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.

Proposed Detroit streetcar ordinances affects biking

There is a public hearing on Monday, May 8th at 10:06AM for new Detroit ordinances relating to the QLine. They mostly relate to streetcar operations but some affect bicycling on Woodward Avenue.

The initial ordinance language raised a couple primary concerns for Woodward bicyclists.

  • Though not intended as such, 58-10-18 appeared to prohibit bicyclists from riding near or across streetcar tracks.
  • Both 58-10-11 and 58-10-51 prohibit bicyclists riding “in a manner calculated” to delay the streetcar.

The ordinance specified these as misdemeanors with up to a $500 fine and/or 90 days in jail.

We met with MDOT, M1 Rail, and Council member Scott Benson’s office to review the language and address these concerns. Council member Benson was able to get positive changes made to the ordinance language before Monday’s hearing.

For the first concern, the intention was to prohibit people from making devices that could ride specifically on the rail. The language has been clarified to better match this intent.

As for the second concern, the wording was changed from the “calculating” to the more common legal term “intentionally”. While still open to interpretation from enforcement, it’s an improvement. Besides this may not end up being too much of a concern as the QLine is rather slow and makes numerous stops. It’s more likely to impede bicyclists than vise versa.

Enforceable?

Although the ordinance is expected to pass City Council on the 9th, we still have questions of how enforceable these bicycle ordinances will be given the State’s Motor Vehicle Code (MVC). The MVC smartly tries to keep road regulations uniform across the state while requiring notice to users when they are different at the local level.

The MVC does allow local governments to regulate the operation of bicycles, but those regulations must be posted.

An ordinance or regulation … shall not be enforceable until signs giving notice of the local traffic regulations are posted upon or at the entrance to the highway or street or part of the highway or street affected, as may be most appropriate, and are sufficiently legible as to be seen by an ordinarily observant person.

There had not been any prior plans to post such signs.

Another question involves conflicts between this ordinance and the MVC. The latter gives bicyclists the right to ride on the right side of Woodward. The local ordinance (58-10-52) says bicyclists lose that right when the streetcar gives a signal. That seems to conflict with the MVC language on local regulations, but that’s unclear.

Be Safe!

None of this is to say you shouldn’t get out of the way of a heavy streetcar for your own safety. However, given the meandering rail alignment, safely getting of the way of anything is a challenge enough without adding the fear of a misdemeanor.

Other tips: Always try to cross the rails at a 90-degree angle and remember that wet rails are extra slippery.

Under many circumstances, Cass Avenue and John R will be the safer bike routes. As a result of these Woodward bicycle safety issues, MDOT is funding improvements on Cass Avenue. Protected bike lanes from Lafayette to W. Grand Boulevard will be built this summer after the road is repaved.

Above all, if you ride Woodward, be careful! We’ve already heard of far too many bicycle crashes due to the rails and that was before streetcars were added to the mix.

We don’t want to add your name to the list.

St. Aubin gets a makeover!

Thanks to the volunteers that helped clean St. Aubin Street on Saturday between Canfield and .

The street looks fantastic… The clean up makes the neighborhood more welcoming for bikes, walking, and street traffic. Great Job, please pass on our thanks to all the volunteers. — St. Albertus

Thanks again for cleaning up Saint Aubin! It looks great, and it’ll ride even better. — Tim, a local resident

The City of Detroit played a major role as well. They came through first with a skid steer to removed the heavy sedimentation and vegetation. It was so bad that you often couldn’t see the bike lane. They followed up with their street sweepers.

We also want to thank GFL (Green for Life) (provided tools, gloves, safety vests and more), Meijer (provided snacks and water), and the Polish American Historic Site Association.

 

Help us create a Detroit Bike & Trail Map

Detroit Bike Map Sponsorship

Interest in Detroit biking continues to climb rapidly. At the same time, the city and others have been investing in a network of bike routes, bike lanes, and trails. This map will help Detroit bicyclists find and use these new bike facilities, ride them safely, and connect them to city's burgeoning bike culture. The map will contain information on group rides, major bike/trail projects, and basic safety tips.

We need sponsors so we may finish, print and distribute a new Detroit bike and trail map.

We are looking to raise a minimum of $5,000 to finish and print 4,000 maps on high-quality map paper.

All sponsors will be recognized with their logo on the printed map, on our web page, through social media and in a press release. Gold and Silver members have the option to receive bulk maps for distribution, their employees, or club members. Sponsor recognition will be scaled by sponsorship level.

This is a great opportunity to promote more bicycling -- and more safe bicycling -- in Detroit.

