A tent and a long, slightly raised wooden platform are part of a makeshift bus hub on Woodward between Eight Mile and State Fair that has left some riders inconvenienced and confused.
Late last week, Jacques Stafford, his 3-year-old son and fiance were among those waiting at the temporary State Fair Transit Center in near freezing temperatures.
“I don’t understand why they decided to start this construction in the winter,” Stafford, 28, told BridgeDetroit while standing next to a bench on the platform about 500 feet from where the Detroit Building Authority and Department of Transportation are building a new indoor hub.
“It’s too cold to be waiting out here without anything to stop the wind,” said Stafford, one of about 50 riders waiting for a bus on Thursday afternoon. “Especially for little kids that (are) out here and older people waiting for half an hour on the bus to come.”
The temporary hub has been up since construction on the new center began earlier this month and is expected to be in place for about 18 months. It includes a single ramp on the Woodward entrance for people who use wheelchairs or have difficulty stepping up onto the platform, and a tent with picnic tables underneath several feet away from the area where the buses drop off and pick up passengers.
“Why have the one tent all the way (on Woodward) when the buses come to pick people up all the way over here,” Stafford said. “People either have to wait out in the cold or run out from the tent when they see their bus coming, it don’t make sense (to me).”
When finished, the transit center will be next to Amazon’s 3.8-million-square-foot fulfillment center at the old Michigan State Fairgrounds. The Amazon facility, which was originally scheduled to open in July 2022, is supposed to bring in an estimated 1,100 warehouse jobs. The fulfillment center is now scheduled to open in 2023, and the transit center is projected to open in the first quarter of 2024, according to a spokesperson for Mayor Mike Duggan.
Other bus riders were less than impressed with how the temporary bus center – a hub for both DDOT and SMART – is set up for passengers.
“They had time to build this wooden thing, but no time to build bus stop shelters,” said Lee Middlebrook, 46, adding there was just one bench at the hub for a bus that can fit about 50 people.
“They could have done this worse,” he said, “but it’s like they didn’t think about some simple things when they did this.”
Kristin Lukowski, a spokesperson for DDOT, told BridgeDetroit that the department is already addressing rider concerns over the lack of bus stop shelters. The first shelter was installed on Friday and two others, she said, are expected to be installed this week.
“We placed a tent with picnic tables for passengers to use as a temporary measure until the shelters are installed,” she added.
Sharmaine Smith, 30, said buses have arrived on schedule more often at the temporary hub than the old hub. But, she said, there’s still been confusion among riders.
“I’ve seen people who get here and don’t know exactly where their bus will pick them up from and they will definitely need more guidance,” Smith said.
DDOT has struggled for years to deliver reliable service to riders. The department consistently grapples with driver shortages and has reorganized routes by reducing schedules or temporarily suspending routes to direct resources from low ridership areas in favor of routes with more passengers. With more than 865,000 passengers each month, DDOT’s buses were running on time 62% of the time, as of September.
Lukowski said the location of the temporary hub was selected for “safety reasons.”
“We wanted to minimize its exposure to bus and construction traffic,” she said. “We have also provided portable restrooms close to the tent for the public to use.”
DDOT routes impacted by the construction will be 4-Woodward, 12-Conant, 17-Eight Mile, 30-Livernois, and 54-Wyoming.
Detroit’s City Council approved plans for the new transit center last year as part of a broader project to reinvent the former fairgrounds. The center, being constructed in the site’s historic 1926 Dairy Cattle Building, will serve as a transit and transfer station with outdoor amenities.
When the temporary hub was built this month, Mikel Oglseby, the city’s executive director of transportation, noted that the temporary location allows the department to quickly build the new transit center to meet the current and future needs of riders and bus operators.
DDOT sought feedback from riders, neighbors, preservationists, and other stakeholders when planning for the new $18.6 million transit center project. The plan approved late last year was revised based on community input, including a design change that factored in the reuse of the cattle barn.
Megan Owens, the executive director of Transportation Riders United (TRU), said in many ways, the future fairgrounds hub is exactly what bus riders have been requesting for years.
“To actually have a really nice space for drivers to be able to take breaks and use the bathroom, for riders to be able to not just wait for their transfer but to buy tickets is nice,” Owens said. “It’s going to have, as (DDOT) has talked about having, taxi and Uber stands, mobile bike-share rentals and they’re trying to make it a convenient, attractive spot for people to transfer and get around.”
The one downside, Owens said, is the future hub is about a quarter mile east of Woodward instead of being closer to the main road.
“So while it’s a nice thing to have, an indoor facility for bus riders, it would also be a longer than comfortable walk to actually get to the center depending on the weather, what kinds of things a person is carrying, or even the time of day,” she said.