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Saginaw, MI (Part I)

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Well, here is the next stop on my tri-cities tour. The first city visited was Bay City. I ended by crossing the Zilwaukee Bridge into the Saginaw area.

Saginaw, MI is located about 11 miles up the river from Bay City. Once one of the wealthiest cities in Michigan, it has faced difficult times in the last 40 years. Saginaw has had a turbulent past with losses in industry, racial tension, and a huge loss in population while its suburban areas boom.

However, in recent years, the city has begun to make a comeback. Recent projects such as a brand new cardiovascular center, a renovated theatre, and refurbished arena (now home to an Ontario Hockey League team) have brought more people downtown.

The pictures I'm about to show you are on Saginaw's East side. Because I was cut short on time, I tried to get as many as I could of the downtown area. There is some beautiful architecture in other areas of the city that will be explored at another time.



The other tour ended at the Zilwaukee Bridge. Welcome to Saginaw!


Another shot of the bridge


I couldn't get a good picture of it. But these pipes are elevated for a few miles. They run through an industrial area along the river. I'm not sure if they carry wastewater from the foundaries or if they are just part of the city sewer system.


Saginaw Metal Casting Operations (GM) is doing quite well. Many people know it as the Gray Iron Plant. That name began to wear off after they switched to making engine blocks out of aluminum instead of iron. Today, the plant features some interesting state of the art machinery for production.


The approach into downtown on Washington. The bridge is I-675 crossing the river.


The Saginaw County Events Center. Formerly the "Saginaw Civic Center," county tax dollars pay for its maintenance and recent renovation justifying the need for a new name. This complex features a (12 000? seat) arena and Heritage theatre (cut out of photo). Its major venue is the Saginaw Spirit Ontario Hockey League team. The Civic Center was part of a major urban renewal project that took place around the 70's. Many city blocks of old buildings were demolished to clear way for parking ramps, an attmept at a downtown mall, a department store (Jacobson's chain is gone) a Federal building (demolished because of health reasons), and an elevated walkway system that linked many of the downtown buildings (some have been removed) It appears that the county events center is the only building that has succeeded in the "urban renewal" project


Newly renovated Temple Theatre


Looking down Washington


Back of an old building. I liked the fire escape.


Some buildings on Genesee Ave. This is the same Genesee Ave. That goes through Flint, MI.


The Commerce center. I belive only the 3rd, 4th, and 5th floors are used.


Left, old Second National Bank building, now Citizens. Right, Eddy Place.


Citizens Bank, with the ugly modern addition cut off. :rolleyes:


Bancroft Building.


Back, SBC; Center, The Saginaw News; Front, Bancroft building


A row of businesses off Washington.


A look inside a vacant building. I actually have more photos of it because it was filled with bizarre things. The exterior of the building is in good condition. Perhaps it will be redeveloped someday.


And the final shot is of the Eddy Place. I believe it was once a hotel many many years ago.

Stay tuned for Part II!

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Sadly no. The city used heavy rail at one time. There were a few stations surrounding the area, where you could hop on a train and pretty much go to any city within the surrounding area. When the population went down, this system was not used as much and eventually removed. As far as other cities, I'm not really sure. Most I know don't, but it could be really useful. Joined cities such as Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti have thrown the idea of a light rail system around, but never got serious on the topic. If Detroit ever decides to construct a light rail system into the suburbs, I'm sure Ann Arbor may be a candidate along the line. The primary system of mass transit in Michigian is busses. Nearly every large city I know of in the state has a bus system. However I have found the bus system in Ann Arbor to be annoying. Although reliable, they are very crowded making trips across my college campus there difficult.

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Nice pics. Saginaw looks better than I thought it would, given its reputation.

About the mass transit thing....

I'm going to attempt to keep this short. I feel that rail transit, either in the form of a trolley line, light rail, or heavy rail is necessary for a thriving urban center. Many of Michigan's cities once had rail systems of some sort. Flint had streetcars, as did Grand Rapids. Detroit had the largest city-owned streetcar system in the country at one point, and there was a subway system that began construction in 1926, but stopped in 1929 because of the Depression. In 1935, the automotive lobbyists convinced the city to stop the subway project for good, and to begin trading the trains for more modern buses. The Woodward streetcar line was the last to close in 1956.

