Detroit Metro

The latest version of my Detroit Metro fantasy map: a comprehensive rapid transit system for the tri-county area of southeastern Michigan plus Essex County, Ontario. Updated July 22, 2014.

Detroit Metro Map

I’d like to emphasize that this is a fantasy map. I’ve made it for my own enjoyment, as a fun what-if, and as a different way to view the city. I love the fact that a good transit map makes an area instantly accessible and, to some degree, instantly recognizable. It’d be a huge improvement to the region if such a thing existed, but I’m not arguing that a system like this is Detroit’s current primary need, that it would be easy or cheap to build, or that it would “save” the city.

With that out of the way, here’s how it came about.


My first attempt at a Detroit rapid transit map was based on a specific historical what-if: what if Detroit had built a metro system during the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Atlanta, Washington, DC, and the Bay Area were building MARTA, Metro, and BART respectively? The new map is more expansive, and it’s more of a best case or dream scenario. Since the 1980s, Los Angeles has made a major effort to build a modern rapid transit system, going from nothing to about 90 miles of track in less than 25 years with much more still to come thanks to Measure R. What if the Detroit region were able to take a similar course?

What I ended up with is surely deserving of the title “fantasy map.” The Detroit Metro is a system comprised of 155 miles of track and 119 stations. This compares to the 90 miles of track and counting in LA, 129 miles with 97 stations in Washington once the new Silver Line is completed in 2018, and about 220 miles of track with 145 stations in Chicago. The circumferential St. Clair line is a big contributor and the main layout difference from my earlier map, adding nearly 40 miles of track on its own. If your fantasy maps need to have stricter limits to be enjoyable for their plausibility, just imagine the map without it.

Line Layout and Locations

Downtown and environs

Downtown and environs

I started by plotting out the main arterial routes along Detroit’s distinctive “spoke” roads that emanate from downtown. Those include Woodward, Fort, Gratiot, Michigan, and Grand River. Only Grand River was left out as a route on this map, though there are two stations that fall along that road.

Woodward Avenue was the obvious choice for the first line, and indeed the original 9.3-mile M-1 light rail plan would have been the Campus Martius to Gateway section of the dark blue Woodward Line here. It turns out Jefferson once through downtown in order to connect the Woodward corridor to the riverfront and Belle Isle. The second line was another fairly obvious choice: one running under Michigan Avenue and then down Telegraph Road/I-94 out to the airport. From the airport, the red Michigan Line passes through Dearborn, Corktown, and then has two more stops in the downtown core before joining the Woodward Line service along Jefferson.

The green Cadillac Line runs up Gratiot on the east side and down Fort Street to the southwest, connecting vast areas of the city and suburbs along 32 miles from Mt. Clemens to Southgate. Along with the Woodward and Michigan lines, this one forms the basic outline of the system and covers the major transit routes highlighted in most official planning documents that I’ve seen.

That’s it for the radial “spoke” roads. The remaining lines fill in some of the gaps.

First, the yellow Ambassador Line runs as a complement to the Woodward line that crosses over into Canada, with a customs checkpoint at Riverside in Windsor and at Cobo Center in Detroit. In Oakland County it splits for Troy, but otherwise shares the majority of its length with the Woodward Line. Second, the light blue Ford Line connects the northern suburbs of Sterling Heights and Warren with Hamtramck and New Center via Van Dyke road before heading south along I94 to join the Michigan Line.

Third is the purple St. Clair Line, which connects all of the other lines in Michigan to one another and vastly increases the usefulness of the system to those living in the suburbs. This may be the most “fantasy” line of all; it would be very long and very costly. This line runs along 11 Mile Road / I696 in the north from the lakeshore to Royal Oak before traversing western Detroit and the southwestern suburbs along Southfield Road/Freeway.

Finally, the pink Ontario Line serves the city of Windsor with seven additional stops, running along Wyandotte, Ouelette, Tecumseh, and Walker and interchanging with the Ambassador Line downtown. I just couldn’t resist an international metro system.


