Detroit Needs Complete and Safer Streets Now

Worst US Cities for Pedestrian FatalitiesLast month the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released their 2013 Traffic Safety Facts for Pedestrians report.

The statistics are grim. Every two hours a pedestrian is killed in the U.S. Fourteen percent of all road fatalities are pedestrians and that continues to trend upwards.

Among U.S. cities above 500,000 people, Detroit has the highest pedestrian fatality rate. It’s not even close. With 6.1 fatalities per 100,000 people, Detroit is well above second-place Jacksonville at 3.92.

Sadly enough, Detroit fatality rate has risen every year since 2010 when it was “only” 3.2 fatalities per 100,000.

This is a major public safety issue that everyone has a role in solving.

  • Last year Detroit City Council updated and modernized its traffic ordinances – a good first step. We expect them to take up a Complete Streets ordinance this year that makes the city consider all modes of transportation when reconstructing roadst.
  • To its credit, the Department of Public Works has been building Complete Streets projects in high-crash areas. As the statistics show, more work needs to be done. Even adding more bike lanes and road diets can help reduce speeding and make it easier for pedestrians to cross Detroit’s often wide streets.
  • Improvements in public lighting should also help reduce pedestrian crashes. Since 2010, over 80% of Detroit’s pedestrian fatalities have occurred at night and nearly half of those were in unlit areas.
  • We urge Mayor Mike Duggan to join the other 177 cities that have already signed on to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Mayors’ Challenge. This is a nationwide effort to create more seamless, convenient and safe biking and walking communities. The city with the worst pedestrian fatality rate needs to be at this table.
  • Residents and businesses should commit to clearing snow and ice from their sidewalks. During the summer, sidewalks should be cleared of debris and vegetation trimmed for good sight lines. Pedestrians are more likely to use sidewalks when they feel safe on them.
  • impact-of-speed-on-pedestrians1And lastly, all motorists need to use extra caution around pedestrians and bicyclists. Everyone needs to drive the speed limit. A “harmless” five MPH over is not harmless. At 20 MPH, a pedestrian has a 5% chance of being killed. It’s 45% at 30 MPH and 85% at 40 MPH. Unlike the Metro Detroit suburbs, most city streets have low posted speed limits. We’d like to see more people following them. Speed does kill.

Detroit has the basic underlying structure for a very walkable city. We just need to make sure it’s safe for everyone in every neighborhood. It’s about quality of life, social equity, and public health – and it needs to be everyone’s priority.

We submitted the above commentary nearly a couple weeks ago to one of Detroit’s major papers. That paper never returned our emails or voice mail, so we decided to publish it ourselves. That paper did publish their own commentary on the “full-blown public safety emergency” of potholes and bridges — neither of which can match the 312 pedestrians and 26 bicyclists killed on Detroit roads during the past decade. 

Biking on the new bridge to Canada

2009 Bike the Bridge eventIn prior times, bicyclists could get between Detroit and Windsor via the ferry service or the Ambassador Bridge. Neither of those are an option today.

It’s a shame because both cities have wonderful bike trails and routes. Ontario’s wine country is a 28 mile bike ride away and mostly on a rural trail. Or if you’re more ambitious, there is now a bike route from Windsor to Montreal.

And let’s not forget the other side of tourism. There are many Canadians wanting to ride in Detroit. Windsor is easily accessible by VIA Rail, which offers bike roll-on service.

While Detroit is building a 26-mile Inner Circle Greenway, Windsor is building a 26-mile bike route called the Windsor Loop. The bridge can connect them both for an epic, international riding option.

What is the Detroit Greenways Coalition doing about re-establishing international crossings for bicyclists?

Plenty, and now we’ve documented that with a new web page called, Bicycling access between Detroit and Windsor.

The only downside to this discussion is the timeline. The new bridge is at least five years away and ferry service is unknown.

 

Active Living Detroit Mini-Grants for 2015

2014_flyer_pictureGrant funding usually takes a lot of effort to get and it comes with significant requirements. That makes it unattainable for many worthy grassroots community projects.

Recognizing this, the Healthy Environments Partnership (HEP) created a mini-grant program to support Active Living projects. Seeing the program’s success, the Detroit Food and Fitness Collaborative’s Active Living committee (which the Coalition co-chairs) began contributing funding, too.

