MDOT to add protected bike lanes to Grand River Project

MDOT recently held an open house on August 10th, 2017 open house to discuss their Grand River Avenue reconstruction project.

Although this project is already under construction, the re-striping will be changed before it is completed in September. The seven-lane road between Cass Avenue and I-94 will be road-dieted to five lanes and (mostly) protected bike lanes. On-street parking will be removed except in locations where it is needed by small businesses. In those limited locations, bicyclists will loss the protected bike lane and have to share a 14-foot vehicle travel lane.

That is not certainly not ideal. However, the MDOT project team was unwilling to remove another lane of travel at this time, especially given the uncertainty of the new arena and its new traffic patterns. City planning did propose an alternative pavement marking where the protection drops that would alert motorists and encourage them to stay left.

Some small businesses did attend and affirm their need for on-street parking since they did not have off-street options. There seemed to be a respectful acknowledgement from both bicyclists and these owners that the road design wasn’t ideal but a fair compromise to benefit both parties.

Bicyclists also raised concerns about the maintenance of existing protected bike lanes. The city confirmed that they now have specialized equipment to sweep these lanes that are too narrow for standard width sweepers.

These Grand River bike lanes provide a key connection between many destinations, including Downtown, Woodbridge, Beacon Park, RiverWalk and more. East of Cass Avenue, a two-way cycletrack is planned to connect through downtown. It is anticipated that they will eventually get extended for the entirety of the Grand River.

With the completion of this year’s E. Jefferson, Cass, Warren, and Grand River Avenue projects, Detroit appears to be one of the top five U.S. cities for miles of protected bike lanes, up from 76th in 2015.

 

Detroit going “Zero-to-sixty” on protected bike lanes

Livernois protected bike lane under construction near Michigan Avenue

Livernois protected bike lane under construction near Michigan Avenue

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Provide Feedback — Please document your concerns and send them to us, info@detroitgreenways.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.
  4. 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.

Open host to discuss proposed Michigan Ave protected bike lanes

Press Release from the City of Detroit (includes corrections to earlier copy):

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 16, 2016

CONTACT: Vince Keenan, City of Detroit Department of Neighborhoods, 313-236-3523, keenanv@michigan.gov

City of Detroit to host Open House with MDOT to discuss proposal to add protected bike lanes on US-12 Michigan Avenue from Cass Avenue to Livernois

WHAT:
An open house-style meeting to gather public input from interested parties about the proposed changes to US-12 (Michigan Avenue) to add protected bike lanes to Michigan Avenue between Livernois and Cass Avenue. Michigan Avenue is a State highway and the City of Detroit is working with MDOT and community groups throughout this process.

WHEN/WHERE:
Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016
4 – 7 p.m.

UAW Local 22
4300 Michigan Ave, Detroit, MI 48210

WHO:
City of Detroit Department of Public Works & Traffic Engineering
City of Detroit Planning and Design Department
City of Detroit Department of Neighborhoods
Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT)
Residents and interested stakeholders

Accommodations can be made for persons with disabilities and limited English speaking ability. Large print materials, auxiliary aids or the services of interpreters, signers, or readers available upon request. Please call 313-236-3523 to before meeting date.

BACKGROUND:
As part of ongoing predestination efforts, The City of Detroit and MDOT are proposing a pilot project to add protected bike lanes on US-12 (Michigan Avenue) from Cass Avenue to Livernois. The change would connect the Livernois bike pathway and the planned Cass Avenue bike path. Existing bike lanes adjacent to motor vehicle travel lanes would be moved inside the parking lane to allow bike riders to travel next to the curb. Areas without bike lanes would be added.

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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.

New Detroit Hockey Arena Development

Bike improvement opportunities around Detroit hockey arena district

The blue lines represent potential bike route improvements

Detroit City Council will vote on a couple critical rezoning requests this morning for the newly planned hockey arena district (aka Catalyst Development.) One concern raised by Council as well as the Detroit Greenways Coalition is how this development will affect the new bike lanes being built on Cass Avenue this year.

Olympia Development, the organization planning the new arena, was asked by Council member (and Coalition board member) Scott Benson to meet with us to coordinate efforts. We did that.

One shared goal is connectivity. For the Coalition, that’s from a walking and biking perspective. The district area is not very walkable today, not due to the sidewalk conditions so much as the land use. Vacant fields don’t make for good walkability and the new district development will undoubtedly change that. It was great that they were already familiar with Complete Streets.

For biking, our first concern is preserving the Cass Avenue bike lanes being constructed this summer from the RiverWalk to W. Grand Boulevard. Here are our official comments from a letter we wrote to Olympia Development and shared with City Council and others:

A major bicycling connector is Cass Avenue. The bike lanes to be installed this year are a critical north-south route from the Detroit River to New Center. MDOT and the FTA have identified and invested in this route as an alternative to bicycling on Woodward due to the safety issues related to M1 Rail. . We are also actively working to extend them to the Detroit Zoo.

Closing or taking vehicle travel lanes on Cass during events has little affect on bicyclists so long as the bike lanes remain open and safe. We believe the ingress/egress concerns at the parking garages can be addressed through good design and traffic control personnel. Colored pavement can highlight any potential vehicle/bike conflict areas. Designs should make the motorist feel they are crossing a bike lane rather than make a bicyclist feel they are crossing a driveway. This can encourage proper right-of-way yielding.

When Cass Avenue is redesigned, we propose changing the buffered bike lanes to protected bike lanes. This is a low-cost upgrade that studies show increase bicycle ridership.

We also discussed adding protected bike lanes on Grand River Avenue from Downtown to W. Grand Boulevard. This would also involve improving the unsafe and inadequate intersections at Trumbull/MLK and at Temple.

With regards to the arena itself, we did note our appreciation for their planned bike parking at each of the main entrances. The location and number of racks looks great.

It’s still early to say what the final outcome will be, but Olympia Development wants to maintain a regular dialog with us. We’re looking forward to that and ensuring that Detroit is a better place for walking, biking — and playing hockey.

Historic note: James Norris had been a member of the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association whose logo was a winged bicycle wheel owing to its cycling heritage. (They also played hockey and won the first ever Stanley Cup.) When Norris established the Detroit Red Wings, he borrowed the logo design and changed the bike wheel to a car wheel.