 

 
 
On Behalf Of Organization

Making the case for Detroit pedestrian investments

We spent time with city staff taking photos in Detroit neighborhoods that demonstrate the need for greater investment in better walking infrastructure.

From non-existent sidewalks to impassable ones, we didn’t document anything that was uncommon to Detroiters. In fact, during our journey we were stopped by neighbors asking that we visit their area in hopes of getting their sidewalks improved.

We thought it might be best to simply share our photos. Clearly, these need to be improved if Detroit is to become serious about building 20-minute neighborhoods.

Do you have any poor walking conditions in the city of Detroit that you wish to highlight?

Detroit going “Zero-to-sixty” on protected bike lanes

Livernois protected bike lane under construction near Michigan Avenue

Livernois protected bike lane under construction near Michigan Avenue

Yes, “Zero-to-sixty” is a car term unless you’re a really fast cyclist and thinking in metric. However, it was used by city staff and it’s certainly accurate.

Detroit has three of the nation’s longest protected bike lane (PBL) projects under construction now. Four more significant projects are planned for construction in 2017. With only 0.3 miles of PBL completed today, Detroit is ranked #78 among US cities. We expect it to be in the top ten by the end of the year and in the top five next year.

We’re jumping from one end of the bell curve to the other.

While this is really exciting it also brings concerns about how this rapid change affects the users.  Whenever you add new designs to the roads (e.g. roundabouts), it takes education and time for people to adjust. It’s not just motorists. It’s bicyclists, pedestrians, public transit users, DDOT drivers, law enforcement, delivery vehicles, street sweepers, snow plow operators, local businesses and more.

The good news is there’s a group meeting to discuss safety and education programming with some likely funding behind it. We’re working with MDOT on updates to their “What every motorist must know about bike lanes” brochure since it doesn’t include PBLs. It’s going to take time.

In the meantime, here are four suggestions for all of us:

  1. Be Careful & Considerate — Don’t expect everyone to instantly know how to operate around the new lanes, but especially if the planned two-way PBLs for Downtown get installed as expected. This is a major change for everyone. (Imagine the Dequindre Cut being routed on Downtown streets!) If you’re ever unsure, just be especially careful, go slow, and watch out for others. Remember that next year, Detroit Bike Share should get more people on bikes that may not be as experienced.
  2. Be Patient — As much as the city is trying to get PBLs designed perfectly from the start, they may need to be tweaked over time (see the next suggestion.) In some cases what’s wanted in the design is not yet approved by MDOT and the Federal Highway Administration. That could take additional time.We also need to step up education on motorists and where they should be parking. Motorists have been parking against the curb for the past century. Until we get to the next phase and start replacing the PBL separating posts with raised curbs, it’s going to look odd parking in the street. It’ll take time getting this message out to everyone.Lastly, sweeping and snow removal maintenance is a work in progress. The city is investing in special equipment that fits in the narrow PBLs. In some case they’ll be maintaining the PBLs on MDOT roads. They need to coordinate snow removal so that they’re not pushing the white stuff back and forth between the vehicle travel lanes and PBLs — or blocking the sidewalk. It’s going to take some time to get this working well.
  3. Provide Feedback — Please document your concerns and send them to us, info@detroitgreenways.org. We’ll share them with the city. We’ve already heard about drivers opening passenger car doors in the E. Jefferson lanes. Those buffer areas are much narrower than what’s typical due to the lack of space between the curbs. On the new projects, most of the buffer areas between the PBLs and parked cars will be twice as wide.
  4. Be aware of your options — PBLs are intended to create a safe riding area for less experienced and less confident bicyclists. That may not be you. State law doesn’t require that you ride in PBLs (or any bike lane for that matter.) If you’re going fast or riding in a large group, it may make more sense that you stay in the other travel lanes. We’ll educate local law enforcement on this legal option.

We will vouch that the city and all the stakeholders are putting a great deal of effort into this. There’s a huge learning curve for everyone. We’ve seen nothing but the best intentions from all involved to get over that curve.

As more Detroiters feel comfortable biking in PBLs (and we have the data to prove it), we can expect more investment in them. Over time, those white plastic posts can be enhanced with planters or replaced raised curbs. It’s going to take time, effort, education and bit of discomfort, but working together, we can adjust and improve — and get a whole lot more people feeling comfortable riding bicycles in Detroit.

Lastly, with this rapid change, we expect the national bicycle organizations won’t have a choice but to start acknowledging Detroit’s bicycle friendliness. Add in the nation’s most diverse bicycle culture and they’ll realize we’re the role model they’ve been looking for. The spotlight is coming. Let’s make sure we’re ready for our closeup.