Saturday, May 27, 2017

The QLine

The QLine approaches the Southern terminus at Woodward and Congress
On New Year's Eve I was in New York City with my family. We went to see "The Mikado" on the Hunter College campus, taking the subway to get there and getting off at a nearby subway stop along Lexington Ave. I might have been the only adult in the audience not aware that the very next day, that same station would be opening up to Phase 1 of the Second Avenue Subway, served by the Q Line. It was a very big deal in New York; a line was even inserted in to "I've Got a Little List" to note the occasion.

Of course, New York has dozens of subway lines, and nearly 500 subway stations. I looked it up.

Detroit has... The People Mover. A 3 mile elevated one direction loop (it's currently clockwise) around parts of the downtown, a concrete eye-sore used by virtually nobody except during the annual North American International Auto Show and for Red Wings games; with the Red Wings moving to a new arena next season even that will go away. It's a symbol of mass-transit failure.

Earlier this month Detroit's new QLine opened. It's Detroit's first streetcar in more than 60 years. Other than the name similarity, this new rail line bears no resemblance to anything in New York. On first glance, it's easy to see it as "People Mover Part 2." It cost almost $200 million to build, has just 6 cars, and its 12 stops cover only 3 miles up and down Woodward Avenue. Predictable mockery is already available about QLine.

I took my first ride on the QLine last week. And... I really liked it. When I went during lunch hour, the car was packed. Of course, this was still the first week of operation, and the QLine is still free -- as it will be through the end of June. There were many Detroit old-timers with children and grand-children, pointing out the sites. When we passed The Fillmore Detroit, someone exclaimed, "that used to be the Palms Theater, we saw movies there!," recalling a name that hasn't been used in 35 years. The vibe was of an awakening. I tried to pay attention to the businesses and shops and restaurants along the way. We passed a Vietnamese restaurant, and it looked crowded. I looked it up online -- the cars have WiFi -- and saw many positive reviews. I made a note of it.

Packed... for now.
Later the same day, I met my family at Orchestra Hall for a performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The concert hall is along Woodward, and the QLine was the best way to get there. This time, I was going just minutes before the start of a Detroit Tigers game at Comerica Park, and the car was jammed with people coming in from various pre-game activities elsewhere in downtown.

At the opening ceremony for the QLine, the Congresswoman of my district, Brenda Lawrence, said "the advantage of this line is it brings people to the core of the city."

That... is not true. Most people don't go to New York City for the purpose of riding the Q Line. They go, to go to work. To see plays. To meet people. To eat. The subway is a means to an end. Had we gone to the play one night later, we'd have had an easier way to get there that didn't involve a transfer. But we got there anyway: it was the play that brought us in.

What this QLine does, that I can see, is it opens up a key portion of Detroit for people who are already there, or who are already planning to go to Detroit. It's not a commuter line, it's not long enough for that, not without a significant extension. But that Vietnamese restaurant? It's called Pho Lucky and I'm going to check it out.