There is nothing more dangerous than to build a society with a large segment of people in that society who feel that they have no stake in it; who feel that that have nothing to lose. People who have stake in their society, protect that society, but when they don’t have it, they unconsciously want to destroy it.
Martin Luther King Jr.
The lense of equity is on everything we do. It has to be. Our Vision is for a pathway network that is shaped by the community, benefits everyone and connects every neighborhood. The process must be open so that everyone has a stake in this.
Unfortunately it hasn’t been that way in other cities that get plenty of attention for their bicycle infrastructure. Some of the stories we’ve heard out of Portland have had us shaking our heads in disbelief. Chicago, too, has issues. There groups like Slow Roll Chicago that are doing a great job highlighting the need for more equitable non-motorized investments.
In Detroit, the initial decisions on where to install greenways and bike lanes was dependent on the priorities of the local community development corporation, business association, or other non-profit. That’s why new bike lanes and trails appeared early on thanks to the Southwest Detroit Business Association, Detroit Eastside Community Collaborative, and Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. Next, the city began pursuing safety funding that allowed them to build Complete Streets — often with bike facilities — on roads with high crash rates (e.g. W. Chicago, E. Warren, E. Seven Mile, Central.) Additionally, the city chose to add bike lanes to some strategic connecting roads, such as Trumbull, Grand Boulevard, Kercheval and Dexter.
So, the three major factors driving investments have been the local non-profits, road safety, and connectivity.
A result is greenways and bike lanes in Detroit have not been concentrated in the “prestigious” neighborhoods. In fact, Palmer Woods, Grandmont-Rosedale, and Downtown have fewer pathways combined than Osborne. The city’s first separated bike lane won’t be in Midtown or Downtown but in the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood!
However, this certainly doesn’t mean the distribution is geographically equitable — it isn’t yet. Building the 26-mile Inner Circle Greenway will help, but more work is to be done, especially in Northwest Detroit.
Just as the the equitable distribution of biking and walking infrastructure is important, so to is the commitment to welcome and actively involve the community in these efforts. We’re not just building pathways, but stakeholders.
We’ve held Complete Streets workshops and focus groups across the city and it has greatly shaped this vision, the priorities, and how we talk about them. We’re helping the city get more residents to their Complete Street project meetings.
We’ve done similar outreach for greenways, but it’s been more focused around specific projects. We are still seeking funding to update the city’s non-motorized plan, which would be a great opportunity to engage everyone in a citywide discussion.
We need to also thank Slow Roll Detroit for the job they’ve done of not only getting more Detroiters on bikes, but making them stakeholders in a movement. It has helped start discussions across all boundaries. It complements our work, and for that we are grateful.