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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Provide Feedback — Please document your concerns and send them to us, firstname.lastname@example.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.
- 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.
We 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.
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.
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 #nonmotorizedtransportatio
We share that hope!
Also, we do want to thank People for Bikes in helping spread the word on this with an Action Alert.
MDOT has undertaken $4 million in road “improvements” at Belle Isle State Park where they not only failed to build sidewalks that were missing — they removed existing sidewalks.
When we first learned that substantial taxpayer dollars were allocated to Belle Isle roads, we wrote MDOT and the DNR asking that “All of the park roads, including the MacArthur Bridge, should be designed using Complete Streets principles. The major park roads should have wide sidewalks.” We also asked for other non-motorized improvements.
We were clearly ignored.
Now we can expect to see more pedestrians having to walk in the roadway, and more specifically in the bike lane, forcing cyclists to swerve into the vehicle lanes.
Not smart. This certainly does not follow MDOT’s Complete Street Policy.
The political reality is the Detroit Grand Prix got the $4 million from the state legislature with the intention of improving Belle Isle roads for racing. But these are state trunklines — and in a state park no less — and that same legislative body also passed the Complete Streets laws.
Making matter worse, for at least a month now MDOT has allowed the Belle Isle bike lanes and sidewalks to be blocked and inaccessible. We expect this to last at least two more months until after the Grand Prix finishes.
Neither MDOT nor the DNR are being proper stewards of a state park when public access is compromised for a quarter of the year.
While some may point to the benefits the Grand Prix brings to the island, they must be weighed against the $4 million benefit it got from the Michigan taxpayers.
In the end there must be a balance. This is a state park first and foremost for the people.
UPDATE, April 19, 2015: Through Michele Hodges of the Belle Isle Conservancy, the DNR has stated that the removed sidewalks were in poor condition. That is not true, so we’ve added three more photos showing the very good sidewalk condition prior to their removal. (The replaced road surface looks very good as well.)
Last month the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released their 2013 Traffic Safety Facts for Pedestrians report.
The statistics are grim. Every two hours a pedestrian is killed in the U.S. Fourteen percent of all road fatalities are pedestrians and that continues to trend upwards.
Among U.S. cities above 500,000 people, Detroit has the highest pedestrian fatality rate. It’s not even close. With 6.1 fatalities per 100,000 people, Detroit is well above second-place Jacksonville at 3.92.
Sadly enough, Detroit fatality rate has risen every year since 2010 when it was “only” 3.2 fatalities per 100,000.
This is a major public safety issue that everyone has a role in solving.
- Last year Detroit City Council updated and modernized its traffic ordinances – a good first step. We expect them to take up a Complete Streets ordinance this year that makes the city consider all modes of transportation when reconstructing roadst.
- To its credit, the Department of Public Works has been building Complete Streets projects in high-crash areas. As the statistics show, more work needs to be done. Even adding more bike lanes and road diets can help reduce speeding and make it easier for pedestrians to cross Detroit’s often wide streets.
- Improvements in public lighting should also help reduce pedestrian crashes. Since 2010, over 80% of Detroit’s pedestrian fatalities have occurred at night and nearly half of those were in unlit areas.
- We urge Mayor Mike Duggan to join the other 177 cities that have already signed on to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Mayors’ Challenge. This is a nationwide effort to create more seamless, convenient and safe biking and walking communities. The city with the worst pedestrian fatality rate needs to be at this table.
- Residents and businesses should commit to clearing snow and ice from their sidewalks. During the summer, sidewalks should be cleared of debris and vegetation trimmed for good sight lines. Pedestrians are more likely to use sidewalks when they feel safe on them.
- And lastly, all motorists need to use extra caution around pedestrians and bicyclists. Everyone needs to drive the speed limit. A “harmless” five MPH over is not harmless. At 20 MPH, a pedestrian has a 5% chance of being killed. It’s 45% at 30 MPH and 85% at 40 MPH. Unlike the Metro Detroit suburbs, most city streets have low posted speed limits. We’d like to see more people following them. Speed does kill.
Detroit has the basic underlying structure for a very walkable city. We just need to make sure it’s safe for everyone in every neighborhood. It’s about quality of life, social equity, and public health – and it needs to be everyone’s priority.
We submitted the above commentary nearly a couple weeks ago to one of Detroit’s major papers. That paper never returned our emails or voice mail, so we decided to publish it ourselves. That paper did publish their own commentary on the “full-blown public safety emergency” of potholes and bridges — neither of which can match the 312 pedestrians and 26 bicyclists killed on Detroit roads during the past decade.
Long 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.