Detroit lacks seating at bus stops. More than half of the bus stops in the city are without benches. Sit On It is an effort to fill this void by creating benches out of reclaimed wood from abandoned houses and businesses within the city.
My most recent bus read was the autobiography of OG Detroit activist, Grace Lee Boggs. Come to think of it, it was the bus read before last; I finished Home last week. (I’m currently experiencing some rather extreme Toni Morrison withdrawal and am still carrying it around in my bag.)
Among the many things I learned when reading Ms. Boggs’ book is that this amazing song exists.
I realize that it isn’t December 1st (or February 4th), but I couldn’t wait that long to share this. And really, is it ever a bad time to acknowledge the power and significance of the Montgomery Bus Boycott? Right. Moving on…
“Alabama Bus” was recorded in 1956, at the height of the year(+)-long boycott. The artist, Will Hairston, was a friend of Grace and her husband, James Boggs. Mr. Hairston, also known as “the Hurricane of the Motor City,” was an auto worked and preacher who was deeply involved in the struggle for social justice and economic equality.
Thank you for your contributions, Brother Hairston. And, as always, honor and respect to the Original Bus Chick, Mrs. Rosa Louise McCauley Parks.
Earlier this month, the four of us spent a week in Detroit (aka, my city-in-law), combining a work conference for me with a visit home (including a celebration of his childhood church’s 75th anniversary) for Bus Nerd. Per usual, I spent much of the visit indulging my Rosa Parks obsession, which included dragging everyone (including my Gail, who had actually already been) on a pilgrimage to the recently* completed Rosa Parks Transit Center.
On paper, the RPTC is everything a bus chick could dream of, and in real life, it lives up to the hype—at least, from the perspective of someone who didn’t actually ride any buses to or from it. It has a heated indoor waiting area; real-time arrival info; a booth selling passes, tickets, and et cetera; and (hands down best of all): a bathroom!
As most of you know, Mrs. Parks is one of my idols, for reasons far beyond the (often oversimplified) story of her refusal to give up her bus seat. To be able to bring my children (including my own Rosa) to an amazing public resource dedicated to her memory was an incredibly fulfilling experience.
It was also an incredibly depressing experience.
To say that Detroit’s bus system is in crisis would be an understatement. At one of the conference sessions I attended the day before my visit to the RPTC, I learned that Detroit is 9th in the nation in transit demand–due to the size of the city’s population and the fact that a third of its residents don’t have access to a private vehicle–but 109th in the nation in the service that is deployed to meet that demand. Vehicles are in such disrepair that, on any given day, over a quarter of the buses that should be in service aren’t running. The sytem is out of money** and failing Detroiters by almost every measure. The mayor recently announced that the city is seriously considering outsourcing its management to a private contractor.
So, Detroit has a state-of-the-art, envy-inspiring transit center, and essentially no transit service. Residents (the vast majority of whom are people of color) are regularly missing work, school, and medical appointments; being left stranded at stops at all times of day and night; and enduring unpleasant, overcrowded rides on poorly functioning vehicles.
Anyone who believes, as I do, that basic mobility is a civil right, has to wonder: What would Mrs. Parks think?
*It was officially completed in 2009, which fits my definition of “recently.”
**City buses are operated by DDOT and are paid for out of the general fund. The city is in such dire fiscal straits that it must essentially choose between public safety and basic mobility. The regional bus system (SMART) is also facing major funding challenges.
Fighting a losing battle with metastatic bone cancer, Joe Briscoe has one hope — a miraculous turn in his medical treatment.
But none of that matters, the 62-year-old Detroiter said, if he can’t get to his appointments at St. John Hospital on time because of increasingly tardy buses.
“I sometimes have to wait more than two hours,” Briscoe said during a downpour at his bus stop at Woodward and 7 Mile this week. “I’m missing appointments because the buses have gotten really bad.”
Briscoe is among the roughly one-third of Detroiters who don’t have access to a vehicle, forcing them to rely on public transportation.
Bus tardiness has grown steadily since January, from 28% of the DDOT buses running late to 38% in August.
I haven’t ridden a bus in Detroit in at least four years (though my limited DDOT experience did include at least one hour plus wait). We’re heading back in November, so I guess I’ll have a chance to see for myself.
Back in May, Bus Nerd’s mama (aka my Gail) gave him a subscription to a Detroit city magazine for his birthday. (As you might already know, the man is rather partial to his hometown.) In last month’s issue, there was a profile of an artist who makes replicas of old-school Detroit bus scrolls.
On the old busses and streetcars passengers learned of the various stops by way of signs on destination boxes [which] contained a continuous, two-sided canvas scroll with an alphabetized list of street names. The destination boxes were manually operated by the drivers and operators, using a hand crank.
I sort of hate to admit it, since this will no doubt brand me a “pseudo,”* but we ordered one. (How could we not? Buses + the D + history = goodness x 3.) We chose one that included the name of one of the streets Nerd lived near when he was growing up, so now he has a reminder of home (other than the Vernor’s ginger ale that occupies a full shelf in our refrigerator, that is) out here in the 206. But back to the scroll. Fellow bus chicks, behold:
Of course, being both a transit geek and a history lover, I was immediately compelled to research the specifics of how the scrolls worked. I didn’t learn much about that (MEHVA types: a little help, please?). What I did learn is that having a bus scroll (or, at least, a bus-scroll-like poster) in one’s home is apparently a “thing.” They’re everywhere on the internets—in Etsy shops and on dedicated sites galore. One of these sites encourages visitors to “design your own scroll for that special someone.”
