Bicycling access between Detroit and Windsor

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.”
  • Photo by OurWindsor.ca

    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.

  • State Rep Rashida Tlaib speaks about bridge access for bicyclistsWe’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.

  1. 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.
  2. This is a major connection between the Iron Belle Trail and the Trans Canada Trail.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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

Detroit public dock and terminalThe 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.

Additional Reading

13 Comments

  1. I am an avid cyclist in Windsor..I would love to have access to Detroit via my bicycle! I do not use a car anymore and cycling is my main mode of transportation year round. I would love to have ferry access between the two cities and feel the time is right for this idea!

    Just an idea…having a ferry cross between Belle Isle and Lakeview marina in Windsor between 8am and 8pm every two hours in a pilot project from May 1st thru Labor day would be great! Lakeview marina is very near the Ganatchio trail system which runs along the river east and also south of Riverside drive….this could create summer jobs for customs agents on both sides of the border..one being stationed in Lakeview marina’s main building, the Us agent being stationed in the coast guard facility?…

    Alternatively, the ferry could run from Belle Isle to downtown Windsor,docking near Dieppe park… either point has trail access immediately off the boat..there is a cycle shop close to the bridge just off the downtown trail for cycle repair,etc.

    I am sure many local cyclists would love to use this service,I know myself and other friends would use it on a regular basis!

    Please continue to support this idea and allow me to follow along on the progress!

    Thank you for your attention!

    Linda Baron

  2. Thanks for the feedback and ideas, Linda. There has been a renewed interest very recently in ferry service and how it may connect the greenways networks on both sides of the border. We’ll post updates on this web site when they become available.

  3. I realize that it’s not exactly a written-in-stone promise, but it’d seem to me that the statement by the US DOT means that it’d be quite difficult to back out of that statement even with the changes to the management of the bridge project, right?

    The way I read it is that bike access seems to be the default, and that it’d take a concerted effort to remove that from the plan. If anything, with the Canadians now pretty much running the full show on this, I’d imagine it’s even less likely the bike shoulders are taken out. I imagine it’d take an organized protest to get them removed from the plan, and I haven’t even heard an inkling.

    The question must be asked along every step of the way to be sure, but I’m not that worried if I’m being honest. That you’ve guys been able to do this much with some as large and powerful as a cross-border, bi-national project is pretty amazing.

    • Based on what we’ve heard, if the bridge doesn’t follow the USDOT FEIS then Michigan may not be able to use the construction funding as match towards additional federal highway funding. That would be a major set back for Michigan. We’re doing our best to remind everyone of this scenario as a carrot to get bike and pedestrian access on this new bridge.

  4. I have recently did an around trip of Lake Erie. My last night before entering Canada, a call was made from Monroe, Michigan regarding where can I cross with my bicycle. The bridge does not allow pedestrians or cyclists but the tunnel will shuttle pedestrians and bicycles. When I arrived at the tunnel I was told they would not take my bike. I had to ask people with pick up trucks for a lift. I was very lucky to have an Ontarian take me and my bike to Windsor.

    My question is Where does a cyclist get across in Detroit/Windsor area?

    Thanks Mike

    • There aren’t any current solutions in the Detroit/Windsor area, but you can travel north to the ferry services in Algonac and Marine City.

  5. Planing to ride around Lake Erie this summer. It sure would make for a more interesting ride to tour Detroit one day and then Windsor the next day. As it stands today for cyclists you have over a hundred miles between the two cities. Be nice if it was a half mile ferry ride.

    Ride on BruceK

    • I’d say if you want to go directly from downtown Detroit to Windsor or vice versa, you’re forced to take a cab; and one that can accommodate a bicycle. You can check with Windsor Transit online but at this time I don’t think they have bike racks on the tunnel bus and for the life of me I can’t imagine why.

      • Transit Windsor buses do have bike racks. We’ve met with them in the past but they said they’re not able to use them since they effectively lengthen the bus and they already experience problems making some of the turns within the tunnel.

  6. If you look at old pics of the Ambassador Bridge, you see pedestrian traffic and people actually parking to get out and take scenic pictures! I’m all for pedestrian and bike access between Detroit and Windsor but I have to say, the new bridge isn’t exactly downtown. I think we’re still going to have to have some kind of transport, probably a ferry, for pedestrians and bicycles between downtown Detroit and Windsor. Old, turn of the 20th century maps of the Great Lakes area show boat and ferry routes going everywhere in this region; just like they still do in places like Scandinavia. We need this again.

  7. While chatting with a Canadian friend recently, I searched Google Maps on a whim for a cycling route from Toronto to Chicago. I was surprised that the directions mentioned “this route includes a ferry”. But when I followed the route I was shocked (and a bit appalled) to see what appears to be a fictitious ferry route between the Windor Salt Mine on the Canadian side and a private boat club harbor on the U.S. side. (Go to https://www.google.com/maps/place/42°15'26.3“N+83°06’30.8″W and a dotted line indicates the alleged crossing; swallow whatever you’re drinking before pulling up the satellite view, so your beverage doesn’t end up sprayed on your device.) I’m attempting to contact Google to figure out how to correct this.

    Just a reminder – always verify routes!

    Thanks for all your efforts to establish bike-safe border crossing options.

    • There is a truck ferry but bicycles are no longer allowed. We’ve confirmed that with ferry operator and reported the issue to Google. Apparently it’s not been resolved.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *