Say hello to the Mobility City

Recently there have been prominent editorials and comments about the loss of “our culture” because of changes in road safety and accessibility. In a recent Op-Ed, Keith Crain of Crain’s Detroit Business said that bicyclists “must have a powerful lobby.” We agree.

The Detroit Greenways Coalition and its coalition member organizations and the city have been honing their skills for well over fifteen years. Our organization has garnered significant support from the public to support the State of Michigan efforts to build Complete Streets that balance the needs for everyone who uses and pays for our public roads. It is important to note that these efforts do not diminish vehicle access but improve them for everyone’s use, to save lives and spur neighborhood growth and economic development. Our organization does not derive our support and lobby power from big bucks, we get it from the thousands of grassroots voices that say we can make our public roadways work better for everyone.

To the assertion that we should say “good-bye to the Motor City”, that’s just not true. Even Ford Motor Company accepts the fact that transportation is changing and every type of choice made by a Detroit resident is important. To further dispel what made Detroit transportation hub is that in 1868 the first person rode a bicycle in Detroit on East Jefferson – nearly 28 years before the first motorized vehicle.

Now 150 years later, the city of Detroit is making East Jefferson safer for everyone, bicyclists, pedestrians as well as motorists. The goal is to make it a neighborhood road where driving the speed limit feels right, where pedestrians can safely cross the road and where bicycling is a viable option for residents to shop, visit neighbors, shop and eat Downtown, picnic on Belle Isle, enjoy the RiverWalk and live the urban lifestyle of everyone strives for.   Jefferson can no longer be a “speedway” designed only to accommodate and encourage high-speed automobile traffic. Studies show that changes like this are important and impactful to revitalizing commercial corridors – something East Jefferson can certainly benefit from.

Over the past decades, the approach to East Jefferson and the neighborhoods along its route has not changed. And admittedly any change can be difficult to adjust to. Unfortunately it is even harder for those that think their time “behind the wheel” and their hurry to get to their next destination is more important that quality of life, safety or the economics of the neighborhood corridors through which they speed by.

The following are common refrains and misconceptions, along with the clarifications needed to educate those unwilling to recognize the importance of these changes or even to have the patience to accept the improvements that come over time.

“Bike lanes came without notice.”

Detroit started its citywide bicycle planning in 2005 with a non-motorized transportation master plan. There have been hundreds of public meetings since then for bike lane projects. Public feedback at these meetings has helped shape what the city is installing. East Jefferson in particular has seen significant non-motorized planning and meetings, including the “2012 Visions of Greenways” plan, the Detroit East Riverfront Framework Plan, and countless neighborhood and business meetings along the corridor.

“No one bikes in Detroit.”

This has not been true for over 150 years. While no city has exact numbers on bicyclists, we do know that there are at least 68 bike clubs in Detroit, each with many members who regularly ride throughout the city.  Slow Roll is the largest weekly bike ride in the United States with many rides topping well over a thousand participants. On an average day over 1,200 people use the Dequindre Cut, both pedestrian and bicyclists. The very popular MoGo bike share program hit its annual 100,000 trip goal in under 5 months and has shown non-motorized transportation is needed by both residents and visitors. Few cities in the country can make similar boasts.

“Bicyclists don’t pay their fair share.”

There is an unfortunately universal misconception that State and Federal taxes on motorist fuel and vehicle registrations fees cover Michigan’s road costs. They don’t. In 2014, those collected fees only covered 62.1% of the state road costs. The balance comes from the general fund and property taxes, which every Michigander pays, those with or without motor vehicles. The cost of bicycle and pedestrian facilities are just a fraction of the transportation costs in this state. If anything, bicyclists and pedestrians subsidize motorists.

“Bicyclists don’t follow the rules.”

Nationwide studies show this is not true.  It is simply that motorists notice others breaking the law more than they notice themselves. There is more severe and permanent danger to pedestrians and bicyclists from motor vehicles than the other way around.

