In 1946, the DSR's Grand River line could easily be ranked as one of Detroit's busiest streetcar lines. With peak
hour service requiring approximately 50 of the Peter Witt style streetcars to operate along a 14.1 mile route from
downtown to Seven Mile Road, definitely qualified Grand River as a major DSR route. However, Grand River would
soon become a political battleground — where the proponents of rubber-tired transportation would soon claim
that roadway as one of their major victories.
During the years following WW-II, the city of Detroit had a serious problem to contend with — Traffic! With the city's
population pushing nearly 1.9 million, and the proposed freeway system only in the developing stages, it wasn't
uncommon to find the city's major thoroughfares during morning and evening rush hours jammed-pack with traffic. As
motorists crawled along those limited number of auto traffic lanes, many Detroiters began accusing the streetcars of
monopolizing the center lanes and contributing to the city's traffic problem.
One such thoroughfare where this anti-streetcar sentiment was brewing was Grand River Avenue — a major six-lane
highway that extended northwesterly across the city from the downtown business district. Although three lanes carried
traffic in each direction, the center lanes were occupied by the streetcars and their accompanying tracks and safety
Many residents and businessmen along Grand River had even asked that the city have the streetcars and safety
islands removed, claiming they disrupted auto traffic in the area. Interestingly, city officials had already been
scrambling for years to find ways to increase the flow of traffic along that roadway. This streetcar removal sentiment
expressed by the surrounding residents would no doubt give those city officials who favored the removal of the
streetcars the added ammunition they would need.
Meanwhile, the demand for public transportation along Grand River Avenue during that time was still high, with close
to 100,000 riders utilizing the Grand River service daily.
On Oct. 15, 1945, the DSR began offering express bus service along Grand River to supplement the streetcar service.
There were three separate express bus routes to downtown operating during the peak hours — starting at Seven Mile
Road; at Archdale (Southfield); and at Ardmore (Schoolcraft), while an "off-peak hour" express service began operating
days, evenings, and on Saturdays. The off-peak hour express buses operated in local service (boarding only) from
Seven Mile to Oakman Blvd. Beginning at Oakman Blvd., all of the Grand River Express buses operated express into
downtown — stopping only at W. Grand Blvd.
However, in late 1946, city and state officials announced plans to repave the entire stretch of Grand River Avenue. As
a result, the city wanted the safety islands removed in order to open an additional traffic lane in each direction. Of
course, the removal of these safety islands would obviously require the removal of the streetcars and replacing them
with motor buses.
GRAND RIVER STREETCARS vs. RUBBER-TIRED TRANSIT:
The planned repaving and conversion of Grand River to rubber-tired transit began lining up factions pro and con on
the issue — pitting Mayor Edward J. Jeffries, Jr., the DSR Board of Commissioners, DSR General Manager Richard A.
Sullivan, along with area residents and businessmen along Grand River on one side; against the Common Council,
the car men's union — Division 26, of the Amalgamated Association of Street, Electric Railway and Motor Coach
Employees of America (now ATU), and other pro-rail proponents on the opposing side.
The DSR Commissioners, led by President Samuel T. Gilbert, cited the unusual long length of the route required the
addition of express buses to supplement the service, resulting in an uneconomical use of street space. The
employment of mixed bus and streetcar service on Grand River detracted from the efficient use of the limited available
street surface. The commissioners also cited the tendency of auto drivers to utilize the center streetcar lanes —
weaving back and forth from the tracks and the inside lane in order to overtake and pass streetcars — contributing to
further traffic slowdowns. The elimination of the tracks and safety zones from the middle of the street would provide
three full lanes of free flowing traffic along each side of the street.
The DSR management, led by general manager Richard Sullivan, wanted the 50 or so streetcars needed for its Grand
River operation removed from its Coolidge Terminal in order to begin rebuilding the Coolidge site into an all-bus
facility, where the department could store its increasing bus fleet. Obviously, the city's own transit department favored
the streetcar removal and bus conversion aspect of the plan.
Of course, the streetcar and coach men's union (Division 26), would be looking out for the jobs of its union members
and were in opposition, as were the overwhelming majority of the Detroit Common Council members, who heavily
supported the retention of streetcars on the city's major lines and fought to maintain that service. Consequently, the
council rejected the immediate total conversion plan and implemented a temporary four month trial period of bus
substitution, allowing only for the removal of the safety zones from one side of the street during the trial period. The
council intended for the DSR to reinstate all rail service on Grand River if the bus substitution proved unsuccessful
and didn't live up to expectation.
GRAND RIVER RAIL CARS REMOVED:
Beginning Monday, May 5, 1947, 98 motor coaches (including local and express) replaced the 50 Peter Witt style
streetcars on Grand River.
However, on that very same day, and without the council's approval, Mayor Edward J. Jeffries, Jr. would order the city's
Department of Public Works to pave over the streetcar rails along Grand River between Trumbull and Joy Road. The
Mayor cited the extensive rail and pavement deterioration along that stretch of right-of-way as a reason for his actions.
With streetcars no longer operating along Grand River, the two center lanes were now open for vehicular traffic.
However, the traffic congestion problem along Grand River would continue to increase.
This would prompt the Mayor's office to push for the remaining tracks along Grand River to be covered in order for the
city to begin implementing a proposed "reversible lanes" traffic plan. To help accommodate the increased rush-hour
traffic, the "two" center lanes would be made reversible — carrying traffic downtown in the morning and back in the
evening. The two remaining lanes were used for opposite direction traffic.
Meanwhile, Lloyd B. Reid, the City Traffic Engineer, was quoted as saying: "Rubber-Tired Transit with reversible center
lanes fits our Grand River problem like a glove. It has stepped-up traffic from 2500 to 3500 vehicles per hour past out
testing point — besides reducing driving time by 5 minutes between Schoolcraft and downtown Detroit (10 miles)."
Needless to say, with the safety islands removed and the rails now paved over, the streetcars along Grand River
Avenue would never return. The closing of Grand River to streetcar traffic would also have an affect on the Hamilton
streetcar line, which also used Grand River into and out of downtown. Consequently, the Hamilton line was converted
over to buses one week prior, on April 28, 1947.
With a major streetcar line like Grand River now being substituted by motor buses, the future of street railway service
in Detroit looked bleak. Grand River had become the first major streetcar line in the city to be taken-over by buses,
giving a major victory to the supporters of the rubber-tired transportation industry.
Over the years, the traffic pattern flow along Grand River Avenue would change. As new expressways were built, traffic
congestion along a number of the major thoroughfares would ease somewhat. By the late-fifties, the two reversible
center lane concept would give way to another Detroit traffic creation — the "center left-turn-only" lane. This unique
traffic concept was first initiated along Jefferson Avenue after its PCC streetcars were removed in 1954.
Interestingly, for a number of years left turns were forbidden on Grand River during rush hour traffic, while the center
"left-turn-only" lane was reserved for through-traffic only — inbound traffic during the morning rush and outbound traffic
during the evenings. However, this practice was later abandoned as well, as the traffic along Grand River diminished
considerably over the years.
Information for the above article was compiled from various articles written by Jack E. Schramm on the Detroit Street Railways, including
"Detroit's DSR. Part 3" (Motor Coach Age Magazine–May-June 1993) and "DETROIT'S STREET RAILWAYS Vol II: City Lines 1922-1956"
(Bulletin 120 - Central Electric Railfans' Association, by Schramm, Henning, and Dworrman), and from miscellaneous articles posted at
Tom's Trolley Bus Pix — Detroit. Additional information from the recorded minutes of various sessions of the Detroit Common Council as
recorded in the "Journal of the Common Council — City of Detroit – 1947."
© 2008 – www.DetroitTransitHistory.info (TXV 10-03-14)
NOTE: MOST PHOTOS, IMAGES AND CHARTS HAVE BEEN REMOVED AND CAN BE VIEWED ON ORIGINAL WEBSITE PAGE
To visit original website version of this page see: www.detroittransithistory.info/AroundDetroit/GrandRiverAvenue.html
Proponents of rubber-tired transit considered
Grand River Avenue in Detroit as a major
victory for their cause. In 1946, U.S. Royal
Tires even featured a D.S.R. Grand River
express bus in its Fleetway Tires
(Photo courtesy of Tom's Trolley Bus Pix—Detroit)
BEFORE STREETCARS – AFTER STREETCARS: The above photo was taken from a Timken Axle Company advertisement
(Timken Axles manufactured axles and brakes for trolley-coaches and motor buses). The company used the left photo in their
ad to show how streetcars limited the traffic flow along Grand River, while the right photo (taken shortly after the streetcars
were removed in 1947) was used to show the same thoroughfare operating with Rubber Tired-Transit and reversible center
lanes. After the bus substitution, four lanes along Grand River were used for heavy traffic flow, while the two remaining lanes
were used for less heavy traffic in the opposite direction. (Photo courtesy of Tom's Trolley Bus Pix—Detroit)
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