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

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’s all in for greenways and protected bike lanes

Protected bike lanesIf you watched Mayor Mike Duggan’s Keynote at the 2016 Mackinac Policy Conference — and you bike, walk or just love trails — you probably weren’t disappointed.

While the Mayor spoke across a wealth of topics, he did highlight existing and planned greenways and protected bike lanes as tools to “build a vibrant Detroit with opportunity for everyone.”

First, he touted the RiverWalk, Dequindre Cut, and how both are “jammed” with people walking and biking. These are competitive advantages that Detroit has which the suburbs do not. The Mayor recognizes the need to capitalize on these advantages.

Pedestrian greenwayNext he introduced the idea of a 20-minute neighborhood where every non-work trip can be made with a 20-minute bike ride or walk. That makes sense for many reasons. Cars are expensive to own and operate in the city. Providing less expensive transportation options is smart. It’s also highly desirable for those who chose not to drive. With most jobs for Detroiters located outside the city (for now), it’s not realistic to focus on bike commuting to work.

The high city-owned vacant land within these neighborhoods presents an opportunity to build residential greenways, not unlike what you currently see winding through Lafayette and Elmwood/Central Park. These would connect with protected bike lanes through commercial corridors and form a safe non-motorized network to help meet the 20-minute trip goal.

Inner Circle GreenwayAgain, these unique neighborhoods offer competitive advantages over many suburban neighborhoods where biking and walking are poor. Or as the Mayor note, you need to jump in your car and drive to the strip mall to buy a gallon of milk.

The initial three 20-minute neighborhoods are at McNichols/Livernois, West Village, and Southwest Detroit near Clark Park.

Lastly, the Mayor mentioned the Inner Circle Greenway and how it ties these 20-minute neighborhoods together and to the Dequindre Cut, RiverWalk, and more.

Below is the video of the entire presentation, though we’ve skipped forward to the portion that discusses greenways and bike lanes.

“Detroit will be America’s best city for bicycling”

Detroit Planning Director Maurice Cox and D-Town Riders CEO Ashia Phillips

Detroit Planning Director Maurice Cox and D-Town Riders CEO Ashia Phillips

That’s not a quote from us. It’s a quote from Maurice Cox, Planning Director for the City of Detroit. He actually said it was a stated fact and it was something he wanted to accomplish during his tenure. He said it during a meeting last week with various bicycle stakeholders.

One way this will come true is by completing the Inner Circle Greenway. We were also at another meeting earlier that day with Cox and a couple of his planners, the Mayor’s Office, the Department of Public Works, and others to discuss the city’s TIGER grant for the Inner Circle Greenway. The Inner Circle has become much more than 26-miles of rail-trail and bike lanes. It’s about connecting Detroit residents to jobs and schools, providing multi-modal connections, improving quality of life, and revitalizing the neighborhoods and business corridors. While the group has not agreed on the final grant language, there is consensus that we needed to put forth the best TIGER grant possible.

The next day we led a van tour of the Greater Downtown area from the Riverfront to the North End and from Eastern Market to Mexicantown. The tour included stakeholders, Cox and a few members of his planning department, and a couple consultants. We stopped at various spots throughout the area to show the different street types, e.g. wide spoke roads, wide one-way arterials, wide boulevards, and more. Detroit has a wealth of vacant land on its roads that can be converted to a protected bike lane network throughout the city — something that nearly falls within our Coalition’s vision.

The tour also stopped at some challenging intersections (e.g Gratiot/Randolph/Broadway, Trumbull, MLK, Grand River.) We also made sure to highlight the poor maintenance of the existing bike lanes. Safety and education were also discussed.

The only surprise of the tour was a quick positive update on a related project. We were told that information must remain on the van for now, but we can say that everything is on the table. Bureaucracy and status quo are no longer acceptable excuses for making bad transportation decisions in Detroit.

While the van limited how many could join in, we were very fortunate that Ashia Phillips from D-Town Riders Bike Club could participate and share some perspectives on how bike infrastructure can better support the city’s growing bike club scene. For examples, should we plan for more bike meetup/rest areas like Harmonie Park? These areas could have bike repair stations, water, bathrooms, and local businesses.

There will be followup meetings later this year with the opportunity to bring many more Detroiters and bike clubs into the discussion of how to make the city a better place for biking. This is just the beginning of a very exciting planning effort.

Our wide roads, low traffic volumes, and abandoned rail corridors give Detroit a big advantage over other cities when it comes to making better biking opportunities. With these opportunities as well as the bike clubs, rides and many other Detroit bicyclists, it getting much easier to envision being the number one city.

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

Growing city support for greenways in Detroit

2015 Bike Trails and Cocktails bike tour mapSeven years ago our only major biking and trails proponent was packing up his desk at the Detroit Mayor’s office and heading back to a job in the private sector. Our city support was looking bleak.

What a change we’ve seen since then!

We now have supporters throughout most city departments and in the Mayor’s office. Though Detroit has many challenges and priorities, our work is seen as an important quality of life issue from the neighborhoods to downtown.

