Detroit's new streetcar line is now open for business

Sights and scenes from Detroit's new streetcar system: The QLine

After years of delay and anticipation, the country’s latest streetcar line officially opened to the public in Detroit on May 12, 2017.

Owned and operated by M-1 Rail, a nonprofit organization, the $182 million project was largely funded by a number of local businessmen and philanthropists including the late Mike Ilitch (Little Caesars Pizza), Rip Rapson (Kresge Foundation), Roger Penske (Penske Corporation) and Dan Gilbert (Quicken Loans). In addition, Quicken Loans paid $5 million for the systems naming rights, leading to it being called the QLine.

Utilizing Detroit’s main street, Woodward Avenue, the QLine serves as a direct connection between downtown and the Detroit People Mover with New Center and the Detroit Amtrak station. Other destinations along its 3.3-mile path include Comerica Park, Ford Field, Little Caesars Arena, Fox Theatre, Wayne State University, Brush Park, the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Detroit Medical Center.

With streetcar systems being labeled by opponents as expensive toys failing at jobs that buses can deliver, the $187 million QLine will certainly face scrutiny in the upcoming years. Anticipated to cost $5.8 million annually to operate, the ridership in the first calendar year is expected to reach 1.8 million, and 5 million within five years.

However, proponents are smart to point out that the QLine’s arrival in Detroit is much more than just moving riders from point A to point B. Backers claim, like many others, the QLine is about stimulating economic development and investment in the heart of the city. Organizers believe the streetcar line could stimulate economic benefits of 40 to 60 times the original investment over the next decade. In addition, economic impact reports claim that $7 billion in new investment has taken place on either side of the streetcar’s route since 2013.

While time will tell which side is ultimately right, looking at the amount of infill development mushrooming along Woodward Avenue these days, it’s hard to argue those claims.

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at