The Detroit People Mover was part of the Urban Mass Transportation Authority (UMTA) Downtown People Mover (DPM) program. The program received 35 proposals, and four cities were selected: Cleveland, OH; Houston, TX; Los Angeles, CA; and St. Paul, MN. Detroit had applied, but was able to pursue the DPM with other funding along with two other cities (Miami, FL and Baltimore, MD) bringing the total to 7 DPM approved plans.
Only Detroit and Miami followed through on constructing their DPM system. Miami eventually demolished their DPM. The Detroit effort was started by the Southeast Michigan Transportation Authority (SEMTA), which would later become the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART). SEMTA sold ownership of the system to the Detroit Transportation Corporation (DTC) in 1985 and the DPM launched in 1987.
Elevated rail was noted as the most viable option in a 1918 Barclay Parsons Clapp (later Parsons-Brinckerhoff) study and it was again proposed in a 1979 study of rapid transit options for the Detroit region. The rail line was proposed to run underground as a subway from Downtown to Grand Boulevard and then run as elevated rail from Grand Boulevard to McNichols, finally running at street level until I-696. The 1979 study of rapid transit plans included the early analysis for the Downtown People Mover project as well.
A proposed housing development in 1983 near where Orleans Landing was finally built noted the Downtown People Mover project and noted the possibility of expansion eastward to accommodate senior citizen mobility needs while also connecting people to the riverfront. Ideally, this could have been an elevated rail line that eventually connected to Belle Isle, possibly even looping around the island.
The single largest expansion of the Downtown People Mover was in 2007 when David Curry and Marsden Burger proposed the Detroit People Mover 2.0 with key connections to the Medical Center and Henry Ford Hospital. The elevated addition would have run as its own separate line connecting to the DPM loop near Comerica Park. Many similar stops exist along the Qline route, but the convenience of elevated rail could not be made more apparent by the current failures of the Qline curbside routing.
The current DPM technology is outdated, but I can’t help but think of the possibility of add on elevated lines to the North, East, and Southwest that utilize the DPM as a hub like The Loop in Chicago. Maybe the RenCen should be Detroit’s newest transit hub where all the elevated rail lines get routed.