This summer we’ve gained another supporter with the new Planning and Development Director Maurice Cox. We heard this support firsthand at a recent event on the RiverWalk

With help from the Detroit Food and Fitness Collaborative and Bedrock Management, the inaugural Bike Trails and Cocktails event was held. It began with a guided 8-mile bike tour of nearby greenway projects with assistance from Detroit’s Eastside Riders bike club. This tour included recently completed portions of the Detroit RiverWalk, the Dequindre Cut Extension, the planned Beltline Greenway and Elmwood Connector.

At the ride’s conclusion, the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy provided more updates on their work and answered questions.

Next up was Cox who made a statement by riding to the event. This was not atypical for him though. He bikes to work, to Eastern Market, and all around town. Biking has been his primary means of transportation long before he got to the Motor City and he sees no need to change.

Bike-Trails-and-Cocktrails-by-Khalil-LigonLiving in Lafayette Park, he uses the nearby Dequindre Cut often. He told the attendees that every Detroit neighborhood deserves a great greenway like this — something that’s very much in line with the Detroit Greenways Coalition vision and Food and Fitness Collaborative goals.

One major project that will bring a greenway to many Detroit neighborhoods (as well as Hamtramck, Highland Park and Dearborn) is the 26-mile Inner Circle Greenway. Cox spoke highly of the project and the opportunity to look beyond just the trail. He added that the greenway can be catalyst for development similar to the Atlanta Beltline.

He also stressed the value in having the Coalition in Detroit to help show community support. He told the crowd that he would join the Coalition before the event was over. He also noted that he was heading to Copenhagen the next day as part of a study tour that looks at progressive European transportation and public space designs that are people-focused. We’re looking forward to what ideas he can bring back to Detroit.

What a change from seven years ago!

 

Detroit’s $10.4 million TIGER request for Inner Circle Greenway

Inner Circle Greenway Phase 1 mapEarlier this month the city of Detroit submitted a $10.4 million federal TIGER grant request to build the first phase of the Inner Circle Greenway. This phase is basically the entire west side of the trail, including new bridges over the Jeffries expressway.

The initial plan was to submit a $25 million TIGER request to build the entire trail at once. However, there was a concern that only a portion of that money would be awarded with the city responsible for the difference. Given the recent financial issues, many weren’t comfortable with that risk.

As you may recall, the Link Detroit project (which includes the Dequindre Cut extension) asked for $15 million in TIGER funding but received $10 million.

The city should know by the end of the year whether the request is funded. It is highly competitive so there are no guarantees, but we’re optimistic.

Also underway right now is additional design work for the trail.

We have updated our Inner Circle Greenway page with the most recent information. We’ve also included a link to the entire TIGER request.

Clearing downed trees just got easier

The City of Detroit released a smartphone app called Improve Detroit that lets you various report issues, including downed trees on roads and sidewalks. We thought we’d give it a try.

There are a couple instances of trees blocking the northbound bike lane and sidewalk along St. Aubin, which is part of the Inner Circle Greenway.

We took care of one with pruners but the other was much more significant, so we used the phone app. We reported it on Monday later afternoon and it was taken care of the next day — in less than 24 hours.

We visited it yesterday and confirmed their work. Certainly the sidewalk needs improving and the street needs sweeping, but unfortunately neither are reportable with this new app. At least there won’t be tree branches extending into the road this year. The street sweeper can stay at curb, too.

We have proposed adding street sweeping requests, to which Detroit’s CIO Beth Niblock replied via Twitter.

detroit-app-sweeping-request

The Improve Detroit phone app is available for both Android and Apple. More information is available on the City’s website.

Biking on the new bridge to Canada

2009 Bike the Bridge eventIn prior times, bicyclists could get between Detroit and Windsor via the ferry service or the Ambassador Bridge. Neither of those are an option today.

It’s a shame because both cities have wonderful bike trails and routes. Ontario’s wine country is a 28 mile bike ride away and mostly on a rural trail. Or if you’re more ambitious, there is now a bike route from Windsor to Montreal.

And let’s not forget the other side of tourism. There are many Canadians wanting to ride in Detroit. Windsor is easily accessible by VIA Rail, which offers bike roll-on service.

While Detroit is building a 26-mile Inner Circle Greenway, Windsor is building a 26-mile bike route called the Windsor Loop. The bridge can connect them both for an epic, international riding option.

What is the Detroit Greenways Coalition doing about re-establishing international crossings for bicyclists?

Plenty, and now we’ve documented that with a new web page called, Bicycling access between Detroit and Windsor.

The only downside to this discussion is the timeline. The new bridge is at least five years away and ferry service is unknown.

 

Top 5 Detroit bike and trail projects for 2015

Let’s start by saying it’s not easy picking only five — and that speaks well about all that is happening to make the city of Detroit a better place for biking and trails. But here we go in no specific order…

Link Detroit

Link Detroit project for Tiger-IIIThis multi-faceted $20 million non-motorized project will be completed by the summer. Yes, it was supposed to be completed by last November but construction was delayed with unexpected utility issues and a polar vortex.

What does this project involve?

