Detroit’s TIGER strikes out… for now

The City of Detroit submitted an $18.285 million TIGER grant request last year to construct the Joe Louis Greenway (formerly known as the Inner Circle Greenway.) This $500 million US Department of Transportation grant program is super-competitive but we had high hopes given the value and scope of this great trail project.

However, we learned last Friday that Detroit’s grant wasn’t chosen.

Was this the end of TIGER funding? No one knows. These transportation grants began as part of President Obama’s 2009 stimulus package. They’ve been quite popular with Congress.

In many ways TIGER grants are a more transparent and competitive replacement for the old High Priority Projects (HPP). These project funds would get included in transportation bills in order to get votes in Congress. The Detroit RiverWalk got funding through this, but then so did the infamous Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska.

We certainly do hope that TIGER grants continue for the reason we gave in this recent People for Bikes article: “…there just aren’t very many funding opportunities unless you want to take a really long time to construct it over multiple grants.”

Regardless, progress on the Joe Louis Greenway continues. The city is doing its due diligence (e.g. environmental testing) of the Conrail railroad property. If all goes as expected, they should be purchasing the property this summer.

Once purchased, a Framework Plan will be created for the entire trail, including the portion within Highland Park. This will be a great opportunity for the community to provide their input on the trail’s design and operation.

It’s also a time to look at adjacent land uses and how those might complement the trail. Adding green stormwater infrastructure is a no brainer, as is affordable housing — a tool for mitigating residential displacement from rising property values.

Lastly, our new Joe Louis Greenway map is at the printers now and should be available by spring. A PDF of the map is available now. Thanks to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Doppelt Family Fund for making this possible.

Thanks for all your work, Jose Abraham

Jose Abraham shows where the planned Wilkins Connector just off the Dequindre Cut Extension.

Most ride, run and walk the trails throughout the city of Detroit without knowing who helped create them.

One person you should know is our good friend, the recently-retired Deputy Director of the Department of Public Works, Jose Abraham.

Jose started as a Dequindre Cut skeptic. Why convert this decrepit, abandoned rail corridor into a trail? Will it get used?

However, once it was built, he saw its potential and fully bought in. He led efforts on the Dequindre Cut Extension, part of the Link Detroit project. One highlight was landing a major federal TIGER grant to help fund it. Though the city had requested $15 million, the feds only approved $10 million — still a substantial grant.

We’ll never forget an initial TIGER grant meeting with Federal Highway Administration officials where Jose asked if we could scale back the project since we didn’t get all the funding that was requested. The officials said no, the city needed to find another $5 million dollars elsewhere. After a bit of nervous laughter, the meeting continued — and Jose made it happen. (Fortunately the construction bids came in lower than anticipated, too.)

Even before the Extension was under construction, Jose was looking to do more. He picked up Coalition plans for an Inner Circle Greenway, a 26-mile trail encircling the city. “The mother of all non-motorized trails,” as he liked to say. Of course this trail was recently renamed as the Joe Louis Greenway.

We worked closely with him writing grants under his direction, including the successful $3.4 million Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund and $1.2 million MDOT grants. These grants are now being used to acquire nearly 8 miles of abandoned Detroit Terminal Railroad property to close one of the biggest gaps in the Joe Louis Greenway.

We are certainly going to miss working with Jose on the numerous non-motorized projects happening all across Detroit, so many of which he played an instrumental role. This is especially true of the Joe Louis Greenway.

Thanks Jose for all you’ve done getting us to this point. You’re efforts will not be forgotten.

December 2017 Updates

Happy 149th Anniversary!

The first bicycle was ridden in Detroit 149 years ago. Ben Fletcher brought a 100-pound Hanlon bicycle to Detroit. It was mostly made of wood and iron — bicyclists hadn’t invented inflatable rubber tires yet. Fletcher crashed often as he tried riding it along Jefferson according to the Detroit Free Press. As much as the newspaper mocked the rider, they did believe bicycles would eventually be “as plenty as carriages in the streets.”