It is worth remembering that the rules of the road were birthed by the auto industry to gain a competitive mobility advantage over other modes of transportation, be it bike, horse, cart or tram. The speed limit on East Jefferson used to be 12 MPH and everyone using it had to yield at every intersection. The industry pushed for higher speeds, stop signs, traffic lights, one way streets and later freeways so the convenience of motor cars over other modes would help sales. They coined the term “jaywalking” and restricted the pedestrian rights to the roadways. Cities nationwide are re-evaluating these archaic rules to bring more balance to the public rights-of-way. Having rules that make sense for pedestrians, bicyclists and motor vehicles will lead to greater safety in our neighborhoods.

Even on East Jefferson.

 

Bike to Work Day Recap

Thanks to everyone who participated in the 2018 Detroit Bike to Work Day event sponsored by Henry Ford LiveWell.

It was a record turnout — and the weather wasn’t too bad at all!

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan addressed the crowd at Spirit Plaza this year and noted:

We want to have choices in the city, different ways to get around, different ways to get to work: to be able to walk, to be able to bike, to be able to take a bus, to be able to drive.

The Mayor mentioned this and you can see it in the photos. There were many city staff riding bikes to the event and of course Council member Scott Benson. As you might imagine, there  is no better way for staff to understand the bicyclist needs and perspectives than first hand.

Council member Benson also introduced a Resolution declaring May 18th, 2018 as Bike to Work Day and the month of May as Bicycle Awareness Month. The resolution was passed by City Council.

Thanks to our other event sponsors include the office of Detroit Council member Scott BensonAECOM,  American Cycle and FitnessDetroit Future CityDowntown Detroit PartnershipGiffels-WebsterHNTBOHM AdvisorsMoGoSEMCOGTour de TroitWayne State University, and Wheelhouse Detroit.

 

Detroit’s TIGER strikes out… for now

The City of Detroit submitted an $18.285 million TIGER grant request last year to construct the Joe Louis Greenway (formerly known as the Inner Circle Greenway.) This $500 million US Department of Transportation grant program is super-competitive but we had high hopes given the value and scope of this great trail project.

However, we learned last Friday that Detroit’s grant wasn’t chosen.

Was this the end of TIGER funding? No one knows. These transportation grants began as part of President Obama’s 2009 stimulus package. They’ve been quite popular with Congress.

In many ways TIGER grants are a more transparent and competitive replacement for the old High Priority Projects (HPP). These project funds would get included in transportation bills in order to get votes in Congress. The Detroit RiverWalk got funding through this, but then so did the infamous Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska.

We certainly do hope that TIGER grants continue for the reason we gave in this recent People for Bikes article: “…there just aren’t very many funding opportunities unless you want to take a really long time to construct it over multiple grants.”

Regardless, progress on the Joe Louis Greenway continues. The city is doing its due diligence (e.g. environmental testing) of the Conrail railroad property. If all goes as expected, they should be purchasing the property this summer.

Once purchased, a Framework Plan will be created for the entire trail, including the portion within Highland Park. This will be a great opportunity for the community to provide their input on the trail’s design and operation.

It’s also a time to look at adjacent land uses and how those might complement the trail. Adding green stormwater infrastructure is a no brainer, as is affordable housing — a tool for mitigating residential displacement from rising property values.

Lastly, our new Joe Louis Greenway map is at the printers now and should be available by spring. A PDF of the map is available now. Thanks to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Doppelt Family Fund for making this possible.

Whose safety? The race of Detroit bicycle & pedestrian fatalities

Studies show that building Complete Streets designed for safer bicyclist and pedestrian travel saves lives. Complete Streets even reduce crashes for motorists by reducing bad behavior.

Studies show that adding on-road bike lanes can cut bicycle-vehicle collisions in half. Bike lanes, bump outs, and medians also reduce pedestrian collisions by effectively shortening the crosswalks.

Complete Streets are invaluable in Detroit given the large number of people dying on our roads each year.

In 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found Detroit has 6.79 pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 residents — the most of any major U.S. city. That 58% higher than second place Dallas with 4.31. Absolutely unacceptable.

They also reported Detroit’s bicycle fatality rate at 1.48 per 100,000 residents, which is for 26th among the 34 largest U.S. cities. Since bicycle fatalities fluctuate more year to year, we’re not sure how valuable this ranking is.

