Almost 57 years after his death, maybe it's time to look back on Detroit Mayor Albert Cobo. Cobo presided over, and was involved in, the removal of streetcars from Detroit's streets. There were 10 functioning streetcar lines when Cobo took office in 1950. By April, 1956, they were all gone. You see, Cobo promoted freeway construction as the way of the future. In the end, it was he who personally urged City Council to sell the city's recently purchased fleet of modern streetcars to Mexico City.
But, as we reported
on the 50th anniversary of the last streetcar rolling down Woodward Avenue, "It was a controversial move. A newspaper poll showed that Detroiters, by a margin of 3-to-1, opposed the switch to buses. Some even jeered the sunken freeways Cobo championed, dubbing them 'Cobo canals.'"
Well, Cobo got his way — and died of a heart attack less than a year-and-a-half afterward. Cobo was a product of his time, a fervent believer in progress, that privately owned vehicles and expressways were the future, and that light rail had no place in that future. And whether you regard him as a relic of the bad old days, he at least made the deals and commitments to giving Detroit a gold-plated expressway system that would carry it into the future.
Which looks sort of quaint these days, when you consider that Lansing refuses to raise the money needed to make badly needed repairs to the state's roads. In fact, as the daily papers are reporting, if you don't like your freeway flooded, tough titty — get used to it
. (Never mind that billions of dollars are slated for expansions of I-94 and I-75 that critics call unnecessary
and would require larger budgets to maintain.)
We can't help but wonder, then, if the wags who laughed at Cobo's freeway obsession haven't have the last laugh. After all, if we can expect our freeways to flood several times a year, is "Cobo canal" a joke or a fact?
And why not simply eliminate pumping stations altogether and become the Boater City?