If your special someone is a bus chick, you probably should.
* This is not a term for the bus glossary, since it’s not transit related (or transit inspired). It is, instead, a Saulty special. “Pseudo,” used as a noun in this case, essentially means a pretentious person. (My brother would provide a more colorful description, but I’m hoping you get the point.)
• One Bus Away, the user-friendly version of MyBus, won “Best Use of Technology in the Government, Nonprofit, or Educational Sector” at the Washington Technology Institute Association awards earlier this month.
A fancy tech award is nice and all, but OBA also receives all kinds of love on the streets. If I had a nickel for every time I saw someone using it on a mobile device or hyping it up to a friend… Case in point: My friend (and fellow bus mom) Lily, who started using the app recently, gushed about it during our get-together a couple of weeks ago. “It’s changed my life!” she told me–and she meant it. Now if that ain’t a ringing endorsement…
• And speaking of gushing… Most of you know that I’m a big fan of Undriving Ballard and their fun undriver licensing program. If UB hasn’t made it to your neighborhood yet (or if you missed them when they did) I have some good news: You can now apply for an undriver license online. Love.
On Monday, 2/8, PBS will debut a cool documentary.
Blueprint America: Beyond the Motor City.
[The film] examines how Detroit–battered by the fallout of the automotive industry, and a bleak example of the social/economic failures that occur from having a transportation system that relies so heavily on private automobiles as the primary mode of mobility–may actually lead the way in transforming how the country gets around using public transportation that runs on clean energy.
It airs in Seattle at 10 PM. Check out this clip.
I had the pleasure of watching a preview copy of the film a few weeks ago, and I highly recommend it–both for people who are interested in the future of Detroit and for people who are interested in the future of transportation in this country. I’m interested in both and will definitely be watching (again) on Monday night.
P.S. – Detroit peeps: I heard a rumor that Transportation Riders United is planning to host a Blueprint America viewing party on opening night. Check their website for info.
The Rosa Parks Transit Center opens Tuesday!
From The Detroit Free Press:
Inside, two levels open to the public offer restrooms, a cashier station for bus fares, and information and security booths. … Users will find seating inside as well as four areas the city said will house retail outlets, possibly restaurant, café or newsstand-type stores [.
Outside, under the whimsical, glass-coated fiber canopies, riders may sit on benches and check electronic signs announcing arrival times for buses based on real-time GPS coordinates.
“There aren’t a lot of facilities like this, particularly for buses,” Advani said during a media tour of the center this morning. … “The aim, he said, was an iconic facility that provides “a comfortable, respectful and safe environment” for transit users.
Leave aside for a moment my obsession with Mrs. Parks. The restrooms alone make this transit center worth visiting. (Hey, I’m getting tired of memorizing coffee-shop access codes.) Those of you who make it to the big party (my Gail–ahem!): I’m counting on you to report back.
We’re back from a fun visit to Detroit. I must say, busing with a small child is good practice for riding an airplane with one. Bus Nerd and I are excellent at packing light (haven’t checked a bag yet), and we know how to keep Chicklet entertained on rides.* Chicklet is used to sitting quietly in vehicles full of people and a pro at sleeping on the go. As a result of her training, she was an absolute angel during our travels, including the bus rides to and from the airport.
On to the trip recap:
A good time was had by all. Chicklet got to help her granddad celebrate his birthday (that’s two grandpa birthdays in a little over two weeks) and just generally bond with her Michigan fam; Nerd got to bask in the joy of being in his city (the man loves Detroit at least as much as I love Seattle, and that’s a lot of love); and I got to indulge my secret affinity for candy paint and big wheels (hey–everyone’s got a vice) and enjoy being surrounded by tributes to my shero.
Sadly, I didn’t get a photo of Rosa Parks Boulevard; we didn’t have the camera handy.
We didn’t do much–OK, any–Detroit busing this time, as we were traveling with family (we walked a lot, if that counts), but because we intended to, Bus Nerd spent a little time on DDOT’s website. In the course of his trip planning, he came across these Arabic bus schedules. Cool, no?
And finally, a cool sign across from the area on Belle Isle where we picnicked for my father-in-law’s birthday.
Bus Nerd says it’s a real bus stop. Next time, we’ll ride the bus to Belle Isle so we can actually use it.
* OK, not four-hour rides, but still.
Our bus family spent the weekend (and then some) in Nerd’s hometown of Detroit, Michigan. (Yes, folks, the Motor City managed to grow at least one bus nerd.) We spent some of our visit downtown, checking out the new and improved Riverwalk, eating coneys and enjoying the fountain at Campus Martius Park, and (best of all) visiting the construction site of the soon-to-be-completed Rosa Parks Transit Center.
Here’s what it will look like when it’s finished:
The transit center is planned as a 24-hour multi-modal transfer facility connecting passengers to DDOT, SMART and Transit Windsor Tunnel buses as well as to the Detroit People Mover. It consists of a 25,700 square foot three-level building and a central island with 12 bus bays. The building will host a cashier, retail, DDOT police and passenger seating as well as an AVL system that will show route schedules in real time.
(Source: Model D)
I wouldn’t exactly call what I’m feeling transit envy (I’ll take our bus system over Detroit’s any day), but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to a few pangs–and not just because they get a transit center named after my shero.
24 hours? Indoor waiting area? Retail (which could be used to fund more service)? Must be nice.