NHTSA also keeps all road fatalities in their Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) that includes race. We thought it would be interesting to see how bicycle and pedestrian fatalities aligned with Detroit’s overall demographics.

As it turns out, they align very closely.

2010-2016 Detroit Bicycle and Pedestrian Fatalities

 All Residents (2010)Fatalities
Black83%84%
White8%8%
Latino7%5%

Looking at just bicyclists, there were 20 fatalities in Detroit between 2010 and 2016. Among them, 17 were Black (89%), 1 was Mexican, 1 was White/Non-Hispanic, and 1 was unknown.

The average age among these fatalities? 46 years old. 73% are men though that is trending downward.

Some have said we’re building Complete Streets and bike lanes for the new Detroit — a more white, more young. That’s not the case. We’re building them for all, but especially to decrease road fatalities.

The data shows we have a great opportunity to do that.

Thanks for all your work, Jose Abraham

Jose Abraham shows where the planned Wilkins Connector just off the Dequindre Cut Extension.

Most ride, run and walk the trails throughout the city of Detroit without knowing who helped create them.

One person you should know is our good friend, the recently-retired Deputy Director of the Department of Public Works, Jose Abraham.

Jose started as a Dequindre Cut skeptic. Why convert this decrepit, abandoned rail corridor into a trail? Will it get used?

However, once it was built, he saw its potential and fully bought in. He led efforts on the Dequindre Cut Extension, part of the Link Detroit project. One highlight was landing a major federal TIGER grant to help fund it. Though the city had requested $15 million, the feds only approved $10 million — still a substantial grant.

We’ll never forget an initial TIGER grant meeting with Federal Highway Administration officials where Jose asked if we could scale back the project since we didn’t get all the funding that was requested. The officials said no, the city needed to find another $5 million dollars elsewhere. After a bit of nervous laughter, the meeting continued — and Jose made it happen. (Fortunately the construction bids came in lower than anticipated, too.)

Even before the Extension was under construction, Jose was looking to do more. He picked up Coalition plans for an Inner Circle Greenway, a 26-mile trail encircling the city. “The mother of all non-motorized trails,” as he liked to say. Of course this trail was recently renamed as the Joe Louis Greenway.

We worked closely with him writing grants under his direction, including the successful $3.4 million Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund and $1.2 million MDOT grants. These grants are now being used to acquire nearly 8 miles of abandoned Detroit Terminal Railroad property to close one of the biggest gaps in the Joe Louis Greenway.

We are certainly going to miss working with Jose on the numerous non-motorized projects happening all across Detroit, so many of which he played an instrumental role. This is especially true of the Joe Louis Greenway.

Thanks Jose for all you’ve done getting us to this point. You’re efforts will not be forgotten.

Why the Cass Avenue bike lanes?

Mini-Festivus poles separate the bike lane

WDET held its annual Festivus Airing of Grievances show and perhaps surprisingly the Cass Avenue bike lanes rose to the top.

Show panelist Candice Fortman said, “The problem is that they put these bike lanes in, so now you’ve got the bike lanes and you’ve got the parking in the middle of the street, and then you’ve got one lane of traffic, and buses and cars and snow, and it’s too much.” Panelist Matt Marsden said he doesn’t see people on it but flashed his behind-the-windshield bias by saying he wasn’t a biker, “I’m a commuter” apparently unaware that bicyclists commute, too.

These grievances are not news to us, but think many are missing the larger picture.

We did appreciate the WDET commenter “Jennifer” who correctly noted that Cass Avenue got bike lanes in exchange for MDOT making Woodward much less safe for biking.

MDOT knowingly made Woodward significantly less safe for bicyclists by allowing the streetcar to operate at the curbs. Since the rails have been installed, we know of bicyclists breaking collar bones, hips, and loosing front teeth due to crashes. Though not a bicyclist, in August 2016 a Detroit senior crashed his moped and later died due to the rails according to the Detroit Police Department report. And because everyone knew these types of events would occur ahead of time, the Federal Transit Authority required an improved parallel route for bicyclists. That’s Cass Avenue.

