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!

Making Progress: Designing Detroit for All Users

Written by Myra M. Tetteh. Originally published on the Detroit Food and Fitness Collaborative web site.

Click the above image for a copy of our Detroit Complete Streets brochure

Click the above image for a copy of our Detroit Complete Streets brochure

In May of 2010 the Detroit Department of Health and Wellness Promotion received a complete streets grant from the State of Michigan with three components to complete within one year!  The tasks to 1) form a coalition; 2) educate the community on complete streets; and 3) pass a local ordinance, seemed relatively simplistic at the time.  We had no idea that it would take so much more energy, time, and priority shifting.

Unlike other communities in Michigan that received the same grant, we had many other pressing concerns in the community, namely lighting and blight.  Community residents rightfully educated us by stating: what is the use of a bike lane or new sidewalk if the streetlights are not working or I feel unsafe because of the abandoned building I have to pass.  Though the city still faces many challenges, we have made sure to be involved in advocacy efforts that are repairing our community – the work is progressing, the city is moving forward.

We have worked diligently since 2010 to get complete streets as part of the framework for the city moving forward.  Still, we are not where we would like to be, but we are at the table!  Many iterations of the ordinance have been developed over the years and it is our hope that we are finally close to the finish line of an ordinance that intentionally plans for the incorporation of complete streets in road projects.

In the meantime, we have not stopped our momentum to do the work making the city safer for pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers regardless of physical ability or age.  To date, the city has 158 miles of bike lanes, 35 miles of complete streets infrastructure, and 17 miles of greenways.  Next year, these numbers will increase as plans are being funded to do more work.   In five years, we hope to see miles of bike lanes, complete streets infrastructure, and greenways more than double.

Our progress in Detroit is gaining national attention.  Recently, we were invited to the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting to present on how our work is improving the health and wellness of our residents.  Even Apple filmed a commercial showing the Slow Roll bicycle rides taking over the City of Detroit.

While our progress is impressive, the work of Detroit is in large part contingent on what happens at the Federal level.  Currently, we are operating under an eight month extension that keeps the status quo for funding, including non-motorized funding.  But time is running out, the Federal Transportation Bill is once again set to expire on May 31, 2015.  Then the funding will dry up.  Our elected officials have a propensity for last minute saves, the 2013 shutdown notwithstanding.  The current bill being discussed will only cover roads and not include non-motorized financing, including nixing Safe Routes to School.  This would be a big step backward for our work and progress.  As the new Congress takes office in 2015, we will see if our officials are committed to moving us forward toward safer throughways for pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers regardless of physical ability or age.

Detroit Bicycle Wayfinding Guidelines

Detroit Bicycle Wayfinding GuidelinesWe recently added a project page for the recently published City of Detroit Bicycle Wayfinding Guidelines.

The intention is that all future bicycle construction projects in Detroit would include bicycle wayfinding signs. Some projects are already making such plans, including the Conner Creek Greenway, E. Jefferson bike lane project, Southwest Detroit Greenlink and the Inner Circle Greenway.

Thanks goes to the Tour de Troit for funding this project.

We’ve also added some information on directing bicyclists to bike parking. That information is also included on our bicycle wayfinding page.

New web site

We are working to replace the bare-bones starter web site that we’ve had over the past year. This new site will allow the Coalition to not only communicate better, but to allow visitors to become a member of the organization.

During the next few weeks we will be adding exciting content, especially with graphics, maps and updates on the many different bike, walk, and water trail projects we’re involved in.

The Coalition gains 501c3 status from IRS

The Detroit Greenways Coalition has received word from the IRS that we are now a tax-exempt public charity. This status is back-dated to January 22, 2013 when the Coalition was incorporated as a Michigan non-profit.

Contributions made to the Coalition are now tax-deductible, which allows us to expand our funding options. We also now eligible for other grant funding sources.

This truly is a milestone for an organization that began operating informally 8 years ago and is now ready to greatly expand its ability to realize its vision for a more walkable and more bikeable city of Detroit.