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.

Proposed Detroit streetcar ordinances affects biking

There is a public hearing on Monday, May 8th at 10:06AM for new Detroit ordinances relating to the QLine. They mostly relate to streetcar operations but some affect bicycling on Woodward Avenue.

The initial ordinance language raised a couple primary concerns for Woodward bicyclists.

  • Though not intended as such, 58-10-18 appeared to prohibit bicyclists from riding near or across streetcar tracks.
  • Both 58-10-11 and 58-10-51 prohibit bicyclists riding “in a manner calculated” to delay the streetcar.

The ordinance specified these as misdemeanors with up to a $500 fine and/or 90 days in jail.

We met with MDOT, M1 Rail, and Council member Scott Benson’s office to review the language and address these concerns. Council member Benson was able to get positive changes made to the ordinance language before Monday’s hearing.

For the first concern, the intention was to prohibit people from making devices that could ride specifically on the rail. The language has been clarified to better match this intent.

As for the second concern, the wording was changed from the “calculating” to the more common legal term “intentionally”. While still open to interpretation from enforcement, it’s an improvement. Besides this may not end up being too much of a concern as the QLine is rather slow and makes numerous stops. It’s more likely to impede bicyclists than vise versa.

Enforceable?

Although the ordinance is expected to pass City Council on the 9th, we still have questions of how enforceable these bicycle ordinances will be given the State’s Motor Vehicle Code (MVC). The MVC smartly tries to keep road regulations uniform across the state while requiring notice to users when they are different at the local level.

The MVC does allow local governments to regulate the operation of bicycles, but those regulations must be posted.

An ordinance or regulation … shall not be enforceable until signs giving notice of the local traffic regulations are posted upon or at the entrance to the highway or street or part of the highway or street affected, as may be most appropriate, and are sufficiently legible as to be seen by an ordinarily observant person.

There had not been any prior plans to post such signs.

Another question involves conflicts between this ordinance and the MVC. The latter gives bicyclists the right to ride on the right side of Woodward. The local ordinance (58-10-52) says bicyclists lose that right when the streetcar gives a signal. That seems to conflict with the MVC language on local regulations, but that’s unclear.

Be Safe!

None of this is to say you shouldn’t get out of the way of a heavy streetcar for your own safety. However, given the meandering rail alignment, safely getting of the way of anything is a challenge enough without adding the fear of a misdemeanor.

Other tips: Always try to cross the rails at a 90-degree angle and remember that wet rails are extra slippery.

Under many circumstances, Cass Avenue and John R will be the safer bike routes. As a result of these Woodward bicycle safety issues, MDOT is funding improvements on Cass Avenue. Protected bike lanes from Lafayette to W. Grand Boulevard will be built this summer after the road is repaved.

Above all, if you ride Woodward, be careful! We’ve already heard of far too many bicycle crashes due to the rails and that was before streetcars were added to the mix.

We don’t want to add your name to the list.

Making sensible bicycle passing laws in Michigan

1280px-Michigan_state_capitolWe track all state legislation that gets introduced pertaining to traffic laws. Why? Like most Michigan cities, Detroit has adopted the state motor vehicle code as local ordinances. When the vehicle code changes, so to do the local traffic ordinances.

In October 2015, we found a safe passing bill for bicycles had been introduced in the Michigan House, which was apparently the same language the city of Grand Rapids used. It required drivers of vehicles to give five feet when passing bicyclists. However, we wouldn’t support it for a couple major reasons.

First, since bicyclists must follow the same rules as the driver of vehicles while on the roadway, they too would have to give five feet when passing other bicyclists.

Second, it mandated that vehicles (and bicyclists) to always pass bicyclists on the left. It would have prohibited passing bicycles on the right, which often happens:

  • When a bicyclist is in a left turn lane
  • When a bicyclist is at a light going straight and there’s a right turn lane next to to them
  • On one-way streets with more than two lanes where bicyclists can ride on either side of the road
  • Where bike lanes are on the left side of the road, like on Belle Isle.

Yes, with this legislation, cars could not legally pass bicycles in the bike lane on Belle Isle. Clearly all the implications of the bill hadn’t been considered.

We contacted the League of Michigan Bicyclists and learned they had a role in the bill language. We outlined our concerns.

Last month, we discovered a new safe passing bill was introduced in the Senate. One of the bills allowed right side passing as we’d proposed. However, the bills required bicyclists on the roadway to pass other bicyclists by five feet. Again, we couldn’t support the bills as written.

This time, working closely with our friends at Henry Ford Health System, we directly contacted the bill sponsors, State Senators David Knezek and Margaret O’Brien. We proposed alternative language so that the five foot requirement only applied to motorists.

And we were successful! Substitute bills (SB 1076 and SB 1077) with our modified language passed out of Senate committee before passing the full Senate. Since these bills aren’t tie-barred (one can pass without the other), it’s possible that just the left side-only passing bill will pass. We’ll see what happens in the House.