Any discussion about the discomfort motorists have with the new Cass should be weighed against the sacrifices bicyclists made (and continue to make) on Woodward. While every road user group has made compromises with the redesign of Cass and Woodward, bicyclists crashes and injuries from the streetcar rails are atop the list.

But let’s also address the other Cass bike lane grievances.

There’s no one using them

Clearly that’s untrue. Back in September 2015 we took bicycle counts on Cass and recorded 300 in 24 hours on a Wednesday. There were probably another 100 we missed that rode on the sidewalk. That’s comparable to the bike counts we see on the Dequindre Cut at Gratiot.

With the new Cass Avenue bike lanes, we expect this counts to be much higher. Automated bike counters are being installed along Cass and we should have real data this summer.

A lane was taken away for motorists

Some segments of Cass south of I-75 did lose a lane but traffic counts showed they were not necessary to handle the traffic volumes. Most of Cass was and still is a two-lane road. The lanes used to be wider and people would drive in the parking lanes. That option has been removed. The expected result is more motorists will drive the speed limit and there will be fewer sideswipes from cars passing other cars on the right. Lower speeds bring a significantly safer environment for all modes, but especially pedestrians and bicyclists. Lower travel speeds have also been shown to improve sales for local businesses along the streets, too.

Pedestrians also benefit from these narrower lanes as there is now a much shorter crossing distance.

Motorists now open their doors into traffic

This is not new. However, before motorists could swing open their doors without looking and not get hit by another car due to the over-sized vehicle lanes. The newer narrower lanes make it more important to look before opening ones door into traffic. Opening a door into oncoming cars and bicyclists is illegal. We recommend learning the Dutch Reach.

Ideally there would have been more room for parking so people would be more comfortable exiting their cars, but there wasn’t enough room. This was one compromise among many.

There’s no education on bike lanes

This is an underlying problem in Michigan. There isn’t a mechanism for informing drivers about new road designs. There’s no longer testing for driver’s license renewals. MDOT has bike lane brochure for motorists, but it’s not been widely printed or distributed. The Detroit Greenways Coalition, City of Detroit, Jefferson East Inc., MoGo Bike Share, SEMCOG and others are working to develop and share information. While there is funding at the state level for education on these laws, we’re finding it very difficult to use effectively.

Change is hard but especially when there is not a good existing process for education. As we often tell people, bike lanes are the new roundabouts. Everyone will eventually figure this out. We’ll all work together to try make that happen sooner than later.

Photo by L. Demchak

Grievances from Bicyclists

We’ve also heard complaints from bicyclists, mostly about the maintenance of the new lanes with respect to debris and snow. The Detroit Department of Public Works is responsible for their maintenance and have told us the recent snow storm has been a major learning lesson for their staff. Certainly there is a learning curve to maintaining this new style of bike lane and Detroit will eventually get past this as other cities have.

Motorists are parking and sometimes driving in bike lanes. From what we’ve seen, there’s not been much enforcement. There has been a grace period to allow time for motorists to learn how to drive and park legally, but that won’t last forever.

Lastly, we’ve heard from fast cyclists saying they don’t feel safe in the protected bike lanes — and that’s totally understandable. The new lanes are designed for slower, less confident bicyclists. MoGo riders, too. Under Michigan law, bicyclists can ride in the vehicle travel lanes and are not required to use the bike lanes. As far as we know there are no plans to change the traditional bike lanes on parallel routes along Second and Third Avenue.

If there are design deficiencies at specific locations along the route (e.g. bad sight lines), the city has shown interest in tweaking the design to make it better.

And it will get better. It’s part of our mission to make certain.

UPDATE: We were reminded by Alice on Twitter that left turns at many intersections are now more challenging for bicyclists using the bike lanes. It’s more difficult to get to the vehicle lane and make the left. This is certainly a trade off of having protected bike lanes. At some intersections, a two-stage turn can help especially those with green bike boxes. 

December 2017 Updates

Happy 149th Anniversary!

The first bicycle was ridden in Detroit 149 years ago. Ben Fletcher brought a 100-pound Hanlon bicycle to Detroit. It was mostly made of wood and iron — bicyclists hadn’t invented inflatable rubber tires yet. Fletcher crashed often as he tried riding it along Jefferson according to the Detroit Free Press. As much as the newspaper mocked the rider, they did believe bicycles would eventually be “as plenty as carriages in the streets.”

