. And Dollar Ocean Plus, which is across the street, may be following suit. 

"The dollar store has been losing $20,000 a month for the last six months and has about $200,000 in inventory in the 10,000-square-foot space," the News writes. 

As for Roby's shoes — a mainstay for nearly 40 years — this year has been rough. 

“Some days are $50 days. Some days are $20 days," Jeff Roby, one of the owners, told the News. He says they would pack up and leave if it wasn't for the fact that they were landlords of some of the other buildings on the block, which brings in much needed revenue. 

“I didn’t think it (the M-1 Rail construction) would affect our business the way it has,” Sharil Roby, the other owner, told the News. “People don’t want to get out of their cars and park and walk.”

Perhaps it's because of the cold, or perhaps it's because of the construction, but the fact that people don't want to get out of their cars and walk, as Sharil says, is an interesting one. Much of the M-1's success is predicated on the belief that Detroit and the area around the rail should be walkable. 

Take a look at the plans for Midtown — in conjunction with Sue Mosey's Midtown Inc. — and you see strip malls are banned. At a community Q&A last week hosted by Councilwoman Raquel Castaneda-Lopez, and attended by representatives from the Detroit City Planning Commission and Midtown Detroit, Inc. one of the main words stressed throughout the event was "walkability." The M1 Rail is being projected as a primary mode of transportation in a new Midtown and Downtown. 

While the stores along the area of Woodward have seen a slowdown in recent months will likely not see this lull forever — more to the point Dan Lijana, spokesman for M-1 Rail, told the News that they had been working with retailers to deal with these accessibility issues during construction — the story as a whole does raise questions about who the M1 Rail is for. 

Last week, Progress Michigan published a brutal report on the M1 Rail that assessed the actual walkability and access of the light rail. Its conclusion? The M1 Rails serves corporations and not people. 

According to Progress Michigan's Sean Tobin's analysis, about 5 percent of the city is within a 15-minute walking distance of the M-1 Rail, and eight percent is within a 30-minute walk of the entire length of the rail. As Tobin writes, "That is minuscule, but as some hypothesize – this is not for the people." 
click to enlarge PROGRESS MICHIGAN
  • Progress Michigan
It's Tobin's belief that the rail — which as his data points out, doesn't do much as legitimate public transit for the city — is being built to raise local real estate values. 

"One reason this is truly problematic is that Dan Gilbert, owner of Quicken Loans, also happens to own 79 downtown properties very close to QLINE. As has been studied and stated in the quote above, transit enhances local property values. Public dollars are being used as an investment device for Dan Gilbert and a small handful of other individuals."

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