Year end Donation

While it’s fun to look back, we need to keep focusing on moving things forward. To help us do that, we rely heavily on donations both big and small to cover our operating costs. It’s not too late to make a tax-deductible donation to the Detroit Greenways Coalition. We also have a montly support option if that’s more convenient. We appreciate any and all support!

Protected Bike Lanes (and Snow!)

People for Bikes just announced America’s best ten bikeways for 2017.  Though outside the top ten, Detroit did get honorable mention.

Every year, a handful of good projects narrowly miss our list.

One that stood out this year: the 3.5-mile protected bike lanes in Detroit’s Michigan Avenue, the latest in a series of massive projects that show the Motor City’s potential but have, so far, struggled with maintenance and poorly parked cars.

The City and MDOT have made rapid increases in new protected bike lanes — more than nearly all other U.S. cities — and there’s a learning curve for motorists and maintainence staff. The recent snow storm was a major challenge. The city has told us they are committed to maintaining them as well as the vehicle lanes. Once that happens, we can expect to see Detroit projects in that top ten.

Joe Louis Greenway Updates

  • Our new Joe Louis Greenway map is nearly complete. We should have copies to hand out by early next year.
  • Michigan Senator David Knezek has introduced Senate Resolution 115 “to support the city of Detroit’s efforts in the creation of the proposed Joe Louis Greenway.” We help craft this resolution with the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance.
  • We wrote supported three recent grants that would add bike lanes to Joseph Campau in Hamtramck, acquire land that would nearly double the length of the Dequindre Cut, and build much of the greenway with an $18.3 million TIGER grant. We also worked with 25 Detroit bike clubs and they agreed to sign on in support. We hope to hear the results of all these grants in early 2018.

Local Bicycle Ordinances

You may have heard about a recently passed state law that increased speed limits on some Michigan roads. Earlier this month we noticed an inadvertent mistake in the bill’s language that makes all local bicycle ordinances enforceable. It effectively removes the need for governments to post signs indicating what local bicycle ordinances exist. We are now working to get this corrected. (The mistake also makes local truck routes largely unenforceable.)

This is not a major concern in the city of Detroit since we’ve been working to clean up and remove outdated bicycle ordinances since 2008. However, we still have work to do in other cities such as Hamtramck.

Bicycle Network Strategy

If you’ve attended our recent Bike Trails & Cocktails event, you already know that Detroit is close to finishing a Bicycle Network Strategy with the Copenhagenize design firm. The latter recently mentioned in on their web site saying it is “… a forward-thinking protected bicycle network strategy for the greater downtown area, helping to set a standard for many American cities to follow.” We’re really looking forward to this becoming finalized and help standardize what our bicycle facilities look like.

Michigan Trails Summit

We’ve been working closely with mParks on their 2018 Michigan Trails Summit. This year it’s in Detroit on February 6th at the DNR Outdoor Adventure Center. Registration and conference details are now online.

Maybe we’ll see you there.

Until then, have a safe and happy holiday season!

Goodbye, Inner Circle Greenway. Hello, Joe Louis Greenway.

Joe Louis Greenway MapThe 26-mile greenway that wraps around the cities of Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park has a new name.

Back in February 2017, Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley asked, “When Joe Louis Arena is gone, how do we honor Detroit legend?” Legend isn’t used lightly with Louis. He was so much more than a world champion boxer. From breaking color barriers to fighting fascism, Louis was an inspirational both inside and outside of the ring.

So when Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan proposed naming the Inner Circle Greenway in his honor, it also lifted the greenway. A conceptual asphalt trail around the city in 2008 was now being named after the city’s most impactful athlete. Riley’s followup column wrote, “Detroit cements honor for Joe Louis with a giant greenway around the city.”

Louis’s family approved of the naming. That shouldn’t be much of a surprise as his son is a bicyclist and is a board member for the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

“I am delighted that the (greenway) will be named after my father Joe Louis,” said Joe Louis Barrow, Jr. son of the famous boxer. “It is a fitting tribute to a person who had a positive impact on so many people.”

