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?

Building stakeholders and pathways

There is nothing more dangerous than to build a society with a large segment of people in that society who feel that they have no stake in it; who feel that that have nothing to lose. People who have stake in their society, protect that society, but when they don’t have it, they unconsciously want to destroy it.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Detroit Greenways Network Vision 2009The lense of equity is on everything we do. It has to be. Our Vision is for a pathway network that is shaped by the community, benefits everyone and connects every neighborhood. The process must be open so that everyone has a stake in this.

Unfortunately it hasn’t been that way in other cities that get plenty of attention for their bicycle infrastructure. Some of the stories we’ve heard out of Portland have had us shaking our heads in disbelief. Chicago, too, has issues. There groups like Slow Roll Chicago that are doing a great job highlighting the need for more equitable non-motorized investments.

In Detroit, the initial decisions on where to install greenways and bike lanes was dependent on the priorities of the local community development corporation, business association, or other non-profit. That’s why new bike lanes and trails appeared early on thanks to the Southwest Detroit Business AssociationDetroit Eastside Community Collaborative, and Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. Next, the city began pursuing safety funding that allowed them to build Complete Streets — often with bike facilities — on roads with high crash rates (e.g. W. Chicago, E. Warren, E. Seven Mile, Central.) Additionally, the city chose to add bike lanes to some strategic connecting roads, such as Trumbull, Grand Boulevard, Kercheval and Dexter.

So, the three major factors driving investments have been the local non-profits, road safety, and connectivity.

A result is greenways and bike lanes in Detroit have not been concentrated in the “prestigious” neighborhoods. In fact, Palmer Woods, Grandmont-Rosedale, and Downtown have fewer pathways combined than Osborne. The city’s first separated bike lane won’t be in Midtown or Downtown but in the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood!

However, this certainly doesn’t mean the distribution is geographically equitable — it isn’t yet. Building the 26-mile Inner Circle Greenway will help, but more work is to be done, especially in Northwest Detroit.

Building Stakeholders

Just as the the equitable distribution of biking and walking infrastructure is important, so to is the commitment to welcome and actively involve the community in these efforts. We’re not just building pathways, but stakeholders.

We’ve held Complete Streets workshops and focus groups across the city and it has greatly shaped this vision, the priorities, and how we talk about them. We’re helping the city get more residents to their Complete Street project meetings.

We’ve done similar outreach for greenways, but it’s been more focused around specific projects. We are still seeking funding to update the city’s non-motorized plan, which would be a great opportunity to engage everyone in a citywide discussion.

We need to also thank Slow Roll Detroit for the job they’ve done of not only getting more Detroiters on bikes, but making them stakeholders in a movement. It has helped start discussions across all boundaries. It complements our work, and for that we are grateful.

Trails spur economic development in Detroit

Orleans Landing on the Dequindre CutGood trails foster economic development. It’s been studied and proven nationally.

It’s also be documented by the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy’s Economic Impact Study: Detroit Riverfront 2013.

Within that riverfront study is the $61 million Orleans Landing, 20 new buildings with mixed-use development and 278 residential units along the Dequindre Cut and just north of Milliken State Park. The initials plans include new retail along the Dequindre Cut. We sure hope that includes a coffee shop.

According to this mLive article, the “apartments will be marketed toward those seeking an active urban lifestyle and people who work downtown.”

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation also has bought into this development and have even made a video about it. We love this quote from Jack Hambene, Sr. Vice President, McCormack Baron Salazar.

While everyone else was fleeing, we saw an opportunity. And I think the fact that the site has such an incredible investment of public infrastructure with the RiverWalk and [Dequindre] Cut bike trail and now of course the Outdoors Adventure Center, I think it really is a unique opportunity — and it’s right on the riverfront. We don’t know where that exists anywhere else in urban America.

What excites us is this is just the beginning. We waiting for those GM surface lots to transform, and of course, the UniRoyal site.

Detroit’s updated bicycle ordinances

300px-The_Spirit_of_DetroitLong ago, most Michigan municipalities eschewed their local traffic ordinances and adopted the state’s Motor Vehicle Code and Uniform Traffic Codes, both of which are fairly up to date with national guidelines.

Last May Detroit did the same.

For such a sweeping change, it was surprising that the Coalition was the only one providing public comment before City Council. We spoke in support of the change (with one “minor” exception) since it meant:

  • Bicyclists would no longer be required to have a bell. We’re not anti-bell. We just don’t think you should get a ticket for not having one.
  • Stores buying used bicycles had to make weekly reports to the police with the sellers’ names and addresses. Stores selling new or used bicycles had to file weekly reports with the purchasers’ information to the police as well. Failing to do either was a misdemeanor. We suspect no one was following this. Both were removed.
  • Vehicles turning through crosswalks must yield to bicyclists as well as pedestrians.
  • Bike lanes are defined and it’s more clear that vehicles are not allowed to drive or park in them. Both are misdemeanors.

Council passed the ordinance and it went into effect on June 1st.

With these changes in place, the Coalition is now working on educational materials and communications for cyclists, motorists, and law enforcement to roll out this Spring.

As for that “minor” exception? Stay tuned.

