Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Going round and round on streetcars and automobiles

Sometime later this summer, the first shovels are supposed to crack dirt to mark the start of a new light-rail line that will run along Woodward Avenue from Jefferson to the New Center. The hope is that it will spawn new businesses along Woodward as people find it easier to get from, say, Campus Martius out past the stadiums and to the DIA.

Ironically, part of that same stretch of road is currently marked by the Woodward Avenue Cultural Heritage Tour, a simple series of sidewalk markers that recall notable events of the past, including one that pays homage to Detroit's once-proud network of electric streetcars. (Perhaps you remember reading about the sign commemorating the original Vernor's store location. Or perhaps not, in which case you can click on that link that you just passed.)

In any case, streetcars in Detroit enjoy a somewhat strange history. They were born in the late-1800s as a result of the auto industry (people had to get to work) but also died in the mid-1950s in large part because of the auto industry (people started driving cars rather than riding public transit). The final car made its run down Woodward on April 8, 1956. Reports say the new light-rail system will be running by 2013.