This program has continued to support successful grassroot projects throughout Detroit, so it’s exciting that another year of mini-grants are available.

The Active Living Detroit Mini-Grant Program awards mini-grants of up to $1000 to Detroiters developing sustainable projects and activities aimed at promoting physical activity and environments that support active living.

Priority is given to projects that:

1) Engage community residents, particularly youth;
2) Support complete streets concepts and implementation; and
3) Incorporate Detroit Greenways.

Any neighborhood groups or organization located in the city of Detroit are eligible to apply. This includes, but is not limited to, block clubs, art groups, service organizations, parks and recreational organizations, churches, professional associations, school-based groups, and individuals. Limit to one application per organization.

The grant application and flyer (in English and Spanish) are available on HEP’s web site. Examples of other previously successful grants are also listed.

For further information, contact Cindy Gamboa, HEP Community Outreach Coordinator at (313) 593-0924 or cegamboa@umich.edu.

Bike-Boom in Detroit:Räder aus Ruinen

spiegel_online_logo_460_64The Detroit Greenways Coalition just received a little web ink in Germany’s Spiegel Online. This snippet from the article was translated via Google:

The majority of the bikes from Shinola or Detroit bikes will of course not sold in Detroit, but in other areas of the USA. On poor state of the roads in the city or on the icy weather during the winter months, but that does not lie, says Todd Scott of the cyclist lobby “Detroit Greenways Coalition”. The city is developing into quite cyclist-friendly. “In 2006 there were in Detroit just eleven miles biking trails, today there are more than 200 miles,” says Schott. And with 7000 participants was the “Tour de Droit” the greatest cyclists ride in the state of Michigan.

While the number of car commuters had decreased by 20 percent, now almost 50 percent more people live to cycle to work than it was ten years ago. And organized by Jason Hall, founder of the bike show “Detroit Bike City” Slow Roll is made with up to 4,000 participants motley popular weekly bike ride across America; the computer manufacturer Apple processed the cool pedalo convoy even in a two-minute commercial.

It’s welcomed that the article acknowledges Detroit’s rich cycling history which helped enable its automotive industry.

With the boom for bikes starts for Detroit not a new chapter in the history of the city, but it is an ancient updated basically. “Bicycles have in this city a longer tradition than cars,” says Scott. Even Henry Ford introduced its first car four bicycle wheels and brought the engine power by bicycle chain to the wheels. The Dodge Brothers earned – like the brothers Opel in Germany or the Peugeot family in France – the money for future car production with the profits from bicycle.

Scott says it’s traffic Senator Horatio Earle earlier due attention to bicycle that the first roads were concreted in Detroit. And even the first motor show in the birthplace of the industrial automobile production was organized by a bicycle dealer. “His ascension and his case like Detroit car thanks,” recently wrote the business magazine “Fortune” and continued: “.. The history of the city, however, is not resting on four, but on two wheels And perhaps her future”

 

Mayor Duggan appoints a new Planning Director

Photo by Hawes Spencer, The HookWe’ve not met Mayor Mike Duggan’s appointee for the Planning and Development Department, but we like what we’ve read so far.

His name is Maurice Cox and he is coming to Detroit via New Orleans and Charlottesville, Virginia. According to this 2012 article in The Hook, Cox was long-time bike commuter and an apparent supporter of Complete Streets.

More of his background is available in this City of Detroit release.

That release also mentioned that Cox will focus on the neighborhoods:

With new businesses and residential developments already going strong in downtown and midtown, Mayor Duggan has charged Cox with focusing his energies on developing strategies to strengthen existing neighborhoods and reuse land in largely vacant areas of the city.

Mayor Duggan has expressed an interest in exploring new uses for large tracts of vacant city land, including green infrastructure to reduce storm water run-off and appropriate urban agriculture.  He also has talked about creating more densely populated and walk able urban neighborhoods throughout the city that are sustainable unto themselves with a diversity of residents and small businesses.

Cox thanked Mayor Duggan for this opportunity and said he hopes to build from the uniqueness of Detroit while bringing new ideas that represent the best of what he’s seen and done elsewhere.

