Complete Streets? MDOT removes sidewalks at Belle Isle

MDOT has undertaken $4 million in road “improvements” at Belle Isle State Park where they not only failed to build sidewalks that were missing — they removed existing sidewalks.

When we first learned that substantial taxpayer dollars were allocated to Belle Isle roads, we wrote MDOT and the DNR asking that “All of the park roads, including the MacArthur Bridge, should be designed using Complete Streets principles. The major park roads should have wide sidewalks.” We also asked for other non-motorized improvements.

We were clearly ignored.

Now we can expect to see more pedestrians having to walk in the roadway, and more specifically in the bike lane, forcing cyclists to swerve into the vehicle lanes.

Not smart. This certainly does not follow MDOT’s Complete Street Policy.

The political reality is the Detroit Grand Prix got the $4 million from the state legislature with the intention of improving Belle Isle roads for racing. But these are state trunklines — and in a state park no less — and that same legislative body also passed the Complete Streets laws.

Making matter worse, for at least a month now MDOT has allowed the Belle Isle bike lanes and sidewalks to be blocked and inaccessible. We expect this to last at least two more months until after the Grand Prix finishes.

Neither MDOT nor the DNR are being proper stewards of a state park when public access is compromised for a quarter of the year.

While some may point to the benefits the Grand Prix brings to the island, they must be weighed against the $4 million benefit it got from the Michigan taxpayers.

In the end there must be a balance. This is a state park first and foremost for the people.

UPDATE, April 19, 2015: Through Michele Hodges of the Belle Isle Conservancy, the DNR has stated that the removed sidewalks were in poor condition. That is not true, so we’ve added three more photos showing the very good sidewalk condition prior to their removal. (The replaced road surface looks very good as well.)

Continue reading

Real reason Detroit’s Walkscore increased? A bug fix

Walk Score recently ranked the most walkable U.S. cities of 2015. Detroit’s score has risen 2.2 points since 2011.

The Redfin Blog largely credited the revitalized Downtown — which Model D echoed.

“Downtown Detroit has become noticeably more walkable over the past few years thanks to Dan Gilbert’s initiative to move his company, Quicken Loans, and others from the suburbs back to the heart of the city,” said Lauren Buttazzoni, Redfin market manager in Detroit.

Downtown’s Walk Score has increased dramatically. In fact it scored an 18 in 2011, which is half the score Auburn Hills got. Now it scores a remarkable 93.

However, Redfin and Model D are both wrong. This increase was largely due to a bug fix in the Walk Score algorithms that was well-documented in 2012 by m-bike.org.

The old algorithms got confused on international borders. They chose the closest grocery stores, coffee shops, etc. as the crow flies. In Detroit, that often includes businesses in Windsor. When they calculated the walk distances across the Detroit River (hint: you can’t) the border areas got incorrect wrong scores.

That’s apparently fixed as seen in the Walk Score heatmap comparison graphic. You can see how the bug created a stairstep region of poor walkability along the river in 2011. That’s gone in 2015.

While we’re certainly grateful for Mr. Gilbert’s investments in Detroit, unless he made the algorithm fix himself, the credit for Detroit’s dramatically improved Walk Score belongs elsewhere.

New Detroit Hockey Arena Development

Bike improvement opportunities around Detroit hockey arena district

The blue lines represent potential bike route improvements

Detroit City Council will vote on a couple critical rezoning requests this morning for the newly planned hockey arena district (aka Catalyst Development.) One concern raised by Council as well as the Detroit Greenways Coalition is how this development will affect the new bike lanes being built on Cass Avenue this year.

Olympia Development, the organization planning the new arena, was asked by Council member (and Coalition board member) Scott Benson to meet with us to coordinate efforts. We did that.

One shared goal is connectivity. For the Coalition, that’s from a walking and biking perspective. The district area is not very walkable today, not due to the sidewalk conditions so much as the land use. Vacant fields don’t make for good walkability and the new district development will undoubtedly change that. It was great that they were already familiar with Complete Streets.