Service and stations in Oakland County

Service and stations in Oakland County

The stations were plotted at major locations and intersections, going from approximately 1/3 to 2/3-mile intervals in the densest part of downtown to much longer one- or two-mile intervals in the far suburbs. Some areas that appear totally abandoned don’t have stations and leave long geographic gaps, while a couple were put in optimistically when it seemed the gaps were intolerably long. This happened mostly on the Cadillac line on Detroit’s east side.

Parking was added where it seemed like there were relatively convenient highway connections for commuters and some open space existed to build parking without damaging a town center or urban space.  I also marked out the intercity rail connections so that people could see how to use this system to get to trains toward Chicago and Toronto, along with service icons for Amtrak and Via Rail in the US and Canada, respectively.

Belle Isle and riverfront park areas like the Riverwalk are shaded green in order to draw attention.

The Windsor side of the river

The Windsor side of the river

In terms of operations, Campus Martius would clearly be the major hub with New Center and Royal Oak close behind. Ideally, the Ambassador Line and Cadillac Line wouldn’t share track between Campus Martius and Cobo Center, freeing capacity along the entire Cadillac Line. As stated, customs checkpoints would be built at Cobo and Riverfront, which means passengers would have to exit their train at those stations before reboarding on another platform. I also put what I felt to be reasonable running hours in the bottom right; one of the best things about good public transit is a late night out on the weekend with no worries about driving.

I tried to keep station names short and sweet while choosing something more memorable than the crossing road if possible. I had to invent some and they may have no relation to the actual name of the area. I’m not from Detroit, and I’m open to suggestions if some of these places have established neighborhood names. With others, though, it was a conscious effort to distinguish the stations. For example, Gateway (Pontiac/Ambassador), Cathedral (Ford), and Mohican Triangle (Cadillac) are all on 8 Mile Road, so using the crossing street would be a particularly ineffective way of naming these stops.

I wasn’t able to come up with a great unique name for the system, so it just remains the Detroit Metro. Easy enough. The lines all have some functional connotation except for the Cadillac Line, and are of course evocative of the Great Lakes and the auto industry.

Software and Design

Key Detail

Key Detail

The whole thing was done in CorelDraw X6. This is the first time I’ve worked with vector graphics software, so there was a bit of a learning curve and I’ve gone through a number of stylistic iterations. I also used Google Maps to plot out the station and line locations.

I finally settled on a rounded style throughout. Circles and pills for the stations, operating hour diagram, parking icons etc., and then filleted lines for the routes and intercity tracks. The font used is Segoe.

And Finally…

I love transit maps and had a great time planning out and making this one. If you have any ideas for improving it, feel free to give me feedback below this post.

As a final comment, I think the comparison with Los Angeles that I made earlier is instructive. If Detroit can ever get back on sound financial footing, the southeast Michigan region must consider alternatives to the highway-only model if it wants to grow again and become a place attractive to Americans with choices of where to live. So, if there’s a deeper meaning to this project, it’s helping people visualize what “real” rapid transit would normally look like in a region of more than 4 million people. I’m under no illusions about how easily such a thing could be achieved, but given sustained political support and dedicated funding, the people of southeast Michigan could choose to make this fantasy – or something like it – a reality.

29 Responses

  1. John Turner January 29, 2014 / 8:48 pm

    Would love to see this come to life. I think it would also be beneficial to have a route running along 96 out towards Plymouth/Northville/Novi. Maybe have a circular loop from Dearborn to Novi then connecting across 696 back to Royal Oak. I know you were going based upon existing tracks, and I believe around 96&Sfld there are tracks heading out in that direction.

    Just a thought – love the concept.