“Detroit has a once in a lifetime opportunity to re-imagine the American city, transforming an abundance of land into a valuable community asset. We can take advantage of Detroit’s many historic neighborhoods to create new urban housing anchored by revitalized commercial corridors, parks and greenways, all working together to enhance the quality of life in this city for everyone,” Cox said.  “Detroit is well positioned to be the place where urban innovation and economic opportunity intersect, creating a new kind of sustainable city–one that is equitable, just and simply more beautiful.”

Those are his words but our underline. Yes, he mentioned greenways.

His appointment does require City Council approval, but so far he has ours.

The Belle Isle Bicycle Pavilion

Detroit bicycle pavilion on Belle IsleYou’ve probably ridden past it many times without realizing it is among the oldest and most significant historic structures still remaining from America’s Golden Era of Bicycling.  It’s the Bicycle Pavilion, now called the Athletic Pavilion/Shelter on Belle Isle.

In 1898, the League of American Wheelmen (LAW) Michigan Division secured $10,000 from the city of Detroit to build a bicycle pavilion on Belle Isle.

Then Detroit Park Commission Secretary and Manager M. P. Hurlbut explained its purpose:

It is to be a two-story building and the first or ground floor ‘will be used by bicycle riders in case of stormy weather to store their wheels in, and undoubtedly some time in the future there will be a privilege for renting bicycles leased from this building, and possibly a temporary repair shop.

“Wheels” was another term for bicycles.

Detroit Parks Annual Report 1899The building was designed by architect Edward A. Schilling. The lower floor was designed to store 400 to 500 bicycles. The upper floor was an open-air gallery with a broad balcony across the building’s length. According to the Free Press, it offered “a beautiful view down the park.” There were also rooms for retiring and refreshments.

In 1899 they got another $2,500 to “furnish up bicycle pavilion with pump, repair outfit, racks, and other conveniences” according to Edward Hines, one of Detroit’s most famous bicycle advocates. (Yes, Hines Drive is named after him.)

The city also leased 1,000 square feet of the pavilion for $1,000 to be used as a bicycle rental concession.

According to the City of Detroit’s Parks Annual Report, the Bicycle Pavilion opened on August 4th of 1899 with 6,000 to 8,000 people in attendance.

Athletic Pavilion on Belle IsleWhile Hines was largely responsible for getting the funding, it helped that Detroit Mayor William Maybury was a member of the LAW and Detroit Wheelmen bicycle clubs. A statue of Mayor Maybury is in Grand Circus Park, sitting in a chair opposite of Mayor/Governor Hazen Pingree, who was also a member of the Detroit Wheelmen.

The size and grandness of this pavilion is a testament to the strength and importance of bicyclists in the city of Detroit in the late 1890s. We’re very fortunate to have this historic bicycle landmark in Detroit though we need to do a better job of telling its story. Perhaps a historic marker would be a good start.

Also, given it’s significance, we’ve suggested that the Iron Belle Trail from Belle Isle to Wisconsin begin at the Pavilion. Certainly Hines, Maybury, Hurlbut would approve.

A Detroit Bicycle Superhighway Network?

Perhaps you read recently that the Mayor of London’s bicycle infrastructure plan was recently approved. This plan includes 12 Cycle Superhighways, which are described in this video from Transport for London.

Detroit could certainly benefit from Cycle Superhighways. The most obvious routes would be on the major spoke roads: E. Jefferson, Gratiot, Woodward, Grand River, Michigan, and W. Fort. The Inner Circle Greenway could serve as a good spoke road connector as well. Although shorter in length, the Dequindre Cut as well as the planned rail-trail from the Michigan Central Station to the RiverWalk could also have a role as connectors.

It seems the key Superhighway design features include:

  • Having good length and connectivity. They have to get you places in a direct manner.
  • Being built so that a wide range of people feel safe bicycling on them. These may require segregated bike lanes.
  • Offering fewer required stops for stop signs and traffic lights. They might even incorporate Green Waves.

Also, new e-bike technology makes longer distance bicycle trips more realistic for more people. There’s more speed and less sweat. During rush hour, e-bike trips between Downtown Detroit and the first-ring suburbs might be the fastest option.

