While pedestrians can get between Windsor and Detroit via the Windsor Tunnel Bus, there is no easy option for bicyclists. The Coalition has been focusing on two main options: ferry service and the Gordie Howe International Bridge.
Gordie Howe International Bridge
It’s official. Our years of persistent international advocacy has paid off. Bicycles and pedestrians will be allowed on the new bridge between Detroit and Windsor when it opens in 2022.
It’s been a high priority of ours to make sure bicyclists and pedestrians have access to the new Detroit-Windsor bridge. Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision (SDEV) did the great early work during the environmental review process. Since then we’ve assumed the leadership and continue to push this forward.
Here’s how we got there:
- The 2009 US DOT Record of Decision states that “the new bridge over the Detroit River and the plaza will be engineered to accommodate bicycles and pedestrians. U.S. Customs and Border Protection and its Canadian counterpart (Customs and Border Services Agency) will determine whether this traffic is allowed.”
We wrote Senator Carl Levin in 2013 and asked that he get U.S. Customs and Border Protection supporting this. Senator Levin wrote Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, stating “I write to support the inclusion of bicycle and pedestrian access on the NITC.” U.S. Customs and Border Protection responded that it “wholly supports this plan and will work with these requirements as it begins the design phase of the project.”
- We worked with Detroit City Council to pass a resolution in support of bicycle and pedestrian access. The City of Windsor had already passed their own resolution.
- We pushed Governor Rick Snyder to be supportive. We provided the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy a question during a Winter 2014 interview: Have you thought about eventually connecting the cross-state trail to Canada? His response:
Yes. I’d love to do that. Canadians are our partners and friends. There’s a bridge I’ve been pretty keen on getting done, so that would tie well into the bridge project, wouldn’t it? It’d be just another kind of bridge — a bridge to the trail network.
- We’ve also been working on the Canadian side in partnership with MP Brian Masse, Windsor City Council, and bicycle advocates. We’ve submitted comments during their environmental review. Unfortunately they have not formally recognized bicycle and pedestrian access. They are building trails on the Herb Gray Parkway that connect the 401 to the bridge. However, we noted that the trails stop before connecting to the bridge plaza.
The other related issue we’re working on is the U.S. bridge plaza design and the impacts it will have on the surrounding community. We want to ensure this project not only created connections to Canada, but also within Southwest Detroit.
Why is this important?
We’ve identified a number of reasons why this international connection is important, primarily from a tourism and transportation perspective. We created the following list which is by no mean exhaustive.
- We have worked with the Adventure Cycling Association to establish an Underground Railroad Bicycle Route from Mobile, Alabama to Owen Sound, Ontario. Without ferry service in Detroit, cyclists must ride north to the ferry in Marine City, missing much of the Underground Railroad history in Southeast Ontario, but especially in Sandwich/Windsor.
- This is a major connection between the Iron Belle Trail and the Trans Canada Trail.
- We are also working with MDOT, AASHTO, and Adventure Cycling on a U.S. Bicycle Route System. Michigan is leading the nation in getting new U.S. Bicycle Routes, including Routes 25, 30 and 36 which all go through Detroit. It would invaluable if these routes allowed cycling tourists to cross into Canada.
- We have assisted the Waterfront Regeneration Trust to establish the Lake Erie Cycling Route from Windsor to Fort Erie, Ontario. This route would greatly benefit from a connection to Detroit and the U.S. Bicycle Route System. This route also connects Detroit cyclists to Ontario’s wine country – an easy day trip that would attract many.
- VIA Rail’s Bike Train brings Toronto tourists to Windsor for cycle tourism, but they have no means to get to Detroit with their bikes. We have been told that there is significant interest among Toronto residents to visit and tour Detroit by bike.
- We are also working with MDOT to get roll-on bicycle service with the Amtrak Wolverine line which stops in New Center. Detroit ferry service would provide a critical cross-border connection for rail passengers traveling with their bicycles.
What about Ferry Service
The Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority has been trying to establish international ferry service for years. We have offered our support for this and have explained the benefits of allowing bicyclists on the ferry. They have told us they want to be the primary crossing route for bicyclists. It would be convenient as their port is on the Detroit RiverWalk.
However, ferry service works best when other alternatives aren’t available or are costly. The existing tunnel and bridge and bridge are inexpensive options (though admittedly less convenient for pedestrians and not an option for bicyclists.) Being an international crossing adds additional wrinkles due to customs. That said, getting ferry service established either on a published schedule or for special events is a challenge.
- Bike and pedestrian lane on new Windsor-Detroit bridge excites cycling advocates, Windsor Star, March 2017.
- Jarvis: A ‘must-do’ international bike route, Windsor Star, March 2017.