There is a study being conducted for a rail line between Ann Arbor and Downtown Detroit.


There is also a study being conducted for a light rail system in Grand Rapids. I can't find the link at the moment, but I believe the timeline for completing the system is 2015.

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great pics, I can't wait to see part II. The city does look to be in better shape than what has been said about it from former residents who moved down south.

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DETROIT COULD HAVE HAD A SUBWAY?! How could the city be so short sited they even had the project going, in short wtf would they stop!

Yep. I have to find the link to the story. I've posted it here before. There is another good article about freeways that I will also post a link to. It shows how people within the government knew about the sprawl that the interstate system would cause.

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Detroit has had not one or two, but multiple opportunities to build a subway system, first in 1919, in the 1920s, again in 1933, and finally in the late 1970s. I could not find the original article I was looking for, but I saved it to my computer, so I will post it here. I managed to find a photo of the sign in the basement of Fisher Building in the WSU archives. I also dug up a few other interesting things, including a document from the state website that indeed proves that a subway system was seriously considered in the late 1970s.

May 03, 2003

Detroit subway uncovered !

Well, maybe not a FINISHED system but at least a main station under the intersection of Woodward, Gratiot and Michigan Aves.

The rumors heard from utility and city employees and police officers who have been down there over the years for odd things like alarms, leaks, etc all say the same thing - that there is a partially built subway system under the city !

After some checking, sure enough, there was in fact a subway construction project that began in 1927 and ended shortly after the the stock market crash of 1929.

According to some, the massive main station that connects the major routes (Woodward, Gratiot, Mich Ave) was completed along with a main building above ground. Pilot tunnels for the actual subways themselves (not full diameter) are rumored to have been dug as far as 3 miles in some directions. When the project was officially killed (in the 30s or 40s by automaker influence) the building was razed and the network of tunnels leading to the main station and downtown office buildings, was capped, sealed and forgotten.

An overlooked peice of evidence of this system lays only a few miles from downtown in the basement of the Fisher building where, above the pedestrian tunnel leading from the Fisher to the GM building (now Cadillac Place) sports an original sign from 1928, the year the Fisher building was completed, reading "subway this way" pointing in the direction of Woodward Ave by way of the GM building.

Skeptics say the word "subway" was used to mean "underground walking tunnel" but in other cities that have subways and underground tunnels used to get to them, the term for such tunnels is PEDESTRIAN TUNNEL or "pedway".

Sources from TRU - Transit Riders United (www.detroittransit.com) confirm the rumors and evidence and point to, among other things, the fierce lobbying that took place in the 40s and 50s in Washington by GM, Goodyear and Standard Oil (now Amoco) to cut funding to passenger and freight rail in favor of the National Highway System and other auto related programs. This lobbying resulted in the removal of trolleys in Detroit, LA and many other cities and the addition of dirtier and less fuel and time efficient busses. Congestion went up and air quality went down. Billions of dollars and billions of gallons of petroleum were wasted simply idling in traffic.

In 2000, Los Angeles got a new subway and many cities have rebuilt non automotive, non bus public transit systems that help to curb urban sprawl, sedentary lifestyle diseases, air pollution and fuel waste. TRU is working to bring a "bus rapid transit" system to metro Detroit that has "real time" arrival displays at each station, holds green lights long enough to get through without stopping, has fewer stops and uses dedicated lanes where possible to move as many people as possible with the least amount of infrastructure investment.

Bus rapid transit is popular in many cities who can't get enough voter support for a real subway. The cost is about $200-500 million compared to $2-5 billion for subways. But subways and their above ground elevetated portions are still faster and more efficient than bus rapid transit.

Some say TRU is pushing BRP (bus rapid transit) because it has given up on subways fearing most voters and politicians do not want to commit to such an expensive system. TRU itself points to years of political ups and downs that made subways look promising only to have everyones hopes dashed at the last minute after some political wrangling made sure matching federal funds weren't reachable.

In a state where automakers know how to bend both politicians and rules and a voting mass that doesn't seem to care, the economic, societal and environmental benefits of a subway in metro Detroit might well lay covered up forever.

Michael Cohn




A chronology of mass transit in metro Detroit

April 27, 1998

1863: First horse-drawn streetcars on Jefferson, Woodward, Gratiot and Michigan avenues.