Being Realistic

It’s great to have Senate support for improving bicycling in Michigan. Unfortunately, there’s little data that passing bills in other states have had much effect.

These passing bills are in some ways a reaction to the tragedy earlier this year in Kalamazoo. Clearly that driver ignored the state laws regarding driving while under the influence. He all but certainly would have ignored safe passing laws had they already been enacted.

Another consideration is that 36% of all reported Detroit bike crashes with vehicles are hit and run. Fifty percent of the crashes causing a bicyclist fatality are hit and run. If the driver gets away, no new bike law will help.

The Michigan Senate also passed a bill (SB 1078) that sets minimum time of one hour for the existing motorist education requirement on laws pertaining to motorcycles and bicycles. The bill also adds the laws pertaining to pedestrians. The Coalition supports this bill and thinks

Take Action: Please contact your state representative and ask them to support Senate Bills 1076, 1077 and 1078.

 

 

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]

At a glance: Michigan Road Funding bills

1280px-Michigan_state_capitolThe Detroit Free Press has a story today on the package of Michigan road funding bills headed to the governor.

While state road funding is one of many used in Detroit, it’s typically not the primary source for trail and bike lane projects. Those projects rely more often on federal grants and philanthropy. Still, this funding is important and does affect our work.

The good news is that unlike legislation introduced in earlier sessions, these do not affect the road funding formulas much. Prior changes included registration and fuel tax increases while effectively shifting funding from cities to the counties. Detroit was set up to lose millions. Other bills bypassed the formula altogether which shortchanged public transit funding and the 1% for non-motorized requirement. Those changes aren’t happening with these bills.

However, one change does give Detroit the flexibility to shift up to 20% of its state road funding to DDOT.

These bills also transfer substantial general fund money to the transportation funding. It’s a major shift from motor vehicle user fees (e.g. vehicle registration and fuel taxes) to general funds that everyone pays through state income and sales taxes. While these transfers have been done in recent years — especially at the federal level — they haven’t been done to this extent in Michigan.

Having more general funding for roads only reinforces the justification for Complete Streets. We’re all paying for the roads so they should be designed for all of us.

Restrictive youth bicycle ordinances repealed

Photo from Council member Castaneda-Lopez's Facebook photo album

Photo from Council member Castaneda-Lopez’s Facebook photo album

Moments ago, Detroit City Council unanimously repealed three city ordinances that restricted youth bicycling within the city. In brief, these ordinances prohibited bicyclists under age 12 from riding in the street even if they were with a parent or guardian. Bicyclists between ages 12 and 17 needed to carry a permission note with them. The penalty for violating either ordinance was the Detroit Police Department could ask parents that they withhold bicycling privileges for up to six months.

We sought to remove these as we outlined in a prior post.

Yesterday we testified at a public hearing that these ordinances were archaic, unique to Detroit, and not best practices. They also did not seem to be enforced, which made youth safety education more challenging. Should we tell youth to ignore them?

Also at the public hearing was Heather Nugen, Executive Director for Back Alley Bikes. Nugen brought her wealth of experience in youth cycling to the table. Council member Scott Benson recognized Back Alley Bikes for all the great work they do in the city.

Next up were two third-graders who road their bikes to school and knew how to safely ride in the road. They clearly had the most impact. Thanks to BikeVON for bringing these kids to the hearing.

At the conclusion of the public hearing, Council member Raquel Castaneda-Lopez and Benson posed with them. Member Castaneda-Lopez wrote on Facebook:

I love when youth come to speak at City Council- it can be intimidating even for adults. Today these two 9 and 10yr olds, respectively, came to support repealing archaic restrictions around youth riding bicycles. They ride their bikes to school. I hope that someday soon everyone in the city feels safe & comfortable riding bikes and using this as a viable means of transportation. #detroitcycles #nonmotorizedtransportation#youthempowered #district6

We share that hope!

Also, we do want to thank People for Bikes in helping spread the word on this with an Action Alert.

Repealing Detroit’s Restrictive Youth Bicycling Ordinances

A public hearing to repeal these youth biking ordinances was held on Monday, October 26th at 10:30AM at Detroit City Council. The repeal was successfully voted out of committee and is on the Tuesday Council agenda for an expected final vote.


 

Last May, Detroit made a massive overhaul of its traffic ordinances. City Council repealed most of Detroit’s traffic ordinances and adopted the Michigan Motor Vehicle Code and Uniform Traffic Code in their place.

We supported this change as it makes Detroit’s traffic ordinances more consistent with other Michigan cities.

It also meant bicycles no longer required bells. We’re not anti-bike bell, we think they’re a great idea. We just don’t think bicyclists should get a ticket for not having one.

Three ordinances that didn’t get removed involved youth bicycling.