For biking, our first concern is preserving the Cass Avenue bike lanes being constructed this summer from the RiverWalk to W. Grand Boulevard. Here are our official comments from a letter we wrote to Olympia Development and shared with City Council and others:

A major bicycling connector is Cass Avenue. The bike lanes to be installed this year are a critical north-south route from the Detroit River to New Center. MDOT and the FTA have identified and invested in this route as an alternative to bicycling on Woodward due to the safety issues related to M1 Rail. . We are also actively working to extend them to the Detroit Zoo.

Closing or taking vehicle travel lanes on Cass during events has little affect on bicyclists so long as the bike lanes remain open and safe. We believe the ingress/egress concerns at the parking garages can be addressed through good design and traffic control personnel. Colored pavement can highlight any potential vehicle/bike conflict areas. Designs should make the motorist feel they are crossing a bike lane rather than make a bicyclist feel they are crossing a driveway. This can encourage proper right-of-way yielding.

When Cass Avenue is redesigned, we propose changing the buffered bike lanes to protected bike lanes. This is a low-cost upgrade that studies show increase bicycle ridership.

We also discussed adding protected bike lanes on Grand River Avenue from Downtown to W. Grand Boulevard. This would also involve improving the unsafe and inadequate intersections at Trumbull/MLK and at Temple.

With regards to the arena itself, we did note our appreciation for their planned bike parking at each of the main entrances. The location and number of racks looks great.

It’s still early to say what the final outcome will be, but Olympia Development wants to maintain a regular dialog with us. We’re looking forward to that and ensuring that Detroit is a better place for walking, biking — and playing hockey.

Historic note: James Norris had been a member of the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association whose logo was a winged bicycle wheel owing to its cycling heritage. (They also played hockey and won the first ever Stanley Cup.) When Norris established the Detroit Red Wings, he borrowed the logo design and changed the bike wheel to a car wheel.

Clearing downed trees just got easier

The City of Detroit released a smartphone app called Improve Detroit that lets you various report issues, including downed trees on roads and sidewalks. We thought we’d give it a try.

There are a couple instances of trees blocking the northbound bike lane and sidewalk along St. Aubin, which is part of the Inner Circle Greenway.

We took care of one with pruners but the other was much more significant, so we used the phone app. We reported it on Monday later afternoon and it was taken care of the next day — in less than 24 hours.

We visited it yesterday and confirmed their work. Certainly the sidewalk needs improving and the street needs sweeping, but unfortunately neither are reportable with this new app. At least there won’t be tree branches extending into the road this year. The street sweeper can stay at curb, too.

We have proposed adding street sweeping requests, to which Detroit’s CIO Beth Niblock replied via Twitter.

detroit-app-sweeping-request

The Improve Detroit phone app is available for both Android and Apple. More information is available on the City’s website.

Governor approves Beltline Greenway funding & more

Beltline GreenwayGovernor Rick Snyder signed the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund appropriations bill today — St. Patrick’s Day — which spreads a bit-o-green around the state.

Included in the bill is $2 million in land acquisition funding to buy property within Wayne County in order to complete gaps in the cross-state Iron Belle Trail.

One of those gaps is the Beltline Greenway in Detroit. This conceptual path was part of the GREEN non-motorized planning for the lower eastside. The community recognized it as a priority connection.

The greenway would follow a former railroad called the Beltline that connected the Uniroyal Site on the RiverWalk and headed north to the Gleaner’s Community Food Bank and beyond. It actually goes under E. Jefferson Avenue. The city rebuilt this bridge last year in anticipation of the greenway.

For the Iron Belle Trail, the routing goes from the RiverWalk to Kercheval, shown as the purple line on the map graphic.

Conrail no longer owns this railroad property. The DEGC owns the property south of Jefferson while it’s in private hands to the north. With this funding, the DNR will have conversations with these private property owners about purchasing land to create the trail.

Of course additional funding is needed to design, build, and endow a maintenance/operations fund, but this is a major step forward.

Continue reading

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.