The train to Comerica Park is a hit. The tickets sold out in one
weekend. Four trains from Oakland County to Downtown Detroit may not
seem momentous but it shows how mass transit adds something very
special to the life of a city.
What's so special about mass
transit? It brings people together. Mass transit promotes community. It
helps create cities that are efficient, exciting and dense. It promotes
social interaction and the development of a culture that is comfortable
with diversity. The car is an efficient tool. It conveniently gets us
from here to there but the car is all about the individual. There is no
doubt: The car promotes isolation, while the train promotes society.
a car is like eating dinner alone at home in front of the TV. We all do
it, but it's not exactly a rich and fulfilling experience. The train is
like going to your local diner. Someone else fixes the meal and cleans
up. You can laugh with the waitress, listen to your neighbors talk,
people watch. It's an experience full of life.
The trains to
Comerica Park are, no doubt, party trains, especially if the Tigers
win. We can't expect our mass transit to always be like that, but even
in its everyday form, the train is about community. It is about being
Several weeks ago we took Amtrak's Wolverine
Express from Royal Oak to Chicago. Yes, the train actually runs every
day, twice a day, in both directions. Rolling luggage in tow, we walked
the seven blocks from our house to the Royal Oak station, boarded the
train with about 15 other riders and left promptly at 7 am. We saw some
wonderful scenery on the way. The view from the train is fascinating.
the freeway, train tracks follow the back roads. You see the underside
of cities. It's not always pretty but it is interesting. The Wolverine
express originates in Pontiac and stops briefly in Royal Oak,
Birmingham, Detroit's New Center Station, Dearborn, Ann Arbor, Jackson,
Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, Albion and Michigan City, Indiana. (Check
Amtrak for current schedule and stops.) Six hours after boarding in
Royal Oak we stepped into Chicago's Union Station rested and ready to
walk the city.
But that's not the whole story. It's not just
about getting there. During those six hours of train travel wonderful
things happened. We talked to other passengers. The dining car
attendant joked. We laughed, had some coffee and lunch and read the
paper. After a very hectic weekend of sightseeing we boarded the train
for home and slept most of the way back. It was a rich experience and
by far the best way to travel from Detroit to Chicago. If you haven't
done it, give it a try.
In-town trains, subways and elevated
trains like the People Mover offer similar benefits. You make eye
contact, talk, and offer someone your seat. You experience your
surroundings directly. You meet neighbors and strangers and your life
is enriched. Your world is enlarged and your community strengthened.
is ingrained in our national character. It's part of what makes this
country great, but we need to balance that stoic strain with a greater
sense of sharing. We are best when we are together. We are weakest when
we are alone. The train promotes togetherness.
The car caters
to the individual. It is fast and convenient. It is an important part
of our history and our future. But there should be transportation
options to suit many lifestyles. We need a way around the
bumper-to-bumper traffic, high gas prices, high parking prices and high
Most importantly, we need a way for our
community to become closer and more vital. A train can help. Good mass
transit can carry us into a brighter and more diverse future.
Architect Francis X. Arvan is a native metro Detroiter and a graduate of Lawrence Technological University and Columbia's Graduate School of Architecture. He's practiced architecture in New York City and Westchester County, and taught architecture at New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark. He established his firm, Royal Oak-based FX Architecture, in 2000.
Interior of the Wolverine Express
The Wolverine Express at the New Center Station
The New Center Amtrak Station
All Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger