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Detroit Subway


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I have heard from various contacts that beneath downtown Detroit are the remains of metro tunnels that were constructed during the 1920s and, after the 1930s economic collapse, were left unfinished due to the Big 3's influence over transportation policyduring and following the 1940s-WWII period. Specifically, there may be a partially constructed metro station underneath the Broderick Tower on Woodward ?? Does anybody know more about the design of this system or has seen blueprints for such??

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Biggie-Smalls, where the hell have you been?? The whole damn architecture school wants to hear from you. We miss you man, holla back!!

oh, and I believe only chunks of the Detroit subways system still exist. If any tunnels were completed, they are now utility corridors.

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Ahh yes, the good old subway rumors....

Mayor John C. Lodge vetoed the idea of a subway system back in 1920. However, based on what I've read, a subway system started construction sometime in the late 1920s (I believe it was 1928, if my memory serves me correctly). Pilot tunnels supposedly extend as much as 3 miles away from downtown along Woodward, Michigan, and Gratiot. Construction stopped during the Depression, and in 1934 the decision was made to abandon the project.

There is supposedly a section of the GCP Parking Garage that was supposed to be the subway station. This area of the garage is blocked off currently.

There used to be a model of the system at the Detroit Historical Museum, but I have never seen it. The state would have any plans pertaining to the construction of the subway.

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There's an excellent overview of the rise & collapse of the Detroit subway system idea in 'Downtown - The Rise and Fall of Downtowns 1880's - 1950' (or something close to that). If I remember correctly, in theory the plan actually had the blessing the mayor, businesses including auto companies, much of city council, etc....

It got bogged down in arguments about where the lines would go, who would benefit more from their locations, weather to do a full-blown system throughout the city, or to phase some kind of system in, and of course the cost. The delays, arguments, and then the depression caused the city to shelve the idea for a few years but was then resurrected in the early 30's. It was scaled back to a one or two line system (can't remember) and put on the ballot for citizens to approve funding of the first phase. It was voted down by the people of Detroit and the idea died.

...at least that's the way the book (and my fuzzy memory) tells the story. The book was a pretty good read about downtowns throughout the country. Detroit, Boston, New York and Chicago are discussed quite a bit throughout. Good book for anyone in to these sorts of things.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Ok, I finally found my Detroit subway info. During the early and mid-1940s, an in-depth study with plans and recommendations for a series of new subways, expressways, streetcar improvements, and bus lines was conducted. This information comes from that study.

The crosstown subway, first proposed in 1926, would've connected the east and west halves of the city through its 14.0 mile distance. It would've started at a station under Miller Road at the Ford Rouge Plant. It would've then traveled north to the DSR yard at Michigan and Wyoming. From there the line would've gone under Michigan Avenue, and emerged in the median of the Crosstown Expressway (followed a path nearly identical to present-day I-94). The route would travel in median of the freeway until Conner Avenue, where the trains would travel on an elevated track through the Conner/Mack industrial area. Between Kercheval and Jefferson the line would turn into a subway. At Conner and Jefferson would be a large, three-platform terminal similar to the one at the western terminal of the system.

Stations would have been constructed at the following streets:

Miller Road




Warren W.

Grand Blvd. W.

Grand River W.



Second/Third Ave.


Hastings (Present-day I-75)

St. Aubin


Mt. Elliot

Van Dyke


St. Jean

Warren E.


Vernor E.


The Woodward Avenue subway would've started at Jefferson Avenue. Stations were to be constructed at the following locations:


Cadillac Square

Grand River



The subway would continue to Adelaide, where a portal was to be constructed. North of this point the system would have used the already-existing streetcar line. At a later date the subway would have been extended McNichols Road, where a main terminal was to be constructed.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I've seen that map before. Just imagine just how much worse and divided Detroit would be at this moment if that would have taken place. Jeez, they were trying to drive a freeway through Hamtramck. That would have probably essentially killed the city, and the area would have two Highland Parks, if you know what I mean.

Still, don't we all wish that Detroit would have boomed just 10 or so years earlier? If it would have, there would have been even less freeways tearing through the city than there are today because it would have developed denser.

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  • 3 weeks later...

If those freeways went in, think of Detroit as a city of about 700,000 max. Yeah, I can pull up some old clippings from the 80's the Detroit News did documenting the proposals for subways if anyone's interested and I can scan them in. Very interesting indeed.

Peace to you from DetroitStylePride/PrideinDetroit

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Are there any maps of the subway system?

I'm glad to hear it got started, I only knew about the part where it got to the voting and didn't make it. I didn't know they actually started it.

But to me, 2 or 3 miles under those roads isn't a bad start. A few more miles underground and then it could turn into normal rail.

I was also thinking if it would be possible to put a huge parking garage under woodward. Every block a street lane on each side could go underground into the garage. The only problem would be utility lines (and money). Plus, it's already started, and it would be hollowed out for any future subways or stations.

Would there be any water leaking problems with a subway, since it's so close to the river? I wouldn't be surprised that even if the subway was built, it would be dirty and dangerous, so there would be no riders, and then it would be shut down because maintinance costs would be so much. But then at least it could be restarted right around now. What would the subways nickname be? :)

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From what I've read, the only thing that exists right now are pilot tunnels for the subway system. In other words, they are not the full diameter of a subway tunnel, nor are they even close to being finished. The plans for the subway system are held by the state of Michigan.

Flooding shouldn't be too much of a concern. If they can build a tunnel under water, they should have no problems building a subway tunnel on land, even if the water table is relatively high. The water table issue was one of the issues with Miami's proposed subway system (it may be under construction now - I don't know). One thing people have brought up before is the salt mines under the city. Based on my research though, it doesn't seem like it would really be that big of an issue, since the salt mines are pretty far under the ground.

My concern with putting a garage under Woodward would be the lack of pedestrian friendliness. I would much prefer to see garages go under Washington Boulevard. From the standpoint of putting entrances and exits, it would work much better. Also, Washington is wider, so it could accomodate more cars. I think you'd find that Woodward is not wide enough to accomodate a very large garage - all the old buildings have basements that extend under the sidewalk - so you cannot really build under the sidewalks.

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You bet, I have a closet full of old newspapers I used to collect for all of the development proposals past and present. As soon as I can dig it up I will. Seems to me it was to go up Woodward and have satellite trains connecting east and west back when it was still relatively possible. Detroit wanted to become an eastern style city in terms of transport but hey things happened. I agree with you when you say pedestrian friendly is a key to substainable transit. Washington Blvd. at least had and to some extent still does offer that asthetic. I guess it's time to dig through the old files eh? There were some neat articles back in the day about what Detroit could have been had many of the plans come to fruition. Not the plans of the past 10 years but pre-depression and while the city was growing by leaps and bounds in the 20's. Give me a bit of time, if you'd like email me at [email protected] and maybe we can figure out a comprehensive map of what was, what might have been, and what still could be.

Peace to you,


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If the state has the maps you can email the propoer department and they should get them for you, or at least let you know how to get ahold of them. If they try and BS you about some "security issues" thing (basically they are just to lazy to look up the records) just appeal your request and they should give in.

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Yeah, a garage will not be built under Washington (or any other place in Detroit, for that matter) until land values dictate that it must be done.

What department at the state level would even have the subway plans? Btw, lore has it that every person who has ever touched the plans has died a mysterious death. How true that is, I do not know...probably not very true. But if I disappear one day, you'll know why. :lol:

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