Downtown dusts off

Oct 28, 1998 at 12:00 am


Yes, the Hudson's building went down in a heap of dust ... and in its place? A very impressive sign announcing the (to this point) illusory Campus Martius project.

Ho hum, pardon my yawn, but haven't we seen the big demolition-project-and-billboard two-step before? (Such as, oh, the Carmel Hall destruction and Brush Park billboard several blocks up Woodward Avenue from Hudson's.)

Anyway, while the masses on the street were coating their lungs with Hudson's dust (since you didn't get a brick, you might as well ingest a potentially toxic piece of the building), the demolition company had its party in the Summit restaurant, lounge and observation deck, high atop the Renaissance Center. It's obvious they knew what that dust was going to do.

Speaking of the dust, from my observation point 37 stories up it was amazing to watch the thick pluming clouds push, surge and spurt through downtown streets, swirling around corners, billowing ever forward, with thousands of people running to get away. Like a real life monster movie. Dust-zilla ... Dustra ... something like that.

And how's about the People Mover? What was initially termed "cosmetic" damage on Saturday has turned to something decidedly "more than cosmetic."

Not surprising, considering that planners originally discussed covering the track with a steel shell to protect it, but eventually opted for plywood and rubber tires (yeah, uh, right). Maybe the hole in the track is a good place to put that new spur line which will run over to the stadiums and up Woodward?


Speaking of mass transit up Woodward, did anyone else catch the recent public relations slow-pitch to plow a designated bus lane boulevard down the middle of Woodward from New Center to Brush Park?

The concept was hatched by the Greater Downtown Partnership, and involves putting a two-lane, landscaped island in the middle of Woodward, strictly for buses, thereby allowing bus riders to risk life and/or precious limbs by dashing across three lanes of oncoming traffic in order to catch their bus.

Partnership head honcho Larry Marantette emphasized that this is strictly in the conceptual stages, a "vision," if you will, for the future. The lanes would also be adaptable to light rail, as the situation evolves.

Speaking of light rail, I asked Marantette about extending our unique turn-of-the-century trolley system up the boulevard. I received a decidedly less than enthusiastic response, as he trumpeted instead the rubber-tired, billboard-carrying trolley-trucks so common in tourist traps and suburban areas these days (e.g., Royal Oak).

Detroit has nine trolleys, all built around the turn of the century and most originally used in either Portugal or Switzerland, which run from Grand Circus Park to Mariners' Church.

This is something unique to downtown Detroit, something the suburbs don't have, and the kind of thing "world class" cities (which Detroit aspires to be) have in their downtowns ... and we want to replace them with chintzy rubber-tired faux trolley-trucks?

Marantette mentioned that, based on ridership levels, the antique trolleys are not economically feasible (and the People Mover is?).

Maybe that's because so few people even know they exist, let alone function. Perhaps it would help if they had, at least, a schedule posted at their stops. (Where are their stops, anyway?)

Case in point: I tried to call the city transportation department to find out when they run, and was told I needed to call another number, which handles the transportation schedules for all city transit. I was also told that I would have trouble getting through and would need to be persistent.

After slipping into automated voice messaging hell, and eventually passing through five different numbers, I was informed that the trolleys "try to" run every day, every 15 to 18 minutes, depending on weather conditions.

The attendant then asked when I wanted to go, indicating that I could practically get a personal pickup at the Ren Cen if I played my cards right. Otherwise, he told me to go to the station and knock on the window. While such a personal touch is nice, a little more efficient management and well-publicized scheduling along the route would most assuredly increase ridership a few notches and make it a bit more economically feasible, particularly when the new Tiger Stadium/Hard Rock Cafe/entertainment mall/etc. opens.

Why not extend the streetcar line up Woodward through the site of the stadiums? Wouldn't that be a better way to shuttle people from Cobo conventions and Jefferson Avenue hotels to the stadiums and Theater District? Obviously, this is no mass commuter rail, but rather a quaint mode of tourist transportation using a unique resource available only downtown.

Okay everyone, show your support for the trolleys. Go to the Washington Boulevard station and knock on the windows (make sure you have 50 cents exact change). Do it now before these things end up at Greenfield Village and get replaced by suburban trolley trucks. Worse yet, there'll be a ballyhooed Trolley Implosion.

Somebody start a campaign to save 'em ... quick!


Hot tip: Fans of Monster Magnet (performing at the State next Wednesday with Rob Zombie) are advised to head out to, ahem, Jon Jon's Cabaret in Warren on Mound Road. The adult entertainment complex will be holding a super-special meet and greet for the band on Thursday, November 5, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.