Tragedy points to need for improved public transportation:
An open letter


Every day we encounter martyrs for the cause of mass transit. People who might be healthy, alive, kept out of jail if only they had another way to get from here to there. Our effort, as a body politic, is to seek immediate help the Michigan legislature restore and expand the $5 million Comprehensive Transportation Fund, now in jeopardy.

Consider first a wealthy Oakland County businessman, who declined publishing his name. For countless years he contributed to Republican coffers and civic charities. Then a guy with bad brakes crashed into the businessman's car, causing a severe concussion and an upended life without America's fifth freedom -- transportation.

He suffered such excruciating headaches he was unable to drive the family Volvo or company truck. Instead he forked out $90 to take a cab from home in Grosse Pointe to a church in Bloomfield Hills to attend a funeral. He spends up to three hours trying to commute via bus. All of us are riding on the mass need for transit, whether it is because the car is in the shop, we're too drunk to drive tonight or health prohibits driving.

Clinton Township insurance salesman, Robert W. Gallas, 47 will likely spend the rest of his life wishing public transportation existed along Romeo Plank Road in Clinton Township when he walked drunk out a bar and stepped on the gas that fateful night in early February.

Driving home on an unlit street he killed 20 year old Ronald Young of Hamtramck, thought he hit a tree branch and left the scene. He injured Young's girlfriend, Sheerita Wilson and dragged the baby, Deborah Young, for over a mile. The Hamtramck family got lost trying to find a bus stop after visiting Young's father at Macomb County Jail.

By the grace of God the police found little Deborah and got her to Children's Hospital in Detroit where she was released a week later. Sheerita Wilson was also released to suffer the grief of her lost lover. Gallas shares space in the same jail as Young's father, facing charges of leaving the scene of an accident, two counts of drunken driving causing a serious injury and one count of drunken driving causing death.

We understand hazards to mass transit in a cash-strapped economy. Bear in mind, a light rail from downtown to Birmingham would cost about $400 million, less than the price tag of widening I-75 through south Oakland. The same effort would place us in league with thriving, transit abundant cities like Boston, Seattle or Chicago and permanently reduce congestion.

Once aboard a commuter train or ample bus system, we'd start communicating with one another, city dweller, suburban dweller, rich and poor, black and white. Looking at each other face to face, instead of speeding by in our four-wheeled steel tubes.

None of us can restore the health of this benevolent executive, bring back the life of Ronald Young or buy a cab fare for jailed Robert Gallas. We can prevent the next tragedies from happening. We can build a vital, connected society.

I urge you to act wisely.

- Maureen McDonald

Maureen McDonald is a Detroit-based freelance writer, and founder of Urbanity Now news service.
© 2002