Written by Myra M. Tetteh. Originally published on the Detroit Food and Fitness Collaborative web site.
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.