January 6, 2017

Nick Tobier’s “Looping Detroit” @ Hyperallergic

DETROIT — Writer, photographer, and University of Michigan professor Nick Tobier’s latest publication, Looping Detroit: A People Mover Travelogue, takes as its subject one of Detroit’s longest-running inside jokes: an elevated tram that circulates endlessly, and often completely without passengers, on a 2.9-mile track connecting 13 stations around the immediate city center. Built in 1987, following a “driverless transit car” craze in the 1970s, it is viewed by all as a failure of public infrastructure.

The People Mover is inarguably ridiculous as a form of public transit — not least because it services a hilariously small footprint. A huge portion of Detroit’s diffuse population lacks a means of personal transportation, instead forced to stand in wait for a notoriously unreliable bus system (read the harrowing and heartwarming human interest story of Detroiter James Robertson for a case in-point). Meanwhile, the $210 million dollar People Mover is basically only employed to shuttle people who already have cars from parking garages to downtown entertainment centers. It represents a sobering mismanagement of resources.

But I’ll be honest here: I love the People Mover. Whenever someone comes to visit, I make a case for taking them on what amounts to an amusement park ride around the city center, with excellent vistas of both the Detroit River and the architecture that has earned Detroit the first and only United States UNESCO City of Design status, as well as original mosaics and other artworks at nearly every station. As an added benefit, the People Mover still offers a token option, enabling New Yorkers (and former ones, like Tobier and me) to re-experience a lost facet of the MTA system (you can also deposit 75 cents directly into the machines — or, frankly, hop the wheelchair gate with relative ease).

Read more here…

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