    • Jackson January 30, 2014 / 4:14 am

      Hi John, thanks for the comment and glad you liked the map. I hadn’t actually considered the railroad corridor you mention but I see it now. I like it – maybe for a future revision! As I mentioned in the post re: Grand River, I was conscious that I missed some sort of route to the Novi area.

  2. Sarah K. January 29, 2014 / 10:00 pm

    One suggestion: If the A line veered away from the W line earlier (like at the hub for Royal Oak), it could get closer to downtown Royal Oak (which is at 11 Mile and Main Street).

    • Jackson January 30, 2014 / 4:22 am

      You bring up a good point and I really struggled with where the Woodward line should actually run. Royal Oak is tough because the downtown is far enough off of Woodward that you’d have to divert the transit route from the main drag for the stop to be useful. But I hadn’t thought of splitting the A line earlier which would make a lot of sense too. Maybe a W stop for the Zoo / S interchange and then a separate A stop for downtown Royal Oak before sending it up Main/Livernois to Big Beaver?

      • Gillian January 31, 2014 / 4:36 pm

        That’s exactly the question that the Woodward Alternatives Analysis, which is happening right now, is trying to answer. They’ve put forth a couple options for Royal Oak and a few other spots where it might make sense for a transit line to diverge from Woodward.

        This analysis is the first step toward getting a full transit line from Detroit to Pontiac, so there’s your first spoke on its way to reality!

        • Jackson January 31, 2014 / 5:01 pm

          Thanks for the sharing the link, Gillian. I hope this plan come to fruition. Bus Rapid Transit can mean a lot of different things, but if it’s done to a high standard on Woodward (or just off it!) it will be a great start on rapid transit for the area.

  3. Dan January 29, 2014 / 11:50 pm

    I’m glad that nostalgic former/current citizens aren’t the only ones enamoured with the potential that detroit still retains to be a relevant city and a vibrant place to live. Your dream is a part of my, and many others.

    • Jackson January 30, 2014 / 4:56 am

      The rise and fall of Detroit and the auto industry has a pull on the imagination that few cities can match, but what stunned me as an outsider once I started looking is that beyond that story there’s such a depth of beauty, history, and culture to build on. If this map helps anyone else see the potential in Detroit then it’s been more than worth the effort.

  4. Brian January 30, 2014 / 1:56 am

    Great layout and certainly a concept that has been talked about for well over 30 years by my friends and family. It would be fantastic if Metro Detroit took this idea/discussion as a reality and ran with it in making it happen. This type of metro mass transit is what makes me enjoy visiting other major metropolitan cities. Nice work and thanks for sharing your hobby…

    • Jackson January 30, 2014 / 5:16 am

      Thanks, Brian. I’m glad to share. Living in the Washington, DC area and witnessing the transformation that has followed many of the Metro lines here (built in the 1970s-1990s) makes me believe that transit could be a contributor to a rebound in southeast Michigan. It’s about choosing to purposefully build the kinds of cities people want to visit and live in.

  5. Patty January 30, 2014 / 5:51 pm

    You put so much thought into, and you don’t even live here. Building this would create so many needed jobs in the area. This would be a dream come true. Thank you!

  6. Patty January 30, 2014 / 9:17 pm

    Maybe have either the F line or the M line veer towards Plymouth/Novi/Northville instead of both F & M going to DTW? And extend to Ann Arbor.

    • Jackson January 31, 2014 / 4:23 am

      Plymouth/Novi/Farmington etc. is definitely the missing piece on this map. Thanks for the suggestions!

  7. tigerkite February 3, 2014 / 10:31 pm

    The stops I’d add to the Cadillac Line would be The Cabbage Patch, The Village and The Hill in the Pointes. Then I would divert over to Mack and Moross. Those four would cover the most visited areas in the Pointes, especially The Village, since it has the closest East-Side Trader Joe’s and a Kroger’s.