Sec. 55-4-11. – Operation of bicycles—Persons under twelve years of age.
No person under the age of 12 years shall operate a bicycle upon any street, highway or alley of the City, provided, that such person under twelve 12 years of age may operate a bicycle on the sidewalks of the city. (Ord. No. 09-14, § 1, 5-19-14)

Sec. 55-4-12. – Same—Persons twelve to seventeen years of age.
Any person over the age of 12 years and under the age of 17 years may operate a bicycle upon the streets, highways, and alleys of the City, provided, that such person has in his possession the written consent of the parent or guardian to do so. (Ord. No. 09-14, § 1, 5-19-14)

Sec. 55-4-13. – Same—Police to notify parents of violations.
If there is any violation of section 55-4-21 or section 55-4-22 of this Code, the Police Department shall notify the parent or guardian of the violation, giving the details of the violation, and shall recommend the confiscation of the bicycle by the parent or guardian for a period of not more than six months. (Ord. No. 09-14, § 1, 5-19-14)

These ordinances are archaic and unduly restrictive. To the best of our knowledge, they are not enforced.

We asked members of the Association for Pedestrian and Bicycle Planners if they were aware of another U.S. city with similar restrictions. The answer was “no”.

Repealing 55-4-11 does not mean all Detroit youth are prepared to ride safely in the streets, but certainly some are. Many youth under age 12 ride in the streets with their parents/guardians or with organized groups such as the Back Alley Bikes Youth Rides and the Safe Routes to School program. This happens safely across the city and should not be prohibited.

Also, Council adopted the Michigan Uniform Traffic Code by reference in May 2014. That includes a rule that holds parents/guardians responsible for their children:

R 28.1201 Rule 201. Required obedience to traffic ordinances; parental responsibility; violation as civil infraction. (1) It is a violation of this code for any person to do any act that is forbidden, or to fail to perform any act that is required, by the act or this code. (2) The parent of any child and the guardian of any ward shall not authorize or knowingly permit this child or ward to violate any of the provisions of the act or this code. (3) Unless otherwise specified, violation of any rule of this code is a civil infraction.

We met with Council member Scott Benson this summer to discuss their repeal. The repeal amendment went before the City Council Public Health and Safety Committee today and was moved to tomorrow’s City Council of Whole.

 

Updates on Belle Isle’s streets and sidewalks

20150416_113940Last Friday the DNR called a meeting to address the concerns we’d outlined in a previous post about the construction and conditions on Belle Isle related to the Grand Prix. The meeting also included MDOT representatives, State Representative Stephanie Chang, and Michele Hodges from both the Belle Isle Conservancy and Belle Isle Advisory Committee.

This meeting was mostly about information gathering. The DNR is hiring a planner soon and will host public listening sessions this summer to discuss these issues further with a much wider audience. We’ll let everyone know when those listening sessions are scheduled.

Three MDOT issues seemed to rise to the top.

  • MDOT took a small portion of the $4 million road funding for project management. The remainder went to the Grand Prix, who designed and built the Belle Isle roads. There were no public meetings and MDOT thought that listening to the DNR was sufficient stakeholder input. We don’t believe this follows their Context Sensitive Solutions or Complete Streets policies.
  • On portions of the new road, they will paint a pedestrian lane. This is not a sidewalk, but a pedestrian lane next to the curb and in the street. A bike lane will be next to this walking lane. An on-street walking lane does not follow AASHTO guidelines even though that was a design requirement. Also per AASHTO, “sidewalks, provided on both sides of a street, are the preferred pedestrian facility.” We learned that the initial Grand Prix design removed more sidewalks, so perhaps this was a compromise. We are waiting to see the road design cross sections from MDOT. However we do know these designs were not reviewed by MDOT’s bike and pedestrian coordinator.
  • On some new sections of road, no sidewalks were installed despite the MDOT Complete Streets policy. MDOT ‘s explanation was that they typically assume local governments will add them,  or in this case, the DNR. While local governments can be asked to contribute to adding sidewalks, MDOT cannot assume others will keep them compliant with their own Complete Streets policy.

One frustrating point that others made was that the sidewalk was in poor condition and that this somehow justified it being removed. However there was no evidence of its poor condition in Google Streetview. We passed around photos showing that. Besides, under this logic, the road was in poor condition. Why wasn’t it removed? That logic has no place under a Complete Streets policy.

Grand Prix impact on other park users

The other major concern discussed was the impact of this year’s Grand Prix event set up on other park users. The DNR inherited this event permit from the city of Detroit and we were told there are some gray areas within in. Seemingly unbeknownst to those at the meeting, the Grand Prix had a different interpretation of the permit requirements and set up earlier than expected.

The DNR will discuss this with the Grand Prix to make improvements for 2016. They plan to update the permit when it expires after next year’s event.

As a means for overseeing all this activity, Michele Hodges will add this entire topic as a standing agenda item to the Belle Isle Advisory Committee meetings.

We look forward to addressing all these issues and keeping Belle Isle as a great place to bike and walk.

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.

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.