By Andrew McGlashen,
Michigan Environmental Council
Roughly 70 people gathered in Royal Oak for the first of the forums. After brief introductions from State Rep. Marie Donigan and Mayor Jim Ellison, attendees broke into groups of about 10 to 12. They used stickers to indicate on large Michigan maps where they live and a few places where they’d like to be able to travel by rail, and drew lines to connect those dots.
The maps that emerged were in many ways strikingly similar. Most of them featured railroads running east-west across the Upper Peninsula, and from Detroit’s suburbs to the city center, Traverse City, Lansing, Ann Arbor and West Michigan’s biggest cities.
Some maps also featured service to less obvious stops on the sunrise side of the state, including Port Huron, Caseville and Alpena. Nearly all of them included service to Chicago, but several attendees stressed the need for tracks to Cleveland, New York City and other points east, and said current options for eastbound travelers are unsatisfactory and inconvenient.
Following the mapping session, participants got a chance to pose their questions and concerns to representatives of the Michigan Environmental Council, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments and the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers. Among the themes that recurred throughout the evening were:
· An emphasis on connectivity – participants wanted to move easily between their hometowns, places of employment, family members’ homes and vacation spots.
· A feeling of being behind the times – people want the modern transportation options available in other major cities. They can’t take a train to nearby Metro Airport; they can’t hop a train for a weekend of skiing up north like New Yorkers can; they can’t take their bicycle on a train without disassembling it.
· Frustration with the slow pace of rail development in Michigan and the difficulty of funding an improved transportation system.
The series of forums will continue to offer Michigan residents a chance to voice their opinions and concerns about Michigan’s rail plan. Check the events tab to find the dates and locations of upcoming meetings.