Detroit is America’s eleventh-largest urban area and (unless you count the insipid people mover) the largest without rail transit. So, naturally, the city suffers from light-rail envy. In 2008, the mayor promised a Detroit-to-Ann Arbor commuter train by October 25, 2010–a promise that, since then, has been deferred indefinitely.
The city also wants to build a light-rail line up Woodward Avenue (home of the Woodward Dream Cruise in which people show off classic cars). This leads the Antiplanner’s faithful allies at the Reason Foundation to ask: Why?
The city is falling apart. Huge swaths have been largely abandoned. People lack many essential services. Yet the city thinks it can fix these problems by spending half a billion dollars on a light-rail line.
Of course, to the extent that Detroit leaders are not just engaging in crony capitalism, they probably base their expectations that rail will help revitalize the city on Portland. But many of the same problems can be found in Portland. A dismal 53 percent of Portland Public School high school students graduate in four years. This is relevant in Portland, where city officials think nothing of stealing money from schools in the form of tax-increment financing in order to build light rail.
Detroit’s problems are far worse than Portland’s–according to one measure, only a quarter of the city’s high-school students graduate in four years. Those problems will not be solved by pouring money
down a rat hole into light rail.