1892: Conversion to electric streetcars begins.

1892: First interurban streetcar starts service between Detroit and Wyandotte.

1919: Mayor James Couzens vetoes bond issue to build subway lines.

1921: City-owned streetcar system opens with two lines.

1922: City of Detroit buys out private streetcar lines.

1925: First buses start operating. Regional transit plan calls for superhighways with medians for rapid transit lines on rails.

1931: Grand Trunk commuter rail starts between Detroit and Pontiac.

1933: Detroit voters overwhelmingly approve a subway. State advisory board refuses to recommend construction to the federal government, so it isn't built.

1941: Transit use surges with World War II and rationing.

1945: Peak of Detroit transit patronage -- 492 million rides.

1951: Transit strike, which lasts 51 days, permanently hurts ridership.

1956: Last streetcar runs down Woodward.

1967: Suburban bus companies, which replaced commuter rail lines, are going broke. State sets up SEMTA -- the Southeastern Michigan Transportation Authority -- to run the system. SEMTA and the Detroit bus system are told to merge; they never do.

1976: President Gerald Ford offers the region $600 million for a rail system. Except for the People Mover, it never happens.

Early 1980s: With subsidies dwindling, SEMTA shuts down routes and lays off employees.

1984: The Big Four -- Mayor Coleman Young and top elected officials of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties -- agree on a tri-county rail and bus plan. It goes nowhere.

1985: SEMTA turns over to Detroit final construction and operation of People Mover because of problems including massive cost overruns and project mismanagement.

1987: People Mover starts operating.

1989: SEMTA is renamed SMART.

1991: With revenues stagnant and deficits rising, SMART says it's about to fail without a merger with DDOT and suburban subsidies.

1992: SMART management and unions work out a deal to keep service.

1994: Detroit and SMART merge five routes in what was hoped to produce an eventual systems merger. The program was canceled a year later when talks fell through.

1995: Tri-county voters approve a regional transit tax to provide SMART with about $18 million annually for three years. SMART starts to expand service and redesign routes to better serve city and suburban workers.

1996: In a dispute over funding, SMART and DDOT threaten to stop honoring each other's tickets and transfers. The two systems work out their differences and develop a new regional pass.

1996: The Regional Transit Coordinating Council tells the Federal Transit Administration that it will consolidate service on Woodward by September 1996. It also says it will consolidate service on Jefferson, Van Dyke, John R, Gratiot, Michigan, Fort, Greenfield and Grand River by the end of 1997. SMART and DDOT then announce plans to consolidate Woodward service but negotiations stall.

1997: Transit officials announce plans to consolidate city and suburban bus service on Michigan by January 1998.

1998: Talks on Michigan consolidation collapse. DDOT announces it will end suburban service -- a move that affects about 1,500 riders. SMART expands service to pick up some of the slack.

Source: Free Press research



The Genie in the Bottle: The Interstate System and Urban Problems, 1939-1957

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Yeah, it is. Every attempt to increase mass transit seems to fail. Why did that happen/is that happening?

The suburbanites don't want to cooperate with the city on mass transit, and there is no money for mass transit - we're too busy widening roads so that the inner city can suffer at the expense of the outer ring suburbs.

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Just wanted to let you guys know that I'll be posting Saginaw's West side and more photos of the East side including a few shots of the inner city neighborhoods and what they are doing to improve in the upcoming week.

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Awesome pics. The look of the SBC building looks Art Deco, right?

Very unique for a smaller city! It sucks that so much of the industry like what exists in Saginaw is leaving the state for other regions or countries. We need to work hard to keep what we've got left here as it is.

Saginaw has a lot downtown to be proud of.

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Nice pics of Saginaw.

I didn't realize it had a skyline.

And the city looks really clean while maintaning it's historical buildings.

The river is also a plus.

This looks like a little over looked gem.

BTW, Speaking of subways, there seems to be what looks like what would have been a subway station enterence, on W. Jefferson in the Delray neighborhood close to the River Rouge city limits.

Check it out sometime and see if I'm right.

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Actually many of the Detroit subway stations would've been where the underground city parking garages are now. I will look and check that out if I think of it though. There is a model of the Detroiti subway system in the Detroit Historical Museum, which I have been meaning to go in & take a pic of for a long time.

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