Who will be our champion? 

Our cover story about bringing commuter rail to southeastern Michigan revisits an issue that has been near and dear to the Metro Times for many years. There are many reasons why, and most of them are covered in “Road to rail”, two excerpts from a larger package of articles generated by the Michigan Land Use Institute and featured in the current issue of the institute’s Great Lakes Bulletin. Suffice to say that Detroit is the largest metropolitan area in the United States with neither rail service nor plans for such service.

To bring light rail to our region, institute transportation project coordinator Kelly Thayer points out that we need a champion to “capture and command the public’s attention” about the issue. Certainly there were many champions for the casinos that have cropped up downtown. Who will be the champion to help bring urban passenger rail to southeast Michigan?

Mayor Dennis Archer has often said he wants to make Detroit a world-class city. Well, if there is anything crucial to making Detroit world class, it’s some form of commuter rail. But in his Jan. 9 State of the City address, Archer was still talking about buses, not even the rapid buses that are mentioned in our story, but 100 more of the same buses in the same old system. And when it comes to the thousands of people moving to and from Metropolitan Airport each year, Archer’s only suggestion is to clean up the highway so “Detroit can enjoy a better image.” After two terms in office, it’s time for Archer to be well beyond buses and image issues in transportation.

Who will be our champion?

Obviously, lame-duck Gov. John Engler has not made mass transit an issue; for him, the most crucial transportation issue in Detroit was giving the State Fairgrounds to the Nederlanders for a race track. (And look how that wound up.) Apparently, neither of the city’s daily newspapers is championing the cause.

Who’s left? Maybe City Councilmember Nicholas Hood — now that he’s running for mayor — can step in. So far, he is banging on the neighborhood issue. Commuter rail could be great for some neighborhoods by helping to create foot traffic in the areas leading to train stops — not to mention retail clustering at those high-traffic areas.

Maybe one of the 2002 gubernatorial hopefuls can get on the train: James Blanchard, David Bonior, Jennifer Granholm, Dick Posthumous … Will one of these political creatures help us get on track? Or is it true that as long as the Big Three rule the roost, there will never be great mass transit in Detroit? If so, then we are doomed to never be a world-class city. And while it was Detroit that once ruled when it put the world on wheels, those days are over. The really great cities of the world are riding the rails.

It will be a true champion who stands up and makes that happen.

Readers, let us know who that should be.

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