Year end Donation

While it’s fun to look back, we need to keep focusing on moving things forward. To help us do that, we rely heavily on donations both big and small to cover our operating costs. It’s not too late to make a tax-deductible donation to the Detroit Greenways Coalition. We also have a montly support option if that’s more convenient. We appreciate any and all support!

Protected Bike Lanes (and Snow!)

People for Bikes just announced America’s best ten bikeways for 2017.  Though outside the top ten, Detroit did get honorable mention.

Every year, a handful of good projects narrowly miss our list.

One that stood out this year: the 3.5-mile protected bike lanes in Detroit’s Michigan Avenue, the latest in a series of massive projects that show the Motor City’s potential but have, so far, struggled with maintenance and poorly parked cars.

The City and MDOT have made rapid increases in new protected bike lanes — more than nearly all other U.S. cities — and there’s a learning curve for motorists and maintainence staff. The recent snow storm was a major challenge. The city has told us they are committed to maintaining them as well as the vehicle lanes. Once that happens, we can expect to see Detroit projects in that top ten.

Joe Louis Greenway Updates

  • Our new Joe Louis Greenway map is nearly complete. We should have copies to hand out by early next year.
  • Michigan Senator David Knezek has introduced Senate Resolution 115 “to support the city of Detroit’s efforts in the creation of the proposed Joe Louis Greenway.” We help craft this resolution with the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance.
  • We wrote supported three recent grants that would add bike lanes to Joseph Campau in Hamtramck, acquire land that would nearly double the length of the Dequindre Cut, and build much of the greenway with an $18.3 million TIGER grant. We also worked with 25 Detroit bike clubs and they agreed to sign on in support. We hope to hear the results of all these grants in early 2018.

Local Bicycle Ordinances

You may have heard about a recently passed state law that increased speed limits on some Michigan roads. Earlier this month we noticed an inadvertent mistake in the bill’s language that makes all local bicycle ordinances enforceable. It effectively removes the need for governments to post signs indicating what local bicycle ordinances exist. We are now working to get this corrected. (The mistake also makes local truck routes largely unenforceable.)

This is not a major concern in the city of Detroit since we’ve been working to clean up and remove outdated bicycle ordinances since 2008. However, we still have work to do in other cities such as Hamtramck.

Bicycle Network Strategy

If you’ve attended our recent Bike Trails & Cocktails event, you already know that Detroit is close to finishing a Bicycle Network Strategy with the Copenhagenize design firm. The latter recently mentioned in on their web site saying it is “… a forward-thinking protected bicycle network strategy for the greater downtown area, helping to set a standard for many American cities to follow.” We’re really looking forward to this becoming finalized and help standardize what our bicycle facilities look like.

Michigan Trails Summit

We’ve been working closely with mParks on their 2018 Michigan Trails Summit. This year it’s in Detroit on February 6th at the DNR Outdoor Adventure Center. Registration and conference details are now online.

Maybe we’ll see you there.

Until then, have a safe and happy holiday season!

Goodbye, Inner Circle Greenway. Hello, Joe Louis Greenway.

Joe Louis Greenway MapThe 26-mile greenway that wraps around the cities of Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park has a new name.

Back in February 2017, Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley asked, “When Joe Louis Arena is gone, how do we honor Detroit legend?” Legend isn’t used lightly with Louis. He was so much more than a world champion boxer. From breaking color barriers to fighting fascism, Louis was an inspirational both inside and outside of the ring.

So when Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan proposed naming the Inner Circle Greenway in his honor, it also lifted the greenway. A conceptual asphalt trail around the city in 2008 was now being named after the city’s most impactful athlete. Riley’s followup column wrote, “Detroit cements honor for Joe Louis with a giant greenway around the city.”

Louis’s family approved of the naming. That shouldn’t be much of a surprise as his son is a bicyclist and is a board member for the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

“I am delighted that the (greenway) will be named after my father Joe Louis,” said Joe Louis Barrow, Jr. son of the famous boxer. “It is a fitting tribute to a person who had a positive impact on so many people.”