Mayor Duggan added, “It will unite neighborhoods from all corners of this city in a dedicated area for walking and jogging and biking.”

Before this announcement, we contacted retired city attorney Jim Edwards. Jim was an early champion of the trail and coined the original name. He was very supportive of the renaming.

One interesting coincidence with the original name was the this caricature of P.N. Jacobsen standing in an “inner circle”. Jacobsen led the creation of the Detroit Terminal Railroad — which makes up about 8 miles of the greenway — and was an active Detroit cyclist during the 1880s and 1890s.

He wrote an article called The Detroit Wheelmen for the Outing Magazine in 1891. It noted that a result of the city putting on asphalt on the streets, “Wheeling has attained a height of popularity in Detroit heretofore unknown.”

Of course this was years before Detroit was Motor City — and we’re not advocating relinquishing that title. We just suggest adding a new one.

Detroit, world heavyweight greenway champion.

More information on the Joe Louis Greenway

Bike Life is not getting displaced from the Riverfront

ClickonDetroit recently published the article, Detroit riverfront residents fed up with drag races, loud music, marijuana at night. That might not caught the eye of Detroit bicyclists except that the accompanying video showed bikes with music systems.

Were the complaints from residents, including new residents of Orleans Landing about them? Were they about to be displaced from the riverfront area? Is this New Detroit vs. Old Detroit?

Detroit Police 7th Precinct hosted a meeting with Council member Mary Sheffield to hear from residents and discuss their plans to address the concerns. We attended to learn more and share information with the bike club riders.

Despite the original video, the issue isn’t about bicycles at all. It’s about speeding as well as parked cars and motorcycles and their loud stereo systems.

It was mostly Old Detroit raising concerns. They consistently noted that these concerns weren’t new and they many had been raising them for years.

Perhaps only one “New Detroit” person spoke up to suggest the city look for other locations where this noisy culture can exist without affecting quality of life of nearby resident — rather than just do enforcement.

The police will be stepping up enforcement for the remainder of the summer by enforcing speed limits, noise levels, and parking restrictions. They are temporarily prohibiting parking on some streets this weekend to deal with loitering in parked cars. Longer term parking limitations may be implemented as well.

That’s not to say noise concerns couldn’t someday get applied to bicycles. Some systems can get super loud. It probably would be best if riders could self-police noise levels in the late evening and early morning hours to prevent this from becoming a public concern.

While the city of Detroit noise ordinance only applies to motor vehicles, city council could change that. We’d rather not see that happen.

St. Aubin gets a makeover!

Thanks to the volunteers that helped clean St. Aubin Street on Saturday between Canfield and .

The street looks fantastic… The clean up makes the neighborhood more welcoming for bikes, walking, and street traffic. Great Job, please pass on our thanks to all the volunteers. — St. Albertus

Thanks again for cleaning up Saint Aubin! It looks great, and it’ll ride even better. — Tim, a local resident

The City of Detroit played a major role as well. They came through first with a skid steer to removed the heavy sedimentation and vegetation. It was so bad that you often couldn’t see the bike lane. They followed up with their street sweepers.

We also want to thank GFL (Green for Life) (provided tools, gloves, safety vests and more), Meijer (provided snacks and water), and the Polish American Historic Site Association.

 

Detroit going “Zero-to-sixty” on protected bike lanes

Livernois protected bike lane under construction near Michigan Avenue

Livernois protected bike lane under construction near Michigan Avenue

Yes, “Zero-to-sixty” is a car term unless you’re a really fast cyclist and thinking in metric. However, it was used by city staff and it’s certainly accurate.

Detroit has three of the nation’s longest protected bike lane (PBL) projects under construction now. Four more significant projects are planned for construction in 2017. With only 0.3 miles of PBL completed today, Detroit is ranked #78 among US cities. We expect it to be in the top ten by the end of the year and in the top five next year.

We’re jumping from one end of the bell curve to the other.