  8. Randy February 4, 2014 / 4:09 am

    Since we are dealing with fantasy:

    Your map already extends two lines to DTW. It seems a shame to just stop there, rather than continuing one of them to downtown Ann Arbor. There’s a lot of commuter traffic to Ann Arbor on weekdays, and tourist traffic during touristy times.

    In the other direction, I think it would be good to extend the Ontario line (via light rail) either south to Amherstburg (possibly sharing existing track near Jackson Park, with, or southeast to Kingsville or Leamington. As you can tell from the recent widening of highway 3, people commute from out in the county to Windsor either for work or for essential services like the hospital. And people make the reverse trip for things like touring wine country (safer if you don’t have to drive).

    Regarding “East Tecumseh”, that station may be on Tecumseh Rd E, but that road extends about 10 km further east into the north and east part of the town of Tecumseh. Anyone expecting to end up in “East Tecumseh” would be surprised to find themselves still in Windsor.

    By connecting the “City Centre” (which I assume means somewhere near the downtown Windsor Transit/Greyhound depot), and Windsor’s Via Rail station, and YQG, you’d be accomplishing what our city council told us there were going to do: create a clear link between these three key modes of transportation.

    • Jackson February 4, 2014 / 8:40 am

      Hi Randy, thanks for your thoughts. For most of the farther extensions (Ann Arbor, Leamington etc.) I thought it better to leave those to dedicated commuter rail instead of urban metro/rapid transit. But the map definitely has aspects of a commuter system, and if this were anything more than fantasy those destinations would be worth looking at. They’ve talked about running bus rapid transit from downtown Detroit to Ann Arbor in the latest SEMCOG proposals.

      Re: “East Tecumseh”, thanks for the heads up! Any suggestions on a better name?

      I envisioned City Centre closer to Ouelette and Wyandotte since I wanted the east-west segments to run along Wyandotte. That’d make my Riverside station (at Riverside, Pitt, or Chatham) the closest to the bus terminal. I also considered having the Wyandotte segments on the O or A lines go along University instead, which would have put the main transfer point closer to downtown and the bus depot, but Wyandotte just looked like the busier street and transit route.

  9. Ramiere February 4, 2014 / 4:13 pm

    I would love to see the People Mover represented in some way on the map. Maybe have the northern part of the circle extend further north to hit Temple St. instead of Grand Circus? (this would be the station for the new Red Wings Arena proposed for the area).

  10. Joe Donovan February 22, 2014 / 3:53 pm

    Hi Jackson….

    Congrats on a very good-looking comprehensive transit vision. I regard transit as an anti-poverty device, enabling people in depressed areas to easily get to where the jobs are. When they spend their earnings near home, they create economic opportunities for neighborhood uplift. Employers benefit, too as does Uncle Taxer.

    Your map strongly resembles the city/suburban rail plan from the 1970s, which died from terminal distrust among governmental entities. Its legacy is the (unfairly) oft-denigrated Downtown People Mover. It’s a news story I extensively covered and later researched for my Det History vignettes on a radio station I cannot name due to contractual issues.

    I’m sure you know about the sad fate of Det Lite Rail, but if not, drop me an email and I’ll post it here.

    • Jackson February 25, 2014 / 5:38 am

      Thanks, Joe. Agreed – transit is hugely important for the economy and all the more so in someplace with so many who can’t afford personal vehicles like Detroit. And the entire region benefits when everybody can reliably get to jobs, interviews, schools etc.

      I’ll get in touch about the plans from the 1970s. I’ve seen bits and pieces on the web but nothing too comprehensive.

  11. Chase March 27, 2014 / 1:04 am

    I have read through this a few times. This really is amazing, I love this updated version.

    Q: Do you envision this as an underground subway system, or a combination underground/above, or above ground, or street-cars? Just trying to envision how this would fit into the current landscape.

    • Jackson July 14, 2014 / 6:33 am

      Sorry, Chase – I missed your comment among an avalanche of spam comments. Posting in case you check back or for anyone else reading.

      There are two answers to your question.

