The Detroit People Mover: The Skyway's Sister System

February 12, 2008 9 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Like Jacksonville's Skyway, the Detroit People Mover is an elevated and automated people mover system serving the downtown core.


The Detroit People Mover was originally intended to be the downtown distributor for a proposed $600 million metro-wide light rail transit system for the city in the 1980s.  However, after the election of Reagan, most of the money that was set aside for that project was lost, never to be regained again.

During the planning stages, it was projected to have a daily ridership of 67,700y.  However, during the first year of operation, it only averaged 11,000 riders per day.  As Detroit declined, so did the system's ridership numbers.  However, a renewed interest in downtown has resulted in higher ridership numbers. Today, the system currently averages around 7,300 riders a day, which is almost double the amount of daily riders using the system in 2000.

This spike has benefited the people-mover because most of the downtown's recent public investments and private developments have been constructed within a two block radius of the people mover system.


Detroit People Mover Map

While the Jacksonville Skyway is a dual track corridor, the people-mover operates as a single-track, one-way loop through the central business district.  The DPM system has 13 stations, 8 of which were built into pre-existing buildings.


 Spending a day in Detroit via the People Mover


This trip starts at the GM Renaissance Center. 


The Bricktown and Greektown stations are roughly three blocks apart.  The downtown side of these three blocks are lined with restaurants catering to the Greektown Casino.

 This is what it looks like at street level below the Greektown DPM station.  This area, known as Greektown is a popular entertainment and dining district anchored by the Greektown Casino, which sits behind the storefronts.  The Casino's new hotel can be seen under construction in the background.


Broadway Street, looking from the DPM north towards the theater district.  With the reopening of the Fox Theater, Ford Field and the Tiger's ballpark, this area is now seeing a number of small businesses and lofts going up around these major destinations.


Riding through the Theater District.  The park below has a public parking garage below street level.


 Passing over Woodward.  Woodward was once downtown's main retail district.  It was completely renovated in preparation for the Super Bowl a few years ago.  Plans are underway to extend the People Mover north along Woodward to the New Center area (a second, yet smaller downtown type business district a few miles to the north).


Passing over Fort: This section of downtown appears to be the final frontier in redeveloping the core.  This scene is the last thing riders see before the system goes inside of the convention center.



 Once through Cobo Hall, the peoplemover is now near the riverfront and the Joe Louis Arena (Home of the Detroit Red Wings).


 Windsor, Canada sits on the other side of the Detroit River.  Windsor is directly accessible to Downtown Detroit via the Detroit-Windsor International Tunnel.


 Passing over the Detroit International Riverwalk with Windsor in the background.


Jefferson Avenue's wide right-of-way separates downtown from the riverfront.  The Peoplemover is one of the elements that link the core to the riverfront.



This section of downtown between Michigan and Jefferson still serves as Detroit's financial district.


 Passing over Woodward again: Circus Martius Park, seen in the background, is the heart of downtown.  The popular public square was constructed in preparation for the Super Bowl and has become the epicenter of redevelopment activity in the core.


The peoplemover has many negatives, such as traveling only in one direction, but one of its major positives is that the majority of its stations are located inside of major office buildings, cultural establishments and destinations. 


  Back to where the ride began, in the GM Renaissance Center.


 The Future?

With the revitalization of downtown, over to be doubled in length, by extended the system north along Woodward Avenue.  This would allow downtown to be connected with Wayne State University, Detroit Medical Center, the Henry Ford Hospital, the cultural center and the Amtrak Station.  If Detroit's commuter rail plans move forward, this would then provide the crucial link between downtown and the airport.  Preliminary cost estimates hover between $150 to $200 million and would be paid for by a combination of public and private financing.


What does this mean for the Skyway?

If we want the Skyway's ridership base to grow to be able to justify its existence, we'll have to develop solutions that feed riders into it.  This means that the proposed BRT plans should feed riders into it by only linking with the skyway's end stations and not having stops at every skyway station.  Also, as we develop future projects downtown, those should be designed in a fashion where the skyway serves those projects directly.  It is working for Detroit's peoplemover and there's nothing to suggest that these ideas would not work for the Skyway.