Say hello to the Mobility City

Recently there have been prominent editorials and comments about the loss of “our culture” because of changes in road safety and accessibility. In a recent Op-Ed, Keith Crain of Crain’s Detroit Business said that bicyclists “must have a powerful lobby.” We agree.

The Detroit Greenways Coalition and its coalition member organizations and the city have been honing their skills for well over fifteen years. Our organization has garnered significant support from the public to support the State of Michigan efforts to build Complete Streets that balance the needs for everyone who uses and pays for our public roads. It is important to note that these efforts do not diminish vehicle access but improve them for everyone’s use, to save lives and spur neighborhood growth and economic development. Our organization does not derive our support and lobby power from big bucks, we get it from the thousands of grassroots voices that say we can make our public roadways work better for everyone.

To the assertion that we should say “good-bye to the Motor City”, that’s just not true. Even Ford Motor Company accepts the fact that transportation is changing and every type of choice made by a Detroit resident is important. To further dispel what made Detroit transportation hub is that in 1868 the first person rode a bicycle in Detroit on East Jefferson – nearly 28 years before the first motorized vehicle.

Now 150 years later, the city of Detroit is making East Jefferson safer for everyone, bicyclists, pedestrians as well as motorists. The goal is to make it a neighborhood road where driving the speed limit feels right, where pedestrians can safely cross the road and where bicycling is a viable option for residents to shop, visit neighbors, shop and eat Downtown, picnic on Belle Isle, enjoy the RiverWalk and live the urban lifestyle of everyone strives for.   Jefferson can no longer be a “speedway” designed only to accommodate and encourage high-speed automobile traffic. Studies show that changes like this are important and impactful to revitalizing commercial corridors – something East Jefferson can certainly benefit from.

Over the past decades, the approach to East Jefferson and the neighborhoods along its route has not changed. And admittedly any change can be difficult to adjust to. Unfortunately it is even harder for those that think their time “behind the wheel” and their hurry to get to their next destination is more important that quality of life, safety or the economics of the neighborhood corridors through which they speed by.

The following are common refrains and misconceptions, along with the clarifications needed to educate those unwilling to recognize the importance of these changes or even to have the patience to accept the improvements that come over time.

“Bike lanes came without notice.”

Detroit started its citywide bicycle planning in 2005 with a non-motorized transportation master plan. There have been hundreds of public meetings since then for bike lane projects. Public feedback at these meetings has helped shape what the city is installing. East Jefferson in particular has seen significant non-motorized planning and meetings, including the “2012 Visions of Greenways” plan, the Detroit East Riverfront Framework Plan, and countless neighborhood and business meetings along the corridor.

“No one bikes in Detroit.”

This has not been true for over 150 years. While no city has exact numbers on bicyclists, we do know that there are at least 68 bike clubs in Detroit, each with many members who regularly ride throughout the city.  Slow Roll is the largest weekly bike ride in the United States with many rides topping well over a thousand participants. On an average day over 1,200 people use the Dequindre Cut, both pedestrian and bicyclists. The very popular MoGo bike share program hit its annual 100,000 trip goal in under 5 months and has shown non-motorized transportation is needed by both residents and visitors. Few cities in the country can make similar boasts.

“Bicyclists don’t pay their fair share.”

There is an unfortunately universal misconception that State and Federal taxes on motorist fuel and vehicle registrations fees cover Michigan’s road costs. They don’t. In 2014, those collected fees only covered 62.1% of the state road costs. The balance comes from the general fund and property taxes, which every Michigander pays, those with or without motor vehicles. The cost of bicycle and pedestrian facilities are just a fraction of the transportation costs in this state. If anything, bicyclists and pedestrians subsidize motorists.

“Bicyclists don’t follow the rules.”

Nationwide studies show this is not true.  It is simply that motorists notice others breaking the law more than they notice themselves. There is more severe and permanent danger to pedestrians and bicyclists from motor vehicles than the other way around.

It is worth remembering that the rules of the road were birthed by the auto industry to gain a competitive mobility advantage over other modes of transportation, be it bike, horse, cart or tram. The speed limit on East Jefferson used to be 12 MPH and everyone using it had to yield at every intersection. The industry pushed for higher speeds, stop signs, traffic lights, one way streets and later freeways so the convenience of motor cars over other modes would help sales. They coined the term “jaywalking” and restricted the pedestrian rights to the roadways. Cities nationwide are re-evaluating these archaic rules to bring more balance to the public rights-of-way. Having rules that make sense for pedestrians, bicyclists and motor vehicles will lead to greater safety in our neighborhoods.

