Public Transport: Detroit vs. London
Recently, me and my mom visited cousins in the city of London. England, not Ontario. This may appear as a misleading introduction, but stay with me. This was a very unique trip for me as I got to experience what life was like in Great Britain. When we finally left the long customs line, we walked over to the pickups area, where we met the aforementioned cousins. It was an aunt and uncle with two kids, my 5-year-old cousin and my baby cousin brother. I did not have many memories attached with them yet but mom, of course, jumped right to it. Walking to the car and driving home, they were talking amongst themselves while I stared in wonder at the terrain and countryside off the highway. The landscape was ever similar to that of the Appalachian Mountains along America’s east coast.
We arrived in mid-day and had taken a nap. Later, we went outside to see the nearby city park. They considered it average, but from my perspective, it was huge. The park was called Danson Park, and in the middle of a grassy area was a very tall and tangled tree, which we later discovered was the founder’s tree of the borough of Bexley. It was over 200 years old. It even had a fence to protect its delicate rootwork. This was one example of how the city has cherished nature, and made many efforts to “go green.”
The next day, we all headed downtown. We took the train and, for the first time, I could appreciate the expanse of public transport in the London region. In Detroit, there is decent public transportation in the downtown area with the monorail and Qline, but not so much in the suburbs. Think about it – most suburban people want to head downtown or that general direction for work. Take for example my father, who has a 45 minute commute to Dearborn every day. The travel is not very reliable due to weather and traffic conditions. In London, there was always a train every 30 minutes to Charing Cross in downtown. It was fast and reliable, as there isn’t much traffic on railroads, because it’s all planned out. The reason Amtrak is sometimes delayed is that most of the tracks that passenger trains traverse are owned by cargo transport companies, and those companies give their cargo trains priority. This means passenger trains often have to wait for those trains to pass.
Getting in and out of trains, buses, and underground stations was standardized as the only company that maintained public transport in the area was TFL, Transport for London. One could acquire an Oyster card, which one could tap on a pad to easily get in and out of transport services. I might as well take this moment to say that the only methods of transport that use oil, fuel, and diesel in London are the buses and ferries. All trains and subways are electrically powered, and super quiet (the trains anyway.)
One thing I like about bus stations is that buses don’t stop at every station, only ones that have people waiting in them or that are requested to stop at by pressing the red button on a yellow handle bar. Also, there are certain stops that are shared by TFL with tourism bus companies, like Big Bus. These stations are very well integrated. Instead of having a hard-to-see second post made for a tourist bus stop, the stops are written down on the same post right below where the TFL stop name is. Big Bus has 3 lines, red, blue, and green, and bus stop posts tell you what line Big Bus line it is for in addition to the city bus line. Ideas like these are always in mind in U.S. cities, but not as widespread.
On the 4th day of our stay, we had gone to a friend’s house in a southern suburb. In order to get there, we had taken the train to Waterloo East and boarded a subway on the Northern line that terminated at Morden and rode it all the way down. This was a good example of how one always goes through downtown to get places. One may ask, “Why not build a loop train or subway that followed the orbital road, and circled the city?” This is a feasible idea, but it is much smarter to concentrate pedestrian traffic where it is meant to be handled, and where most of it needs to go. That’s right, most people are getting to and from downtown, not to a friend’s house elsewhere in the suburbs.
Another example of this was unfortunately our very last, when we had taken the train to London Bridge and boarded another that went to Brighton on the south coast–and got off at the airport. From entering the station at, we technically never stepped into rain until we got off the plane in Toronto. In fact, the station at the airport was directly connected, and we never got wet changing trains at London Bridge. This goes to show just how easy it is to get around in London.
When we were at our cousin’s house near Dartford, we were less than 25 meters from the bus stop, which had day buses to North Greenwich every 3 minutes. Now I must ask – from where you are right now, how long would it take you to get downtown without using a car? If the answer is “It’s impossible without a very long walk,” then I suggest we do something about it. One living in New York who lives near a subway station has an infinitely better chance at life than one who lives away from a station, because he/she has access to the whole city, and the whole city’s jobs.
Detroit was always car intensive, clearly deserving the name “the Motor City,” ever since Ford had started mass producing cars for everyone. The cars were family focused and affordable. The growth of Detroit’s automotive industry made public transport popularity slightly decrease in the area. One can still see those effects and how it slowed public transport development today.
The city’s residents now have access to multiple ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft. In Downtown there is also a growing interest in bike sharing. Public transport in Detroit appears to be focused more on on-demand mobility, like how some Smart bus routes are on-demand. It is a new trend in public transport. It is important for a city to hop on this trend to not be left out and fall behind.
After coming out of bankruptcy, Detroit is taking a turn for the better in many ways, but not quite as much in the area of public transport. For the city to bounce back, it needs to focus on providing mobility options to everyone. Everyone deserves to be able to travel to various parts of the city and suburbs for work or recreation. This can help businesses flourish and improve the economy. As compared to London, Detroit’s public transport system has far to go. We need to change things and make it better for everyone — and that’s what I want to be a part of.
~Not so Random Facts~
1) Détroit is French for strait, and the city was originally a French fort in 1701 called le détroit du lac Érié, the strait of lake Erie.
2) The first 4-directional 3-colored traffic light was implemented in Detroit in 1920 by Police officer William Potts.
3) The above traffic light was placed on the first paved street in the country, Woodward Avenue, which was paved in 1916 between downtown and Pontiac.
4) M-8, or the Davison freeway, was the first urban highway in the States. It is a sunken highway today, and was rebuilt during world war 2.
5) Back at the start of 2018, Amazon had ruled out Detroit as a city for their new headquarters. A major role in their decision was the regional transport, and how it would make it hard for workers to get to and from office.
All three photos were taken by me.