Detroit’s non-motorized master plan is a bit outdated and does not include Cycle Superhighways. Until it does get updated, we’re trying to interject this Superhighway concept into the more immediate plans for E. Jefferson, the Woodward corridor, and the Inner Circle Greenway.

Of course it’s good to plan ahead, and with Detroit’s rapidly progressing bicycle culture, these Superhighways seem not only attainable, but necessary.

[Thanks to Tim Springer for being an early promoter of this concept during visits to Detroit.]

Creating a new bike & trails map for Detroit

detroit-bike-mapThe Detroit Greenways Coalition is moving forward with plans to make a new printed bike & trails map for Detroit.

Our initial thoughts on what to show on the map include:

  • A map of Detroit showing the bike lanes, shared marked routes, and trails. This will include some of the immediate suburbs surrounding Detroit in order to show connections across the city boundaries.
  • Major trail information, including length and completion status
  • Bike repair station locations (Yes, we’ll have some this year!)
  • Bike-related and run-related businesses
  • Non-motorized boat launch sites & similar water trail features

It’ll also include general information about the Coalition, Complete Streets, safety information, bicycle locking information, and more.

This effort will build upon some earlier work done by the Challenge Detroit Fellows and Mode Shift. We expect to take the best elements of other city’s maps.

One feature that we probably won’t include is bike rack locations. There are too many within the Greater Downtown. Instead, we’ll be sure to update our existing Detroit bike parking map.

We expect to have these new printed maps available by the North American Bicycle Week at the end of March.

What are your thoughts on what else should be on the either map that would make them more useful?

How MDOT’s I-94 project affects biking and walking

MDOT has plans to modernize I-94 between Trumbull and Conner, including portions of M-10 and I-75. That modernization includes:

  • Widening, primarily by adding six lanes of service drives in some places
  • Removing 14 bridges, including a few pedestrian bridges
  • Removing some roads
  • Elevating some pedestrian bridges that are currently at grade

Many of these design decisions can have a negative impact on biking and walking within this corridor. We’ve documented the proposed changes on this map.

The Detroit Greenways Coalition has been working others, including Wayne State University, Midtown Detroit Inc., the Detroit Eastside Community Collaborative, SEMCOG, the Henry Ford Health System, the city of Detroit and others to better understand and propose alternative designs that can lessen the impacts.

The good news is MDOT is listening.

It’s too early to say what changes might be possible. Analysis is underway on how the John R bridge could remain. We’ve also highlighted the need for the Ferry Street bridge since the alternative at Warren is a congested and unsafe crossing for bikes and pedestrians.

No one seems to know why the Canfield pedestrian bridge is being removed.

We’ve also aren’t fond of the odd 8-foot bike/bus lanes proposed for the service drive. Does anyone really want to ride on service drives? They’re typically filled with speeding motorists and little else. Their one-way designs also limit their usefulness.

The elevated bridges are not preferred. Having them at-grade makes them more convenient, even if that meanshaving to cross the service drive. We heard from the disabled community that this was important to them , too.

We’ll continue to work with MDOT on this and tweak their design.

Belle Isle bike lane maintenance & snow removal

They’re the oldest bike lanes in Detroit — almost 10 year old.

They were implemented under the guidance of Al Fields in the Mayor’s office. Al now serves as President of the Detroit Greenways Coalition.

But the Belle Isle bike lanes are no longer under city control. They’re not controlled by the DNR either. As part of the Belle Isle lease, all of the roads on Belle Isle, including the MacArthur Bridge are now state trunklines controlled by MDOT. Also as part of the lease, MDOT receives the state fuel tax money for these roads that used to go to Detroit.

Last summer the bike lane sweeping wasn’t the best, but it did seem to improve.

While at a Metro 313 Cyclones meeting last week we heard the snow was being consistently plowed from the bike lanes, so we contacted MDOT.  They said they’ve had some problems getting all the snow removed on the same day.

How well the bike lanes are cleared initially depends on the characteristics of the snow event. The crews may not always be able to clear the bike lanes immediately; they may have to get to them after the main roadways have been made passable.

MDOT had planned to contract the snow plowing but the bids came in too high, so their own maintenance garage is handling it.

What do you think about the maintenance of the Belle Isle bike lanes?