Even on East Jefferson.

 

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

Inner Circle Greenway: Bridging over freeways

U.S. DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx has recently called out freeways and how they were rammed through poor neighborhoods.

That certainly happened in Detroit — and it was intentional.

According to the 1945 Detroit Expressway and Transit Plan, “Genuine, large-scale slum clearance to let in sunlight and air can be accomplished by opening up wide arteries and often can be hitched to an expressway project by going just a little out of the way at an inconsequential time loss.”

This was reflected in the expressway route recommendations:

  • Grand River Expressway (Now I-96)  “Through much of its length it would take land in substandard areas where there is acute need for the incidental improvements to the ex­pressway.”
  • Lodge Expressway (M-10)  “[It] would lay the backbone for the rehabilitation of a neighborhood that badly needs it. The alignment has been judiciously planned to fit in with the layout of the proposed Jeffries housing project.”
  • Hastings Expressway (I-75/I-375)  “[It] would pass through substandard areas… Acquisition of the right-of-way actually would constitute a slum clearance project for much of its 6.8 miles of length and construction of the expressway would invite and justify private development of wide scope along it.”

The plan also called for non-motorized improvements that were never realized.

“Walks and promenades with benches should be fitted into the landscaped slopes wherever possible. Bicycle paths could be included for some stretches at comparatively little additional expense. These features would be very popular and would make the expressways useful for Detroiters and visitors who are without automobiles.”

So, we’re excited to hear Secretary Foxx talk about righting these wrongs and we think the Inner Circle Greenway has a role. Over its 26 miles, the greenway has eight improved non-motorized freeway crossings.

One of the major connectors is in Northwest Detroit where the proposed greenway crosses the Davison entrance ramp and I-96. We’ve found DTE aerial photographs from 1967 and 1997 that show the before and after affects of I-96 in this area. By moving the center slide left and right, one can see how schools, parks, local businesses and neighborhoods were severely divided.

While we have no delusions that the Inner Circle Greenway can mitigate all of the expressways impacts on Detroit neighborhoods, it can be valuable start.

Jeffries-1967Jeffries-1997-icgw

Among many things, Ron Scott was a bike advocate

Ron Scott talks about bikes in DetroitI met Ron Scott on the stairsteps of the old Detroit Police Department (DPD) headquarters on Beaubien in 2008. I didn’t know much about him except that he was interested in helping organize a bicycle ride against the police department’s suddenly announced enforcement of mandatory bicycle registration ordinances.

Along with fellow advocate Tawanna Simpson, we organized a bike protest ride while simultaneously working to make the bike registration ordinances voluntary.

From my limited policy perspective as the MTGA Detroit Greenways Coordinator, the ordinances were archaic and and burdensome. For Ron, it wasn’t a coincidence that DPD starting enforcing the ordinances. It was a tool for targeting certain types of people who happened to be on bikes. Unlicensed bikes were an easy way to write $75 tickets. This was an issue of fairness and equity.

Along the way, Ron bought a bike and was rapidly absorbed in the fun and health aspects of bicycling. He spoke of bicycling’s ability to build inclusive community, perhaps foretelling Slow Roll. He certainly brought a more broad perspective to the discussion.

At the Detroit City Council hearing on the registration ordinances, I was taken aback by the respect and admiration each council member gave Ron as they entered the room. Still not knowing his past, it gave me a great deal of confidence. Council called Ron and I to the table where he spoke elegantly and introduced the need to remove the city’s unnecessary bicycling restrictions. He then introduced me as his brother, which elicited some chuckles. While we’re both Scotts, we don’t look much like siblings. I proceeded to outline the specifics of why mandatory licensing didn’t make sense from a policy perspective.

Detroit Police Chief Ella Bully-CummingsMore people spoke against the ordinances with only DPD speaking in support of them. City council not only moved to make the mandatory bicycle registrations voluntary, they thanked us for bringing this issue before them. Our protest bike ride was then turned into a bike ride celebration that even saw the Detroit Police Chief Ella Bully-Cummings riding with us.

