The spotlight is on local writer and filmmaker, Isaac Grove. He gives voice to Detroiters with his new article series, “Living and Surviving in Detroit.”
Isaac is a resident of Detroit, Michigan and studies Investigative Journalism at Wayne State University. Isaac is also a contributor to WSU’s newspaper, South End. Isaac shares his personal experience utilizing the Detroit’s transit system with joltleft.com.
I, myself, have had my own unfortunate experiences with DDOT and I feel many of my readers can relate to what Isaac has written. Isaac is an exceptional writer and it is my intention to recommend that he join the joltleft.com team.
“Living and Surviving in Detroit” by Isaac Grove
A ride from the West side of Detroit to down town proves that the Detroit Department of Transportation’s bus service may be affective but not practical. Building the light rail might not make sense if bus service is not affective.
Thursday evening temperatures reached 102 degrees, a record high with near 50 percent humidity. Walking to the bus stop on the northwest side of Detroit was reminiscent of my time spent in Iraq.
The heat was blistering, and traffic zipped by at dangerous speeds on the road, a gauntlet of rippled and shattered asphalt.
The sidewalk was barely noticeable, overtaken by tree branches and tall weeds, hidden behind a mask of broken bottles and Mc Donald’s bags, forcing me into the street.
By the time I found the bus stop at Evergreen and Schoolcraft roads, my jeans were clinging to my legs, and, like my shirt, they were saturated with the smell of sweat, hot skin and pungent body odor.
However this time, unlike Iraq, there was no enemy, only the heat, only the wait that I endured, like many others baking in the hot sun, waiting for a bus that we hoped would arrive.
I was disheveled but alive waiting for the Number-5 bus Woodward bound. The mission: Reach the veteran’s hospital downtown on John R Street.
As the heat grew more intense, I scrambled for cover but found none. There were no benches or shelters. My only relief was a slight breeze that was there then gone.
After standing for a while, I decided to sit on the hot ground. I played a game of basketball using small pebbles and a cracked iced tea bottle. There were no trash cans.
Nearly 30 minutes after the bus was supposed to arrive, two young men came strolling down the sidewalk.
Detroit resident and local blue’s/rock guitar player, Stephen McGruder, 19, and his younger brother, Brandon, were heading home from the store.
They stopped to chat, and after a good conversation about his enlistment into the Navy, McGruder asked me what I was waiting for.
“The bus,” I told him.
He laughed then told me a story about the time he was heading to Highland Park. He said he waited for the bus for hours, walking from one stop to the next. McGruder said, when the bus finally caught up to him he had already arrived at his destination.
“I don’t waste my time anymore; the busses are always late. When you want a bus they don’t show up,” he said.
We wrapped up our conversation shortly after 6 p.m., just as the bus pulled up. We shook hands and parted ways. McGruder and his brother wished me luck.
When I boarded the bus, I was relieved that it had A.C. It was a relatively comfortable ride as we snaked our way down Schoolcraft Road.
The driver wasted no time. Stops along the way were short. If you were not standing beneath the DDOT sign when the bus came by, you missed it.
One Detroit resident and fellow rider said “You can’t afford to miss it, not in this heat. You can’t miss your bus,” he said.
The atmosphere was calm. Everyone looked tired. Those who knew each other still smiled for one another, despite their exhaustion.
Everyone, including myself, enjoyed soaking up the A.C. after a long, hard day’s work.
I noticed that most stops were in front of businesses or neighborhoods but many were questionable. Some stops were in front of abandoned structures that were caved in, burned out or both.
Some were near open fields or wooded areas. Scary enough during the day, there did not appear to be any source of light for after dark.
We arrived at the corner of Manchester Road and Woodward Avenue at 6:34 p.m. There were shelters along the Woodward corridor, but at that time of day, the shade was in the street. I felt like I couldn’t catch a break.
Several people I spoke with there said their average ride time to and from work is about two hours – grueling after an 8-to 12-hour shift.
Fourty-six-year-old Detroit resident Ernest Bradfield said he waits about 45 minutes on average for the bus at that stop; he often ends up walking.
“After 6 p.m. bus service is no good,” Bradfield said.
He said if the city’s plan for the light rail holds up, residents could make up the time they lost waiting for the bus. He said a lot of people lose their jobs from being late.
We spoke until the bus pulled up at 6:55 p.m. It was a short ride to the corner of Woodward Avenue and Forest Street which was within walking distance of the veteran’s hospital.
I arrived at my destination at 7:09 p.m., nearly an hour and a half after I first began the trip. I felt glad it was a one-way endeavor. It is hard to imagine that anyone would have to do this every day.
Given short notice, Lovevett Williams, the director of the DDOT, was unavailable to comment at press time.
But Megan Owens, director of Transportation Riders United, Detroit’s non-profit transit advocate and self-proclaimed “translator” between public officials and community needs, recognizes the struggles transit users face every day.
In an earlier interview about the proposed Woodward Light-rail project, she said that the transit system in Detroit is inefficient and that many people struggle because of it.
“There are a lot of people who rely every day on the busses to get them to where they need to go,” Owens said.
And although TRU fully supports and advocates the proposed light rail, she said the organization wants to see improvements in the quality of bus service, too.
In the previously mentioned interview, Owens said that if the DDOT expects to create a more reliable service with the addition of the light rail, they need to be able to handle bus service and get riders to the rail line.
“Unfortunately right now the liability and timeliness of the bus service is horrendous,” she said, begging the obvious question: How do you fix the fragile transit system for the residents of Detroit?
Thank you, Isaac for sharing your experience with joltleft.com. If you’d like to read more of his work please check out the Wayne State University school paper, South End.