  • Extending the Dequindre Cut from Gratiot to Mack Avenue with a additional connecting trail into Eastern Market along the north side of Wilkins.
  • Adding bike lanes from the end of the Cut to Hamtramck, mostly along St. Aubin. These are done.
  • Replacing three bridges over the Dequindre Cut. If you’ve ridden the pothole-ridden Wilkins bridge before then you know this is good news for bicyclists.
  • Improving Russell Street. This mostly focuses on pedestrian improvements, but it also include some very nice bike parking stations.
  • Adding bike lanes and a Midtown Loop path connection from Eastern Market to Midtown.

We thought it would be invaluable to count how many people are using this new section of the Dequindre Cut, so we got the DEGC (who’s managing the project) to add 3 automated bike and pedestrian counters.  These will count 24/7 and the data will be part of the Coalition’s much larger city wide effort to count usage and document trends.

Inner Circle Greenway

Inner Circle GreenwayDetroit city staff refer to this as the “mother of all non-motorized projects.” If you’ve not heard about it before, the Inner Circle Greenway is a 26-mile pathway that encircles the city of Detroit while passing through Hamtramck, Highland Park, and a little bit of Dearborn. It makes use of existing trails such as the Southwest Detroit Greenlink, RiverWalk, and Dequindre Cut, so roughly half of the pathway is complete. For all these reasons and more, it is a very high-priority project for our Coalition.

The largest gap is an 8.3 mile segment of abandoned railroad property. If all goes as planned, we expect Detroit will purchase the property this year using $4.5 million in grant funding the Coalition helped secure. We will be making another announcement soon about additional grant funding for planning. We will also work with the city on a substantial federal grant to build out the Greenway while also trying to get funding for more community engagement.

Lastly, we are finalizing some nice new maps of the trail. We’ll have those by the bike show in March.

Conner Creek Greenway

This Greenway begins at Maheras Gentry Park on the Detroit River and heads north roughly following Conner Avenue. It’s a mix of bike lanes, shared roadway, and off-road paths — and it’s nearly complete. This year it will get extended from Conner along E. Outer Drive to Van Dyke, crossing Eight Mile, and ending at Stephens Road (9.5 mile.) While this seems like a modest project for the top five, one should consider how many organizations were involved in making this happen: Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, Detroit Eastside Community Collaborative, Nortown CDC, Eight Mile Boulevard Association, the Detroit Greenways Coalition, City of Warren, City of Detroit, SEMCOG, Wayne County and two MDOT TSCs.

It also is significant since it crosses Eight Mile and is part of the Showcase Trail between Belle Isle and Wisconsin. Look for plenty of green bike lanes in Warren’s section.

Separated bike lanes in Chicago via NACTO

Separated bike lanes in Chicago via NACTO

E. Jefferson Bike Lanes

A very short segment of E. Jefferson will get bike lanes this year from Alter Road to Lakewood. Why is this a big deal? They’ll be the first separated (aka protected) bike lanes in Southeast Michigan. This is precedent setting and could serve as a model for all of Detroit’s major spoke roads.

East Jefferson Inc. is also working with other members of the GREEN Task Force and the city of Detroit to extend those bike lanes to the Belle Isle entrance at E. Grand Boulevard.

Cass Avenue Bike Lanes and Midtown Loop

Bike counting kiosk example from Montreal

Bike counting kiosk example from Montreal

M1-Rail is creating a major cycling safety hazard on Woodward by locating streetcar rails near the curbs where bicyclists ride. As a result, the FTA and MDOT agreed to make Cass Avenue a more attractive cycling option. This summer Cass will be getting bike lanes (some buffered) from W. Grand Boulevard to Lafayette. A mixture of bike lanes, sharrows, and off-road paths will connect Cass to the RiverWalk via Lafayette, Washington Boulevard, E. Jefferson, and Bates.

But that’s not all. Public bike repair stations and air pumps will be installed along with automated counters including two kiosks that display bike counts in real-time. Those counts will also be automatically uploaded and available on the web as well.

This project also completes the final leg of the Midtown Loop along Cass Avenue between Canfield and Kirby.

Honorable Project Mentions

  • The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy should complete two new sections of the RiverWalk in 2015: Chene Park East and Chene Park West. A third project will begin later this year that connects the current dead end near Riverplace to Chene Park East.
  • The Downtown Detroit Partnership is becoming our non-motorized champion in the downtown area. They are currently developing a plan for sorely needed biking connections. They’re looking to take the best of what New York City, Chicago, Portland have done and bring it here, which couldn’t happen soon enough.
  • We really need to mention the amazing work of the Detroit Public Lighting Authority. Their ongoing installation of new LED street lights is making biking and walking much safer. Pardon the bad joke, but it’s like night and day.

Complete Streets ordinance

This is not really a project but a policy change that the Coalition, Detroit Food and Fitness Collaborative and others have been working on for years. We expect it to go before a City Council vote this year and we’d be surprised if it didn’t pass. For more information, check out Detroit Complete Streets page.

No, we didn’t mention the public bike sharing or the Uniroyal Site. We need to save some projects for future years!