Infrastructure Works: Returning To My Native East Coast

It’s my first work trip with the new gig, which means I’m excited to get back to my native lands for a lil bit. Amid the Detroit-to-DC transition yesterday, I had a bit of a mobility conundrum that was perhaps illustrative of the woes of our age (and the opportunities). First, I had to find my phone (it was buried under a pile of clean laundry, because that’s what happens when you’re in a late night packing frenzy). Next, I had to vote before I left (for Proposition P, and for a Mayor Who Is Not Mike Duggan). And finally, of course, I had to get to the airport.

70-85 minutes door-to-door transit ($2.25) vs. 25-minute Lyft ($45)

This is no small feat in Detroit, where the lone airport is a minimum of a 25-minute drive and can be more like double that in traffic. Of course, there is a bus– which costs just a couple bucks- but it was, at this time, running only every half hour. It also takes over an hour and is about a 15-minute walk from my house. I ended up having to take a Lyft. Of course, it took about 25 minutes to find a driver, and I only got one on my third request– by which time the price had increased by about 25%. This ended up costing me $45. Side note, I suspect the driver will get something like $15 (if my own experience as a Lyft driver holds). Could I have gotten there cheaper? Yeah, but I would have had to skip the voting thing. It also would have taken about three times as long.

Meanwhile, arriving in DC, I loaded up my WMATA Smartrip card with about $48– for a week-ish of transportation. Commuting into the office is either 36 minutes in stop-and-go traffic, or 40 minutes on Metro with 12-minute headways. I’m less than a 12-minute walk from the Metro station where I’m staying. So, one single Lyft trip in Detroit is the same cost as $48 worth of transportation on a system with a roughly 68% FRR for trains. Huh.

Commute Time: Ideally Less By Transit Than By Car

It’s remarkable what happens when your region and city commit to investing in infrastructure– being able to make a car trip in the same amount of time as transit. Ideally, transit might even be faster. While this is rarely the case in denser areas with more stops and slower train speeds, it’s conceivable with the right trackage, the right operational setup (e.g. express trains for longer distances). But of course, this also requires the right funding. Can we do this in Detroit?

Nat M. Zorach

Nat M. Zorach, AICP, MBA, is a city planner and energy professional based in Detroit, where he writes about infrastructure, sustainability, tech, and more. A native of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he attended Grinnell College in Iowa, the Kogod School of Business at American University, the POCACITO transatlantic program, the SISE program at the University of Illinois Chicago, and he is also a StartingBloc Social Innovation Fellow. He enjoys long walks through historic, disinvested Rust Belt neighborhoods at sunset. (Nat's views and opinions are his own and do not represent those of his employer).

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