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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.