From within the Ann Arbor bubble, most
students seem to forget that we are not far from a major
metropolitan area. Comerica Park, State Theatre, Greektown and the
Detroit Institute of Arts are just a few attractions that go
continuously overlooked by University students. It is unfortunate
that the student community, a body that prides itself on a sense of
diversity and cultural sophistication, has failed to take advantage
of a city with such a rich history and unique culture right in its
backyard. While Michigan students mostly are content to wander up
and down State street and South University Avenue, with the
occasional outing to the upper-crust Main Street, very few students
make the commute to Detroit, and even fewer city dwellers venture
to Ann Arbor.

Angela Cesere

While Detroit is often viewed as an economically depressed city,
its financial stigmas and dilapidated roads may not be the only
things keeping outsiders from visiting. As of yet, there is no
practical or cost-effective mass transit system for travel between
the city of Detroit and the surrounding suburbs and localities.
Fortunately, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments’
General Assembly is currently exploring a proposal to develop a
commuter train between Detroit and Ann Arbor — a potentially
efficient means to bridge the geographical chasm between the two
cities. Over the course of an 18-month study, SEMCOG will determine
if the train is both beneficial and feasible for Detroit and its
surrounding suburbs. The proposal has been met with a positive
response; Washtenaw County, Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, and Wayne County
have all shown interest.

While the project’s budget is anything but light, (roughly
$50 million to build and $8.2 million a year to operate), a train
would be highly advantageous to both the Ann Arbor and Detroit
communities. Students could take a break from college-town monotony
and be exposed to a diverse metropolis. At the same time the
project could accelerate economic growth in Detroit. There would
finally be a practical way for student outreach programs to get
into the city, for professors to live downtown and for University
students to spend their time (and money) in the Detroit
metropolitan area. The city would instantly become more accessible
to both students and suburbanites, making it possible for the
once-burgeoning Motown to climb out of its protracted economic
slump. An efficient transportation system has the potential to lift
Detroit back on its feet, in addition to enriching the relatively
secluded lives of University students.

It is however, critical for the SEMCOG committee to remember
that the commuter rail project cannot be a small and piecemeal drop
in the vast mass transit reform bucket. The rail line must be
expansive, and it must run efficiently. The project will not work
if the train runs only a few times a day or stops running early
into the night. If the Ann Arbor Transit Authority is serious about
investing in a commuter train, it must be extremely dependable and
function on a regular schedule. Unlike the inept Amtrak train
system, in which trains are late more often than not, this new
commuter train needs to function affordably and reliably. Only then
will people rely on it to make their concerts, theatre productions
and even work schedules.

If the AATA, in collaboration with SEMCOG, can pull this off, a
commuter train could prove a very positive addition to the Detroit
metropolitan area. It would allow University students to experience
a culturally rich environment, in addition to bringing a
much-needed capital inflow into the city. Imagine if, on a Friday
night, hoards of students regularly hopped on the train and went to
bars, clubs, sporting events and concerts in Detroit. While this
idea may seem far off, it could become feasible if transportation
authorities take the proper initiative.

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