How could Michigan towns better promote their public transit?

Popular cities in SE Michigan, from Ferndale to Detroit, are building multi-million dollar parking decks for visitors and residents. This is a quick fix for visitors but what about utilizing existing local bus service to help move residents around? What steps could local governments take to promote transit? Should it be their job to promote it or is it the job of transit companies?

Rochester, MI. A traditional Midwest downtown.

When Michigan residents want an authentic downtown experience they drive to older traditional towns like Rochester, Birmingham, Royal Oak, Clawson or Ferndale just to name a few. As hundreds of cars converge on these small towns, they all face the same problem: parking shortages. These towns were originally designed to get around by horse or on foot. As driving became the primary mode of transportation, cities had to find places for everyone to park. Urban renewal, an effort to revitalize urban cores by knocking down old housing and businesses, took hold until the 1970’s. Often there was not a new development planned so these empty lots became parking lots and were never built upon.

Large parking lots visible behind Ferndale’s main street (9 Mile Road)

City governments and private companies have spent millions on parking garages and parking decks to keep up with the demand and encourage more business. This demand is fueled by both visitors, who come to town for shopping, unique restaurants and events, and by local residents who drive out of convenience or because they don’t know of another option.

Downtown Ferndale at night

Ferndale, for example, has seen a steady increase of visitors and residents over the past decade. Downtown parking lots are full most weeknights and especially on weekends and during events. Ferndale hosts about 20 events a year which brings hundreds of extra cars to downtown and surrounding residential streets. The city is dealing with its parking shortage in a number of ways from creating residential permit only parking zones on surrounding residential streets to building a new 4 story parking deck one street south of 9 Mile for $20 million. The parking deck, built for more than just festivals, will feature first floor retail and be a boost to downtown businesses.

New parking deck to be constructed at Troy.

What concerns me is that downtown Ferndale is about to get even more traffic. A 130 unit development is underway at just west of downtown called Ferndale Haus as well as a 127 unit apartment project called 409 on the 9 just east of downtown. Over 100 residential units are coming to the south side of Ferndale bringing a minimum of 350 to 700 additional cars to the area. Between all of this additional traffic and losing over 130 parking spaces during parking deck construction, how is the city planning to alleviate traffic? What if they decided to promoted local transit?

Ferndale is a long time supporter of transit from its “Art in SMART” program, which included decorating the bus stop above, and custom benches however, after looking up the city and DDA websites I could only find parking information. So what buses run through Ferndale?

SMART’s new FAST bus service on Woodward, Gratiot and Michigan Ave.

Ferndale is served by several SMART buses along Woodward and one on 9 Mile.

  • #710–9 Mile runs between Telegraph and Mack Ave seven days a week. It connects St. Claire Shores, Roseville, Eastpointe, Warren, Hazel Park, Ferndale, Oak Park and Southfield.
  • #450/460 — Woodward Local runs between the Phoenix Center and 8 Mile and to downtown Detroit during peak times only. #460 swings through Royal Oak until past 2am making it a useful for the bar!
  • #461/462 — FAST Woodward is a regional service that makes limited stops and has free Wifi. #461 runs between downtown Detroit ( and Somerset every 30 minutes. #462 runs between downtown Detroit and Pontiac Phoenix Center every 30 minutes. The two routes overlap every 15 minutes from Maple road to downtown for frequent service.

FAST service stops conveniently at Grand Circus Park making for an easy walk to all stadiums, concert venues and transfers to other transit systems. FAST buses circle the financial district on Larned and Jefferson for transfers to FAST Gratiot with stops at Eastern Market, Macomb Mall, Mt Clemens and Chesterfield as well as FAST Michigan with stops at Corktown, Dearborn and DTW Airport.

Shown are the bus routes that serve Ferndale. Residents are never more than 1/2 mile from bus service.

How can cities promote their bus routes more?

The first thing to do is to add easy to find transit info on city websites and mention it when promoting events on social media. Cities could even give out bus passes to new residents and encourage downtown events to include transit info on their event pages. Local businesses could even give discounts to bus riders who bring in a transfer stub. These are a just few easy ways to create a bus culture in a city. Bus transit enables more people to visit a downtown than it has parking capacity for.

“Bus transit enables more people to visit a downtown than it has parking capacity for.”

So why don’t more cities do this? Perhaps the government officials in the inner ring suburbs don’t know where the nearby transit goes because they don’t ride it. That’s where groups like TRU (Transportation Riders United) come in. They give hundreds of talks throughout the year for businesses, service groups and governments. Their latest program, “Let’s Talk Transit” is aimed at educating people about the transit in their area and they’re looking for groups to present to.

“Perhaps the government officials in the inner ring suburbs don’t know where the nearby transit goes because they don’t ride it.”

The future of transit is multi-modal

Autonomous shuttles are coming!

In the future one of transit’s biggest hurdles, first mile/last mile connections, will be solved by autonomous vehicles. Uber has proven to be popular with people who want door to door service, something buses can not do. That’s where Autonomous shuttles, like the one pictured above, come into play. They will prove useful in getting residents connected to local transit and to central shopping districts.

What other cities have useful transit running through them? A lot of them! Royal Oak, Birmingham, Berkley, Hazel Park, Warren, Madison Heights… I could go on but here’s a link: SMART services by community.

Avid transit blogger from Metro Detroit.