While this is really exciting it also brings concerns about how this rapid change affects the users.  Whenever you add new designs to the roads (e.g. roundabouts), it takes education and time for people to adjust. It’s not just motorists. It’s bicyclists, pedestrians, public transit users, DDOT drivers, law enforcement, delivery vehicles, street sweepers, snow plow operators, local businesses and more.

The good news is there’s a group meeting to discuss safety and education programming with some likely funding behind it. We’re working with MDOT on updates to their “What every motorist must know about bike lanes” brochure since it doesn’t include PBLs. It’s going to take time.

In the meantime, here are four suggestions for all of us:

  1. Be Careful & Considerate — Don’t expect everyone to instantly know how to operate around the new lanes, but especially if the planned two-way PBLs for Downtown get installed as expected. This is a major change for everyone. (Imagine the Dequindre Cut being routed on Downtown streets!) If you’re ever unsure, just be especially careful, go slow, and watch out for others. Remember that next year, Detroit Bike Share should get more people on bikes that may not be as experienced.
  2. Be Patient — As much as the city is trying to get PBLs designed perfectly from the start, they may need to be tweaked over time (see the next suggestion.) In some cases what’s wanted in the design is not yet approved by MDOT and the Federal Highway Administration. That could take additional time.We also need to step up education on motorists and where they should be parking. Motorists have been parking against the curb for the past century. Until we get to the next phase and start replacing the PBL separating posts with raised curbs, it’s going to look odd parking in the street. It’ll take time getting this message out to everyone.Lastly, sweeping and snow removal maintenance is a work in progress. The city is investing in special equipment that fits in the narrow PBLs. In some case they’ll be maintaining the PBLs on MDOT roads. They need to coordinate snow removal so that they’re not pushing the white stuff back and forth between the vehicle travel lanes and PBLs — or blocking the sidewalk. It’s going to take some time to get this working well.
  3. Provide Feedback — Please document your concerns and send them to us, info@detroitgreenways.org. We’ll share them with the city. We’ve already heard about drivers opening passenger car doors in the E. Jefferson lanes. Those buffer areas are much narrower than what’s typical due to the lack of space between the curbs. On the new projects, most of the buffer areas between the PBLs and parked cars will be twice as wide.
  4. Be aware of your options — PBLs are intended to create a safe riding area for less experienced and less confident bicyclists. That may not be you. State law doesn’t require that you ride in PBLs (or any bike lane for that matter.) If you’re going fast or riding in a large group, it may make more sense that you stay in the other travel lanes. We’ll educate local law enforcement on this legal option.

We will vouch that the city and all the stakeholders are putting a great deal of effort into this. There’s a huge learning curve for everyone. We’ve seen nothing but the best intentions from all involved to get over that curve.

As more Detroiters feel comfortable biking in PBLs (and we have the data to prove it), we can expect more investment in them. Over time, those white plastic posts can be enhanced with planters or replaced raised curbs. It’s going to take time, effort, education and bit of discomfort, but working together, we can adjust and improve — and get a whole lot more people feeling comfortable riding bicycles in Detroit.

Lastly, with this rapid change, we expect the national bicycle organizations won’t have a choice but to start acknowledging Detroit’s bicycle friendliness. Add in the nation’s most diverse bicycle culture and they’ll realize we’re the role model they’ve been looking for. The spotlight is coming. Let’s make sure we’re ready for our closeup.

Open host to discuss proposed Michigan Ave protected bike lanes

Press Release from the City of Detroit (includes corrections to earlier copy):

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 16, 2016

CONTACT: Vince Keenan, City of Detroit Department of Neighborhoods, 313-236-3523, keenanv@michigan.gov

City of Detroit to host Open House with MDOT to discuss proposal to add protected bike lanes on US-12 Michigan Avenue from Cass Avenue to Livernois

WHAT:
An open house-style meeting to gather public input from interested parties about the proposed changes to US-12 (Michigan Avenue) to add protected bike lanes to Michigan Avenue between Livernois and Cass Avenue. Michigan Avenue is a State highway and the City of Detroit is working with MDOT and community groups throughout this process.

