MNTRC Newsletter Vol 19, Issue 2: Fall 2012

Research in progress: What makes regional transit work?


Leo Hanifin, PhD, Dean, College of Engineering and Science

Summer camps at UDM are popular with high school students.

Leo Hanifin (right) rides Detroit transit with his colleagues.

University of Detroit Mercy News – The University of Detroit Mercy (UDM) is studying the factors that enable and inhibit the development and operation of effective regional transportation systems in Southeast Michigan (Detroit metro area). The research team expects that the findings will apply broadly and have value to regions across the nation. They will explore ten specific areas, including governance structures; the relationship of transit to other key broader issues of urban health, including economic development, land use and sustainability; legal structures and issues; funding structures and competing priorities; public-private partnerships and roles; and other key areas.

The first two phases of the five-phase research plan are currently underway. The phases include:

Dedicated bus lane.

A dedicated bus lane helps move transit.

  • Other Cities: Experiences in other cities and related studies on the development and operation of effective regional transit systems
  • Detroit History: Successes and failures of regional transit in metropolitan Detroit
  • Detroit’s Current State and Opportunities
  • Comparing Detroit to Best- and Worst-Case Urban Models
  • Analysis and Recommendations

Researchers include experts in key areas of the investigation:

  • Dr. Leo Hanifin, principal investigator, is a professor of mechanical engineering at UDM. He was principal investigator for the Woodward Transit Catalyst Plan Project that created a plan leading to a public-private partnership to reintroduce rail-based transit in Detroit.
  • Lloyd A. Semple is Dean of UDM’s School of Law.
  • Dr. Utpal Dutta, PE, is a professor in UDM’s Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering.
  • Claudia Bernasconi is a registered architect in the European Union and an assistant professor of Architecture at UDM.
  • Dr. Alan S. Hoback, PE, is chair of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering at UDM.   
  • Scott Douglas, graduate assistant, is a transportation professional on educational leave from the Michigan Department of Transportation. 
  • Mariarosaria Di Palo, graduate assistant, holds bachelors and masters degrees in architecture from the University of Roma Tre in Rome, Italy.

In addition, many others with extensive knowledge and expertise in transportation in SE Michigan will be involved in this project. They include Megan Owens, director of Transportation Riders United (TRU); Carmine Palombo, director of Transportation Planning, Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG); John Hertel, director of SMART; and Paul Childs of M1 Rail.

Leo Hanifin and colleagues visit Detroit transit facility

Leo Hanifin and a group of colleagues visit a Detroit transit facility.

Four regions to be studied

To learn from other cities that have faced and overcome similar challenges, the team selected four regions to study in depth – Atlanta, Cleveland, Denver, and St. Louis. In August, five members of the team visited the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) in Cleveland. 

The team was impressed with the leadership of Joe Calabrese, RTA general manager, and with the newest element of the RTA system, the Health Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) System. The photos provide views of a BRT station, street improvement, and transit oriented developments resulting from this transit investment.