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U.S. Cities Continue to Breakdown Barriers to Opportunity with Reliable Regional Transit

Southeast Michigan lacks a rapid, reliable, transit system connecting its four counties. This contributes to the lack of access to jobs, economic opportunity, education, health, and other services.

Earlier this week, the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan’s master plan was released and a press conference was held at the Mackinac Policy Conference reflecting the widespread support among business and community leaders.

A session titled “Moving Toward a More Equitable Region: Creating Opportunity and Connecting People to Better Regional Transit throughout Southeast Michigan,” continued the conversation showing that a lack of connectivity is not only a Southeast Michigan issue, but a problem that many regions and major cities around the nation have faced and solved through regional transit.

Tracey Nichols, director of economic development for the city of Cleveland, gave a presentation on how Cleveland had two major employment areas that were strong and thriving, but surrounded by weaker areas with no transportation to connect them. To solve this problem the city implemented a transit system, turning a liability into an asset.

“We went from 2.8 million riders to almost doubling that since our transit system opened in 2008,” Nichols stated.

Similar to the QLine that will open in Detroit in the spring of 2017, Nichols discussed the success of Cleveland Health Line’s actual transit vehicle: “It looks like a train, acts like a train and people always refers to it as a train, which is a very good thing.”

An expert on Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems, Beth Osborne, president of Transportation for America Consulting and former acting assistant secretary for transportation policy for the U.S. Department of Transportation, gave an insightful presentation on how big businesses are being attracted to cities that have BRT systems integrated. “Young people today are picky where they want to live, and not many of them drive, so the jobs are moving towards them,” she said.

“Peer-reviewed findings found evidence that BRT systems in the U.S. can generate economic development, attract jobs, retail and affordable housing – if the projects are done right,” Osborne continued.

Michael Ford, CEO of the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan, gave a broad overview of the newly launched Regional Transit Authority master plan.

“When we think about transportation, we have a region that’s not connected and that’s really what we are trying to do with our plan. Its major focus is getting people where they want to go,” Ford explained.

“One other thing I want to make real clear is that 92 percent of jobs are not accessible within 60 minutes of public transportation. It’s 2016 and that statistic is very alarming,” Ford said, adding that the region has not adequately invested in transportation for years.

“This is a plan that really has resonated for people, but this is also about a year-and-a-half of talking to people being out there in the business community and hearing what people have to say and going to meetings to make sure that we have a breadth of a plan that is going to be meaningful to our constituents among the four counties.”

The session was hosted by The Kresge Foundation and moderated by Laura Trudeau, senior advisor to the president of The Kresge Foundation.