WHEN/WHERE:
Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016
4 – 7 p.m.

UAW Local 22
4300 Michigan Ave, Detroit, MI 48210

WHO:
City of Detroit Department of Public Works & Traffic Engineering
City of Detroit Planning and Design Department
City of Detroit Department of Neighborhoods
Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT)
Residents and interested stakeholders

Accommodations can be made for persons with disabilities and limited English speaking ability. Large print materials, auxiliary aids or the services of interpreters, signers, or readers available upon request. Please call 313-236-3523 to before meeting date.

BACKGROUND:
As part of ongoing predestination efforts, The City of Detroit and MDOT are proposing a pilot project to add protected bike lanes on US-12 (Michigan Avenue) from Cass Avenue to Livernois. The change would connect the Livernois bike pathway and the planned Cass Avenue bike path. Existing bike lanes adjacent to motor vehicle travel lanes would be moved inside the parking lane to allow bike riders to travel next to the curb. Areas without bike lanes would be added.

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Belle Isle Park Trail Master Plan

Belle Isle Trail Master PlanThe Michigan DNR held a public meeting on August 24th, 2016 to review a trail master plan for Belle Isle and gather input. The meeting discussed:

  • Development of a new multi-use pathway located mostly between the outer park roads and the water
  • Additional trails within the inner forest area
  • Permanently closing some mostly unused park roads on the east end of the island to motor vehicle traffic
  • Location of the Iron Belle Trail starting point

The presentation from this meeting is now available on our shared drive.

More details on this project as well as contact information is available on the DNR website.

Public meeting to help plan Belle Isle Trails System

Belle Isle on Google MapsThe Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is hosting a public meeting to allow the community an opportunity for input as we develop a master plan for the Belle Isle Trail system.

DATE: Wednesday, August 24th
TIME: 6:30pm -8:30pm
LOCATION: Belle Isle State Park, Flynn Pavilion

Project Description from the DNR:

The plan is developing a 6-mile paved multi-use trail loop around the perimeter of Belle Isle Park in order to connect to existing park facilities and provide safe non-motorized recreation to all visitors on the island as well as siting of the southern trailhead for the Iron Belle Trail. The park currently includes bicycle lanes located on the park’s main perimeter road and two miles of hiking trails located in natural areas of the park. The master plan will develop a trail system through the 200 acre unique wet-mesic flatwoods on the East end of the island and identify gaps in the Belle Isle State Park’s existing trail system and locate a trailhead for the southern terminus of Michigan’s Iron Belle Trail. The Iron Belle Trail is made of two statewide trails (hiking and biking routes) traveling 2,000 miles from Detroit to Ironwood several park attractions are not easily accessible to pedestrians and other non-motorized uses. The park is in need of a separate multi-use looped trail system in order to connect existing park facilities.

Uses enhanced by this project include bicycle, pedestrian, persons with disabilities, roller bladders, strollers, hikers. The trail will also provide access to natural ecosystems, wildlife observation and educational opportunities. The Master Plan will define types of trails to be developed, determine location of trails and trailheads, determine trailhead layout and site amenities, and develop standards for trail signage. Surfacing and signage will be selected to enhance the surrounding park landscape. Project documents will include estimates of probable cost and phasing plan for implementation of the improvements identified, taking into consideration the current funding climate.

This master plan is critical in developing the Belle Isle State Park as a regional trail hub, connecting the park to the region’s trail system. When combined with the additional amenities on the island, the proposed looped trail around the island with views of the Detroit River and Canada will be a one of kind experience not found anywhere else in the City of Detroit or surrounding region.

Upon Completion of the Coastal Zone Management Grant ($50,000) funded Master plan, the DNR Parks and Recreation Division will proceed with engineering drawings for the first phase of Belle Isle trail improvement that will include construction of the Iron Belle Trailhead. Construction of the Iron Belle Trailhead will be funded through grants from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund ($300,000) and National Recreation Trail Fund ($300,000).