Once upon a time when the El Moore was young, people walked to and fro in the surrounding neighborhood streets. The El Moore was in the heart of what was, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, one of the more fashionable neighborhoods in the entire city. Old photos show plenty of cars motoring back and forth on the streets around the Cass Corridor but there are also wide sidewalks made for walking and strolling.
Today, one of the things Detroiters like the most about Midtown (formerly the Cass Corridor) is its walkability. There aren’t many areas of the city where residents and visitors alike can feel comfortable going out for a nice long stroll. Detroit is a city built for and by the automobile, and sometimes it seems as if the inability to comfortably and efficiently travel in and around the city without a car is Detroit’s way of reminding you of that fact. Motown is short for Motor Town, which means a town built by motor cars. Heck, even when South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela made his historic visit to Detroit after his release from prison, he greeted Detroiters by saying, “Hello Motortown!”
So we get it. We do. As the old saying goes, you gotta dance with the one that brung ya. And the car (and music) is what brung Detroit.
But as Detroit grows and somewhat grudgingly adapts to the changing expectations of a changing local population, and a changing outside world as well, Detroit is learning how much people sometimes like to walk to where they’re going. The huge popularity of the Detroit Riverwalk has made this desire glaringly apparent, as has Midtown. But as much as walkability has drawn attention as a magnetic urban draw, this hardly replaces the need for better public transportation. Perhaps no one in the entire State of Michigan can talk with more authority about what it is like to walk everywhere than Detroit’s now world-renowned walking man James Robertson who gained notoriety for having to walk more than 20 miles from Detroit to his job in the suburbs round trip every working day of the week. But the walking man also made it plain that it would have been nice to have had access to the kind of public transportation that would have gotten him there. From MLive.com:
The future of public transportation in metro Detroit is at a critical moment. [Regional Transit Authority head Michael]Ford is racing to build the foundation of a better transit system in Metro Detroit, while also building enthusiasm for an anticipated millage vote on the November, 2016 ballot for residents of Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties. …The lack of good public transportation – critical for Detroiters for everything from getting to college classes to grocery stores to jobs – hobbles economic growth in a city where at least one third of residents don’t own a vehicle.
As much as people in this neighborhood enjoy walking to and fro, there are other places that they frequent besides Midtown, or that they just plain need to go. Walkability and good public transportation should go hand in hand. We had good public transportation once, and no doubt there were people who enjoyed walking then too. There is no reason why this can’t happen again.
It’s what’s good for all of us.