Seizing on this political momentum, we decided to bring the Department of Public Work’s non-motorized master plan before council for their approval. Council passed it unanimously before we could finish our presentation. More success!

In the end, DPD gave us a gift that not only led to Ron’s involvement, it fostered a relationship with Council that made Detroit more bike- and trail-friendly. Our positive relationship with Council continues to this day.

Belle Isle State Park

Another issue dear to Ron was the lease of Belle Isle to the State of Michigan. With that lease came an increased state enforcement that made many long time park users feel unwelcomed. This included many Detroit’s bike clubs that no longer felt comfortable holding their events on the island.

We worked with Ron and the bike club presidents to have DNR State Parks Director Ron Olson and the DNR Chief of Southern Field Operations Scott Pratt ride together for the 2014 fireworks. It was an opportunity to make introductions and an initial attempt at changing conditions and perceptions.

The following month, Ron and I spoke before the Michigan State Parks Advisory Committee. Per the meeting minutes:

Scott Pratt, Ron Scott, Ron OlsonRon Scott, applauds the state for what they have accomplished so far with Belle Isle and the increase in Recreation Passport sales just in the Detroit area. However, he encouraged the DNR Parks and Recreation Division to reach out to other stakeholders in the City (i.e. businesses, organizations, the districts, and the general public) and the surrounding areas. For whatever reason, some groups or individuals have not felt comfortable or welcome on the island. He feels that if the department were to reach out to these groups (i.e. have public meetings, discussion or interaction), regarding what would encourage them to visit and enjoy the island, it would not only benefit the island with increased revenue, but it would also help the city and local businesses. He also recommended reaching out to surrounding communities to encourage interest in Belle Isle and point out what it has to offer on a more localized level. Organizations like the Detroit Greenways Coalition, the state, and others would benefit by meeting, having these discussions and figuring out ways to attract more visitors to the area. He also reminded the committee that the state needs to be sensitive to the way enforcement is handled on the island.

 At an event just last month Ron reiterated the need to resolve this issue. We’re still working on it.

Certainly Ron contributed much more to Detroit than bicycling advocacy. Others will write much more about that. I just feel so fortunate that our causes overlapped, to have worked with him and be inspired by him, and to be called his brother.

Thank you, Ron.

On November 30th, 2015, Ron Scott passed after a battle with cancer at age 68. 

[More about Ron Scott]

Bike-Boom in Detroit:Räder aus Ruinen

spiegel_online_logo_460_64The Detroit Greenways Coalition just received a little web ink in Germany’s Spiegel Online. This snippet from the article was translated via Google:

The majority of the bikes from Shinola or Detroit bikes will of course not sold in Detroit, but in other areas of the USA. On poor state of the roads in the city or on the icy weather during the winter months, but that does not lie, says Todd Scott of the cyclist lobby “Detroit Greenways Coalition”. The city is developing into quite cyclist-friendly. “In 2006 there were in Detroit just eleven miles biking trails, today there are more than 200 miles,” says Schott. And with 7000 participants was the “Tour de Droit” the greatest cyclists ride in the state of Michigan.

While the number of car commuters had decreased by 20 percent, now almost 50 percent more people live to cycle to work than it was ten years ago. And organized by Jason Hall, founder of the bike show “Detroit Bike City” Slow Roll is made with up to 4,000 participants motley popular weekly bike ride across America; the computer manufacturer Apple processed the cool pedalo convoy even in a two-minute commercial.

It’s welcomed that the article acknowledges Detroit’s rich cycling history which helped enable its automotive industry.

With the boom for bikes starts for Detroit not a new chapter in the history of the city, but it is an ancient updated basically. “Bicycles have in this city a longer tradition than cars,” says Scott. Even Henry Ford introduced its first car four bicycle wheels and brought the engine power by bicycle chain to the wheels. The Dodge Brothers earned – like the brothers Opel in Germany or the Peugeot family in France – the money for future car production with the profits from bicycle.

Scott says it’s traffic Senator Horatio Earle earlier due attention to bicycle that the first roads were concreted in Detroit. And even the first motor show in the birthplace of the industrial automobile production was organized by a bicycle dealer. “His ascension and his case like Detroit car thanks,” recently wrote the business magazine “Fortune” and continued: “.. The history of the city, however, is not resting on four, but on two wheels And perhaps her future”

 

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.