Update: I changed the map to show the Fort Street extension as future construction and changed some wording accordingly, as well as stopping Orange at Royal Oak. Also added some suggested reading links in the comments for those interested.
I love transit systems and transit maps, not so much because it's great to ride a subway (although a lot of times it is), but because of the way they put an entire city within reach. I always laugh when people start talking about the freedom of driving a car compared to taking mass transit, because for me exactly the opposite tends to be true in a city. With a metro system and map like the one where I live in the DC area, I can instantly see not only how to get to a place that I already want to go, but a whole bunch of other places that were important enough for the city to make it easy for people to get there. Not only that, but the maps show you something about how the city is laid out. The patchwork nets of Paris and London tell a different story than the concentric rings and straight east-west/north-south lines of Beijing, or the hub and spoke model of Chicago.
There's a well-established tradition on urbanist blogs like Greater Greater Washington of offering up "fantasy maps," maps of the Metro system as we wish it were or as we hope it might one day be. Most focus on adding a new line or showing improved service patterns, while others get more ambitious with multiple lines and even multiple forms of transit on the same map. I thought it'd be fun to go all all out on this: a complete fantasy map for the historically largest US city without rail mass transit of any kind, Detroit.
Obviously this is pure fantasy in the strongest sense, but I thought it would be fun to think of it as a specific what-if. The closest Detroit ever came to building a subway was during its initial boom in the 1910s and 1920s, which would have given it a roughly Boston or New York-era subway system. (There's a nice history here if you have JSTOR access.) In this case, though, I decided to imagine a system built at about the same time as cities like Washington, San Francisco and Atlanta in the 1960s and 1970s, perhaps in some alternate universe where one of Detroit's seven Olympic bids came through and the city built the core lines in preparation. This lets me ignore pre-freeway Detroit and keep more of the Washington Metro style that I'm familiar with. At the same time, it's a bit of a compromise since I don't have any 1960s maps of Detroit and I'm not intimately familiar with the city, so the station locations and names reflect the best I had to go on from Google Maps in 2012. Places where there are no houses or businesses often got skipped, even though they may have been thriving in the 1960s and would have warranted a station at that time.
First, the map and a disclaimer that I'm a nerd, not a graphic artist. Then some detailed explanation.
Finally, I put a line in Windsor just because I thought it would be awesome to have a (world first?) international metro system. Given Windsor's much smaller population this would probably work best as a light rail line, but nonetheless I thought it should be there. The purple line runs along the waterfront on University Avenue before turning up Ouelette Avenue downtown and then out to the major job centers on Walker Road. Customs gave another reason to make this line wholly separate.
In total the system has about 99 miles of track counting the Sterling Heights and Lincoln Park extensions with 62 stations. This doesn't count the numerous infill stations that would exist between Hamtramck and Sterling Heights on the Yellow Line or between Cobo Center and Lincoln Park on the Green, so figure ~75-80 stations in total. This compares to the Washington Metro's 103 miles of track with 86 stations before the Silver Line is included - not quite up to par, but certainly a good start. Of course, Detroit is less dense than Washington (710,000 in a 143 sq. mile city with 4.3 million in the metro area, versus Washington's 618,000 in 68 sq. miles with a 5.6 million metro), which means things are less favorable for Detroit in terms of people covered by the system. Overall, though, I don't think the comparison is too far off.
A couple small items of note:
- I did my best to copy not only the Washington map's style but also its (ideal) policy on station names: places rather than roads wherever possible, easy to remember, additional landmarks in subtitles. That means in a lot of spots I invented names instead of labeling with a cross street, and I occasionally used subtitles to give the major crossing roads that are more familiar.
- An operational disadvantage versus the DC Metro is that not every line intersects every other since Orange misses Green. In DC, this feature means you are never more than one transfer away from any other station in the system. But, I don't think this is a big deal since only three stations exist independently on Orange, and anyone getting from Orange to Green outside those three stations can choose a Blue or Red train instead. One option would be to send Orange south to Allen Park and Lincoln Park instead of going to the airport and then meet up with the Green line Fort Street extension down there. Alternatively, the Orange line could run on a new line from New Center back along the rest of I-94 until it hit the Green line north of Harper Avenue, rather than the interlined route out to Royal Oak that I drew, like this:
- Finally, a word on further expansion. The fantasy people making their own fantasy maps in this fantasy world would probably be drawing east-west horizontal crossing lines along Eight Mile Road (Mohican Triangle to Gateway), I-696 (Roseville to Warren to Royal Oak), or M-59 as the real-world Bus Rapid Transit plans call for (this would require an extended Green line to Clemens Park). Such a connecting line, and maybe another radial line up Grand River to Farmington Hills/Novi, would be the big priorities. Here's a quick and dirty map showing approximately how the extended Orange line options mentioned above, I-696 route, and Grand River line would look: