Freshwater Transit seeks to develop public transportation systems in Detroit.
Oak Park retiree Harvey Turkel is adept at using bus schedules. He knows exactly when he’ll be picked up on Greenfield Road, south of 10 Mile. He knows the complications for local riders to get around since SMART (Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation) stopped running buses on Scotia.
When the Jewish Community Center in Oak Park closes at the end of August, Turkel said public transportation could bring non-driving members to the JCC in West Bloomfield. SMART Route 405 lets off near the JCC on Drake, just west of Maple, he said.
Picking up the bus, though, sounded daunting as Turkel rattled off the different bus routes people would have to take to catch their 405 connection. Ultimately, the 405 doesn’t help evening visitors to the JCC because the last bus leaves Maple-Drake around 6:40 p.m. There’s also no Sunday service.
In New York and San Francisco, cities with efficient mass transit, moving around town is not the challenge it presents in Metro Detroit — but does transit have to stay like this? Does anyone care?
Freshwater Transit Solutions cares and wants to provide solutions. The specialty transit firm in Detroit’s Grand Circus Park district is intent on improving public transportation in our region.
“A city is only as good as its ability to attract the best talent to propel it forward,” said Stephen Maiseloff, Freshwater Transit vice president. “Modern transportation is the cost of entry for cities vying for post-grads to plant their roots and start a career.”
Maiseloff is one of them himself. Raised in Southfield and West Bloomfield, he’s a product of suburbia, where the automobile is king. He developed his passion for getting people from here to there after experiencing Chicago’s enviable transit system. He lived in the city while completing an MBA degree at Loyola University.
The son of David and Ellen Maiseloff, Stephen went to Hillel Day School in Farmington Hills for 10 years and graduated from West Bloomfield High School. He majored in psychology at Michigan State University, where he played tennis and spent “oodles of quality time at the MSU Hillel.”
Maiseloff, whose sisters are Alyssa and Jen, became a bar mitzvah at Southfield-based Congregation Shaarey Zedek.
“I had a surface level of understanding of transit services, said Maiseloff, who returned home from Chicago in 2012. “I wanted to explore real opportunities.”
He networked with former Detroiter Neil Greenberg of Washington, D.C. Greenberg, with a background in transit applications in various cities, once developed a real-looking Detroit city map with non-existent transit points.
Tom Choske, a former staffer for ex-U.S. Rep. Hansen Clarke, and Maiseloff co-founded Freshwater Transit Solutions. Choske, company president, directs a team that includes researcher Julianna Tschirhart, project coordinator Danny Baum, principal planner Adrianna Jordan, operations specialist Steve Hamelin, design specialist Erika Linenfelser, and special contributors Jessica Shaw and Maria Urquidi. As VP, Maiseloff is in charge of business development.
Freshwater is not a political organization. The company presents itself as “having the resources it takes to assemble a comprehensive transit strategy — from the plan to the campaign to the implementation.”
With the expertise to work with multimodal systems, including road, rail and water, the team’s first major project, for the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy (DRFC), was developing a feasibility study on modes of transportation for the Detroit RiverWalk. Expect to see a water taxi service and trolley bus service operating soon along the Detroit RiverWalk, which eventually will extend 5½ miles from the Ambassador Bridge to Gabriel Richard Park, east of the Belle Isle Bridge.
“A group like ours doesn’t necessarily exist in other cities,” Maiseloff said. “The Riverfront Conservancy didn’t have its own planning arm, so they liked the mix we brought, including branding and marketing.”
Speaking of Downtown, he noted that public transportation to Belle Isle currently ends near the bridge at Jefferson, and also at Grand Boulevard.
“The Riverfront and Belle Isle are not at capacity,” he said. “We want to fill those places, making them easier to approach so people stay longer.”
One solution for Belle Isle could be a bus making a loop around the island, as designed in the feasibility study for the DRFC.
Maiseloff and others concerned with Detroit’s future are eagerly awaiting the M-1 RAIL Streetcar line, a commuter line that will link Downtown Detroit to Midtown. Construction of the tracks on Woodward Avenue began in July 2014; the project is anticipated to be completed in late 2016.
M-1 will provide “frequent, higher-quality transit as one piece of the much broader system that’s needed,” said Megan Owens, executive director of Transportation Riders United (TRU). The nonprofit is dedicated to improving transit through education, advocacy and engagement in the greater Detroit region.
The streetcar line will “reintroduce people to transit and what transit could be,” said Owens, who also serves on the M-1 Advisory Council.
One likely enhancement at the Amtrak train station, near the M-1 line, will be new service to Detroit Metropolitan Airport and Ann Arbor.
With the future of public transportation considered to be at a critical moment, Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill establishing the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan in December 2012. RTA Chief Executive Officer Michael Ford, who started in October, previously ran the Ann Arbor Transit Authority.
He consults and collaborates with government leaders, community partners and other stakeholders to coordinate and build a better transit system throughout Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties. He is also seeking buy-in for an anticipated millage vote on regional transit improvement on the November 2016 ballot.
The RTA plans a major public outreach through the summer. People will have the opportunity to express their ideas for improving transit in this region at organized community meetings and in online and telephone surveys.
Renewed hope for better bus service in Detroit came with the February announcement that DDOT (Detroit Department of Transportation) will introduce new buses this year, replacing some of its dilapidated fleet.
Observing these developments, Freshwater Transit — always innovative and motivated — appreciates that the local conversation has shifted. Instead of, “why bother; we’re the Motor City,” there’s an understanding that better transit is desired, even if people don’t know exactly how it would work. Company leaders are convinced that widespread, reliable public transit, where schedules wouldn’t be necessary, could happen here.
“We know that other cities have effective transit systems, but we’ve failed to identify — or even ask — what makes those systems effective,” Maiseloff said.
That’s about to change as Freshwater Transit develops a series of “short and fun video segments focused on cities where public transit works well,” he said. The project, 15 Minutes or Better — a Field Guide to Everyday Transit, is currently in fundraising mode.
September is when Freshwater Transit plans to begin filming passengers utilizing transit systems in Kansas City, Seattle, Cleveland, Portland, Houston, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Each video created by writer-producer Greenberg, the transit expert, will highlight a fundamental concept of effective transit, including route coverage, service hours and waiting times.
Without lecturing or off-putting jargon, 15 Minutes or Better will “show exactly what transit does, how transit can fit into a daily lifestyle and how it can be a convenience rather than an obstacle,” Maiseloff said.
Freshwater Transit was nominated for an Exemplary Innovation Award at TRU’s Regional Transit Awards Dinner held May 7 in Detroit’s Hotel St. Regis. The annual event is an opportunity for the transit community to celebrate those bringing energy and creativity to improve public transit in Metro Detroit.
“Most people in this region drive just about everywhere,” said Owens of TRU. “They may have taken rapid transit in other cities, but don’t know how it would work here. Freshwater Transit is taking on the important challenge of helping people in this region to think about transit in a new way.”
By Esther Allweiss Ingber, Contributing Writer
Contributions for 15 Minutes or Better will be accepted through June at Freshwater Transit Solutions, 1570 Woodward Avenue, Second Floor, Detroit, MI 48226. Make checks payable to: 15 Minutes or Better. For details, contact Freshwater Transit Solutions at www.freshwatertransit.com or (313) 355-2453.