      “Fantasy Answer”: When I was designing this, I thought of it in terms of the Washington Metro or BART. Underground subway through the downtown and core areas, and elevated or separated surface rail elsewhere. In my head, this means something like subway between Royal Oak and Campus Martius on the W line, between say Dearborn and Connor Creek on the M line, along Gratiot and Fort for most of the C line’s length, and then through at least Hamtramck on the F line. Probably also through western Detroit on the S line. The rest would be elevated if along a road or else surface if running in a highway median (e.g. northern S line, angled section of F line).

      The A line in Ontario would be tunneled as it came across the river, of course, and could stay underground for the remaining three stops in Canada. The O line would probably be something like surface light rail rather than subway or elevated heavy rail given the lower demand in Windsor.

      “Real-world Answer”: In terms of advocating for rapid transit in Detroit, the most important thing for me to show on the map was high-quality service, not specific vehicle types. I intentionally left any mention of specific technologies like subway, light rail, bus rapid transit etc. off of the map, and it could equally well represent any of them. If it has its own dedicated right-of-way (either lanes or tracks), comes to the stops often, has long operating hours each day, and so on then that’s what matters. I wanted the map to let people imagine such a service in SE Michigan without getting too bogged down in other details.

  12. Quinn Kasal July 14, 2014 / 5:10 am

    Love the map Jackson. As an urban planner I’ve mentally schemed up stuff like this for years but never could’ve come up with something so comprehensive. I think a line to Ann Arbor (as suggested earlier by someone) is the final piece, although it should be commuter rail because of the vast tracts of nothing west of the airport or Canton.

    • Jackson July 22, 2014 / 8:39 am

      Glad you enjoyed it! Agreed 100% on the need for commuter rail alongside rapid transit, or a good Ann Arbor connection of any sort.

  13. Nixill July 22, 2014 / 6:35 am

    When I was looking at this map, I actually assumed the St. Clair line ran across 12 Mile, since it goes diagonally northeast from the Royal Oak station, which is marked as sharing a location with the Amtrak station and SMART Royal Oak Transit Center (located on 11 Mile just east of Woodward). Then again, you also have the Utica Triangle (which is probably the intersection of Utica, Gratiot, and either 12 Mile or Martin) north of the St. Clair line. To me, though, it’d make more sense to route that along 12 Mile. Although there’s already a bus route (SMART 740) along it, there’s also Macomb Community College, GM Tech Center, St John Hospital, Universal Mall Shopping Center, and Roseville Plaza. 11 Mile has, what… A Costco? You can reach that easily enough from the Gratiot line anyway. I’d probably connect the St Clair line to Cadillac by the Utica Triangle station (leaving Roseville) and to the Ford line by the Technical Center station (possibly eliminating North Crossing)

    • Jackson July 22, 2014 / 8:58 am

      Thanks for the suggestions. I love hearing from people who are in the area and have a better idea than I do.

      Originally I had the St. Clair line going along 10 Mile past the Zoo and then staying in the median of 696 all the way to St. Clair Shores, similar to the southern Red Line in Chicago or western Orange Line in DC. Fewer stops but moving more quickly, oriented toward commuting instead of an urban subway like in other parts of the system. The diagonal slope on the map is just a nice presentation, not an accurate geographic representation.

      It sounds like 12 Mile might make more sense, though. Part of the problem also comes back to where exactly to put the Royal Oak stop (see discussion above with Gillian). I’m working on a slightly revised version of the map and will probably take your suggestion on moving the St. Clair line along with shifting the A/W split at Royal Oak.

  14. Leora October 17, 2014 / 11:10 pm

    Beautiful map! I am so excited about the potential here. This discussion is also a great way to crowdsource ideas for public transportation in the Detroit area. I hope that when funds are available, this map and discussion will be used as a starting point for developing additional routes. Sometimes it takes a visionary to help people see what is possible. Thank you Jackson.

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