Warning! Don’t park on the QLine tracks

Warning! Don’t park on the QLine tracks
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Snow covered everything in sight. I drove around looking for a parking place and found one right in front of the Detroit Institute of Arts. Looked safe enough, cars were parked up and down Woodward. I was sufficiently passed the crosswalk and fire hydrant. I smiled with smugness as I climbed the steps to the bronze entry doors.

I arrived at the Detroit Film Theater in the nick of time and watched singers in Kresge Court and lingered over a latte. It was a perfect Sunday afternoon – until I went to find my car and found every vehicle on the street had vanished.

“Must be towed,” I said, stewing. No robber would make that clean of a sweep.

A friend offered me a ride home while I cursed my stupidity. I’d parked on the rails for the QLine Detroit, never even thinking about the streetcar that could have turned my VW Jetta into an accordion.

Tears gushed down my eyes as I suffered the suburban lament. I wasn’t in Midtown enough to get to know the QLine and snow covered that section of tracks.

Maybe the first offense ought to be free, or reasonable, given what a novel concept this train represents.

It’s been 61 years since streetcars operated daily on Detroit streets.

Detroit is a city of car people. We’ve had the unsung “honor” of being the largest American city without some form of commuter rail service.

I’ve inline skated, bicycled and walked Woodward a zillion times over the years. I rode the red trolley that went from the Renaissance Center to Grand Circus Park in the day. Somehow I missed a chance to ride the train.

When I think streetcars, I think of Rice-A-Roni and San Francisco and pictures of men in straw hats stuffed into streetcars fill the history books.

Early streetcars in Detroit
Photo courtesy of the Royal Oak Historical Museum

Detroit’s long history of streetcars began in the 1860s with horse drawn cars and ground to a halt in April 1956. The car population surged, unimpeded by cheap mass transit. To make way for these cars, perfectly sustainable buildings were torn down and paved into parking lots.

Congestion prompted numerous people to seek houses in the suburbs with bigger garages for the four- and five-car families. Some saw the city as obsolete.

Then came the action crew made up of private businesses, philanthropic organizations, in partnership with local government, the State of Michigan, and U.S. Department of Transportation. They raised the dollars needed for the streetcar project.

The QLine was born.

It’s is catching on. In its first week of operations, the QLine had nearly 50,000 riders, averaging more than 7,140 riders daily, according to its website. That’s when it was free. Media reports estimate the number dropped to around 3,000 a day after that.

None of those riders wants to be derailed by a car. But who wants to lose their car?

I’m home pacing the floors.

Late Sunday evening the mayor’s press secretary, John Roach, a former neighbor, tracked down my car to Bbk Towing & Recovery on Trombly in an old industrial district. $230 would pay the police fee, towing fee and impoundment.

The clerk at Bbk says a dozen or so cars have been towed to this shop just east of Russell Street to clear the QLine. I wish I wasn’t among them. Tow companies hold a lot of sway. People have to pay in cash, no installments.

I share the hope the QLine will spur new development all along Woodward and help fill in and overcome six decades of population loss and disinvestment. Researchers know millennials want to work in cities with good transit, like New York, Boston or Chicago. A snazzy train is just the right lure for Detroit as the comeback city.

Can we, as a region, embrace mass transit as a lifestyle?

Transportation Riders United writes RTA Board Chair Paul Hillegonds, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel and Oakland County Executive Brooks Patterson told area media they are close to an agreement to place regional transit funding back on the ballot in 2018.

“The latest comments suggest we may hear as early as January how they’ve agreed to modify the transit plan and put it back on the ballot for November of 2018,” the group says.

It would be great to have regional transit as an option for people like me to get to and from downtown without an automobile, saving gas and gridlock.

In the meantime, can we keep up a public information campaign to let people the streetcar rules so we know even if the snow covers the tracks we can’t part there?

Should I start a gofundme.com campaign for clueless suburbanites? I’ll call it “All Aboard.”

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