Somewhat overlooked in the 24-hour Hoffa news cycle, Duggan-gate, Aiyana Jones-gate and Chrysler-gate was another controversial tidbit in the Detroitosphere: the widening of I-94.
This week, the Southeast Council of Michigan Governments will vote to approve or deny, among other transportation projects, a $2.7 billion Michigan Department of Transportation effort to expand I-94 from six lanes to 14 lanes in Detroit.
MDOT proposed this in 2010, so this has been on the table for three years. Apparently no one noticed until Model D — which is fast becoming an endless source of material for us whiny-ass Detroit writers to bitch and moan about — published a column hoping to rally Detroiters to prevent SEMCOG from greenlighting the expansion two days before the vote.
Pulling together a protest at the last possible minute is such a Detroit thing to do, but at least writer Tommy O'Flynn presents some credible evidence as to why a bigger 94 could do more harm than good.
And I was right there with him until a few grafs down, when I read this:
Not only is the I-94 expansion project an extraordinary misuse of taxpayer money, it also threatens the livability of Midtown, one of the great success stories of Detroit’s comeback. Midtown residents – myself included – are attracted to a walkable environment where we can get to work, buy groceries, and go out without needing to use a car.
*Sigh.* Here we go with this again. This whole idea that if it affects Midtown, well then it has to be the best/worst thing to happen to Detroit. Because Midtown = Detroit, right?
Once again, a disclaimer: I am pro-small business, pro-redevelopment, pro-Whole Foods, pro-all that shit. (Black guy writing about Detroit? "You're obviously the demon spawn of JoAnn Watson and Kwame Kenyatta so let me just skip down to the comments and tell you what a racist you are!") But, can the People's Republic of Midtown get a reality check for a second?
Reading on, I'm getting the idea that the idea of widening I-94 isn't bad for Detroit (or the seven counties that SEMCOG represents), but more of a bad idea for O'Flynn.
Case in point:
In my experience managing rental real estate in Midtown – a market where residential vacancy rates have plunged to below 5 percent – I can also tell you that massive freeways are not consistent with what new residents are seeking.
So, as long as I-94 stays the way it is, big-time developer O'Flynn will continue to have clients and make money, amirite? And as long as O'Flynn is fine then Midtown is fine, and as long as Midtown is fine then Detroit is just great, and everything will be great as long as the freeway stays the same. That's what I'm getting here.
At this point, it isn't about the freeway anymore. It's this constant refusal to acknowledge that Midtown, believe it or not, is not the center of the Metro Detroit universe. In all directions outside where WSUPD patrols, there are things going on (Revitalizing Brightmoor! Avenue of Fashion!), and you know if Model D is reporting it, then everyone in Midtown knows about it, so why the bubble effect, still?
No, I don't live in Benny Napoleon's "Palmer Woods is not" Detroit, so this is not a affluent/middle-class/gentrifying/whatever neighborhood vs. everybody else thing. But I do live in Detroit — 138 square miles, 700,000(?) residents, an entire city where we all pay ridiculous insurance rates whether its a condo near the Fox or a bungalow in Warrendale. Why, then, should the world stop moving because O'Flynn might have to walk his dog across a longer overpass?
Similarly, where is the concern for everybody else along the I-94 corridor? Are people near City Airport, for example, going to be affected by this? Probably so. But has there been an effort to reach out to them? I don't know — but I'm guessing it's not as compelling of an argument to use longtime residents who certainly will be displaced or inconvenienced but instead make the case for people who don't even fucking live here yet that won't consider Midtown because, OMG, the Canfield Street pedestrian bridge is going away.
As someone whose relatives were forced off Custer Avenue when I-75 was put in, I don't want to see anyone lose their home to a freeway. But if this is the best case to be made against making I-94 bigger — that the very existence of the "heart of Midtown!" is threatened and some landlords won't be able to make a few more profits — then get used to the sight of orange barrels.
The commenters on the Curbed blip on this have made far more substantial arguments on expanding on other forms of public transportation that includes Midtown in the greater Detroit region, and not treat it as the island people want to make it out to be. Mode Shift also points out how SEMCOG's vote also affects an expansion of I-75, which could affect even more neighborhoods.
(UPDATE: Almost forgot to link to the seminal piece addressing the freeway expansions written by fellow Jalopnik Detroit scribe Ryan Felton earlier this year at the Metro Times.)