Top 5 Detroit bike and trail projects for 2015

Let’s start by saying it’s not easy picking only five — and that speaks well about all that is happening to make the city of Detroit a better place for biking and trails. But here we go in no specific order…

Link Detroit

Link Detroit project for Tiger-IIIThis multi-faceted $20 million non-motorized project will be completed by the summer. Yes, it was supposed to be completed by last November but construction was delayed with unexpected utility issues and a polar vortex.

What does this project involve?

  • Extending the Dequindre Cut from Gratiot to Mack Avenue with a additional connecting trail into Eastern Market along the north side of Wilkins.
  • Adding bike lanes from the end of the Cut to Hamtramck, mostly along St. Aubin. These are done.
  • Replacing three bridges over the Dequindre Cut. If you’ve ridden the pothole-ridden Wilkins bridge before then you know this is good news for bicyclists.
  • Improving Russell Street. This mostly focuses on pedestrian improvements, but it also include some very nice bike parking stations.
  • Adding bike lanes and a Midtown Loop path connection from Eastern Market to Midtown.

We thought it would be invaluable to count how many people are using this new section of the Dequindre Cut, so we got the DEGC (who’s managing the project) to add 3 automated bike and pedestrian counters.  These will count 24/7 and the data will be part of the Coalition’s much larger city wide effort to count usage and document trends.

Inner Circle Greenway

Inner Circle GreenwayDetroit city staff refer to this as the “mother of all non-motorized projects.” If you’ve not heard about it before, the Inner Circle Greenway is a 26-mile pathway that encircles the city of Detroit while passing through Hamtramck, Highland Park, and a little bit of Dearborn. It makes use of existing trails such as the Southwest Detroit Greenlink, RiverWalk, and Dequindre Cut, so roughly half of the pathway is complete. For all these reasons and more, it is a very high-priority project for our Coalition.

The largest gap is an 8.3 mile segment of abandoned railroad property. If all goes as planned, we expect Detroit will purchase the property this year using $4.5 million in grant funding the Coalition helped secure. We will be making another announcement soon about additional grant funding for planning. We will also work with the city on a substantial federal grant to build out the Greenway while also trying to get funding for more community engagement.

Lastly, we are finalizing some nice new maps of the trail. We’ll have those by the bike show in March.

Conner Creek Greenway

This Greenway begins at Maheras Gentry Park on the Detroit River and heads north roughly following Conner Avenue. It’s a mix of bike lanes, shared roadway, and off-road paths — and it’s nearly complete. This year it will get extended from Conner along E. Outer Drive to Van Dyke, crossing Eight Mile, and ending at Stephens Road (9.5 mile.) While this seems like a modest project for the top five, one should consider how many organizations were involved in making this happen: Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, Detroit Eastside Community Collaborative, Nortown CDC, Eight Mile Boulevard Association, the Detroit Greenways Coalition, City of Warren, City of Detroit, SEMCOG, Wayne County and two MDOT TSCs.

It also is significant since it crosses Eight Mile and is part of the Showcase Trail between Belle Isle and Wisconsin. Look for plenty of green bike lanes in Warren’s section.

Separated bike lanes in Chicago via NACTO

Separated bike lanes in Chicago via NACTO

E. Jefferson Bike Lanes

A very short segment of E. Jefferson will get bike lanes this year from Alter Road to Lakewood. Why is this a big deal? They’ll be the first separated (aka protected) bike lanes in Southeast Michigan. This is precedent setting and could serve as a model for all of Detroit’s major spoke roads.

East Jefferson Inc. is also working with other members of the GREEN Task Force and the city of Detroit to extend those bike lanes to the Belle Isle entrance at E. Grand Boulevard.

Cass Avenue Bike Lanes and Midtown Loop

Bike counting kiosk example from Montreal

Bike counting kiosk example from Montreal

M1-Rail is creating a major cycling safety hazard on Woodward by locating streetcar rails near the curbs where bicyclists ride. As a result, the FTA and MDOT agreed to make Cass Avenue a more attractive cycling option. This summer Cass will be getting bike lanes (some buffered) from W. Grand Boulevard to Lafayette. A mixture of bike lanes, sharrows, and off-road paths will connect Cass to the RiverWalk via Lafayette, Washington Boulevard, E. Jefferson, and Bates.

But that’s not all. Public bike repair stations and air pumps will be installed along with automated counters including two kiosks that display bike counts in real-time. Those counts will also be automatically uploaded and available on the web as well.

This project also completes the final leg of the Midtown Loop along Cass Avenue between Canfield and Kirby.

Honorable Project Mentions

  • The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy should complete two new sections of the RiverWalk in 2015: Chene Park East and Chene Park West. A third project will begin later this year that connects the current dead end near Riverplace to Chene Park East.
  • The Downtown Detroit Partnership is becoming our non-motorized champion in the downtown area. They are currently developing a plan for sorely needed biking connections. They’re looking to take the best of what New York City, Chicago, Portland have done and bring it here, which couldn’t happen soon enough.
  • We really need to mention the amazing work of the Detroit Public Lighting Authority. Their ongoing installation of new LED street lights is making biking and walking much safer. Pardon the bad joke, but it’s like night and day.

Complete Streets ordinance

This is not really a project but a policy change that the Coalition, Detroit Food and Fitness Collaborative and others have been working on for years. We expect it to go before a City Council vote this year and we’d be surprised if it didn’t pass. For more information, check out Detroit Complete Streets page.

No, we didn’t mention the public bike sharing or the Uniroyal Site. We need to save some projects for future years!