Mayor Duggan added, “It will unite neighborhoods from all corners of this city in a dedicated area for walking and jogging and biking.”

Before this announcement, we contacted retired city attorney Jim Edwards. Jim was an early champion of the trail and coined the original name. He was very supportive of the renaming.

One interesting coincidence with the original name was the this caricature of P.N. Jacobsen standing in an “inner circle”. Jacobsen led the creation of the Detroit Terminal Railroad — which makes up about 8 miles of the greenway — and was an active Detroit cyclist during the 1880s and 1890s.

He wrote an article called The Detroit Wheelmen for the Outing Magazine in 1891. It noted that a result of the city putting on asphalt on the streets, “Wheeling has attained a height of popularity in Detroit heretofore unknown.”

Of course this was years before Detroit was Motor City — and we’re not advocating relinquishing that title. We just suggest adding a new one.

Detroit, world heavyweight greenway champion.

More information on the Joe Louis Greenway

MDOT to add protected bike lanes to Grand River Project

MDOT recently held an open house on August 10th, 2017 open house to discuss their Grand River Avenue reconstruction project.

Although this project is already under construction, the re-striping will be changed before it is completed in September. The seven-lane road between Cass Avenue and I-94 will be road-dieted to five lanes and (mostly) protected bike lanes. On-street parking will be removed except in locations where it is needed by small businesses. In those limited locations, bicyclists will loss the protected bike lane and have to share a 14-foot vehicle travel lane.

That is not certainly not ideal. However, the MDOT project team was unwilling to remove another lane of travel at this time, especially given the uncertainty of the new arena and its new traffic patterns. City planning did propose an alternative pavement marking where the protection drops that would alert motorists and encourage them to stay left.

Some small businesses did attend and affirm their need for on-street parking since they did not have off-street options. There seemed to be a respectful acknowledgement from both bicyclists and these owners that the road design wasn’t ideal but a fair compromise to benefit both parties.

Bicyclists also raised concerns about the maintenance of existing protected bike lanes. The city confirmed that they now have specialized equipment to sweep these lanes that are too narrow for standard width sweepers.

These Grand River bike lanes provide a key connection between many destinations, including Downtown, Woodbridge, Beacon Park, RiverWalk and more. East of Cass Avenue, a two-way cycletrack is planned to connect through downtown. It is anticipated that they will eventually get extended for the entirety of the Grand River.

With the completion of this year’s E. Jefferson, Cass, Warren, and Grand River Avenue projects, Detroit appears to be one of the top five U.S. cities for miles of protected bike lanes, up from 76th in 2015.

 

Bike Life is not getting displaced from the Riverfront

ClickonDetroit recently published the article, Detroit riverfront residents fed up with drag races, loud music, marijuana at night. That might not caught the eye of Detroit bicyclists except that the accompanying video showed bikes with music systems.

Were the complaints from residents, including new residents of Orleans Landing about them? Were they about to be displaced from the riverfront area? Is this New Detroit vs. Old Detroit?

Detroit Police 7th Precinct hosted a meeting with Council member Mary Sheffield to hear from residents and discuss their plans to address the concerns. We attended to learn more and share information with the bike club riders.

Despite the original video, the issue isn’t about bicycles at all. It’s about speeding as well as parked cars and motorcycles and their loud stereo systems.

It was mostly Old Detroit raising concerns. They consistently noted that these concerns weren’t new and they many had been raising them for years.

Perhaps only one “New Detroit” person spoke up to suggest the city look for other locations where this noisy culture can exist without affecting quality of life of nearby resident — rather than just do enforcement.

The police will be stepping up enforcement for the remainder of the summer by enforcing speed limits, noise levels, and parking restrictions. They are temporarily prohibiting parking on some streets this weekend to deal with loitering in parked cars. Longer term parking limitations may be implemented as well.

That’s not to say noise concerns couldn’t someday get applied to bicycles. Some systems can get super loud. It probably would be best if riders could self-police noise levels in the late evening and early morning hours to prevent this from becoming a public concern.

While the city of Detroit noise ordinance only applies to motor vehicles, city council could change that. We’d rather not see that happen.