Updates on Belle Isle’s streets and sidewalks

20150416_113940Last Friday the DNR called a meeting to address the concerns we’d outlined in a previous post about the construction and conditions on Belle Isle related to the Grand Prix. The meeting also included MDOT representatives, State Representative Stephanie Chang, and Michele Hodges from both the Belle Isle Conservancy and Belle Isle Advisory Committee.

This meeting was mostly about information gathering. The DNR is hiring a planner soon and will host public listening sessions this summer to discuss these issues further with a much wider audience. We’ll let everyone know when those listening sessions are scheduled.

Three MDOT issues seemed to rise to the top.

  • MDOT took a small portion of the $4 million road funding for project management. The remainder went to the Grand Prix, who designed and built the Belle Isle roads. There were no public meetings and MDOT thought that listening to the DNR was sufficient stakeholder input. We don’t believe this follows their Context Sensitive Solutions or Complete Streets policies.
  • On portions of the new road, they will paint a pedestrian lane. This is not a sidewalk, but a pedestrian lane next to the curb and in the street. A bike lane will be next to this walking lane. An on-street walking lane does not follow AASHTO guidelines even though that was a design requirement. Also per AASHTO, “sidewalks, provided on both sides of a street, are the preferred pedestrian facility.” We learned that the initial Grand Prix design removed more sidewalks, so perhaps this was a compromise. We are waiting to see the road design cross sections from MDOT. However we do know these designs were not reviewed by MDOT’s bike and pedestrian coordinator.
  • On some new sections of road, no sidewalks were installed despite the MDOT Complete Streets policy. MDOT ‘s explanation was that they typically assume local governments will add them,  or in this case, the DNR. While local governments can be asked to contribute to adding sidewalks, MDOT cannot assume others will keep them compliant with their own Complete Streets policy.

One frustrating point that others made was that the sidewalk was in poor condition and that this somehow justified it being removed. However there was no evidence of its poor condition in Google Streetview. We passed around photos showing that. Besides, under this logic, the road was in poor condition. Why wasn’t it removed? That logic has no place under a Complete Streets policy.

Grand Prix impact on other park users

The other major concern discussed was the impact of this year’s Grand Prix event set up on other park users. The DNR inherited this event permit from the city of Detroit and we were told there are some gray areas within in. Seemingly unbeknownst to those at the meeting, the Grand Prix had a different interpretation of the permit requirements and set up earlier than expected.

The DNR will discuss this with the Grand Prix to make improvements for 2016. They plan to update the permit when it expires after next year’s event.

As a means for overseeing all this activity, Michele Hodges will add this entire topic as a standing agenda item to the Belle Isle Advisory Committee meetings.

We look forward to addressing all these issues and keeping Belle Isle as a great place to bike and walk.

Posted in Greenways, Policy and tagged , , , , , , .


  1. Thanks for the update, Todd. Roughly how much public input was there about these issues that you are aware of?

  2. MDOT said there was none. They only took input from the DNR. The DNR had input from us and said they spoke with some park users. There was no formal public input that I’m aware.

    Remember that pedestrian bridge that was knocked down along the Southfield expressway last year. There will be a public meeting on that bridge replacement project. You would think a more expensive MDOT project within a highly-used public park would deserve at least this same level of public input.

  3. Thank you for the update and working to get these problems resolved. The amount of time the the grand prix effects belle isle seems to become longer and longer each year. Im glad to hear this is being addressed. Thank you!

  4. Todd,

    This is not specifically related to this post subject, but is there not an issue with routing on Google Maps directions on Belle Isle?

    The issue I’m having is along Sunset Dr. and Casino Way, which is on the more outer roads of the west part of the island.

    It’s not really that important as there are so many choices in so many domains (Bing for one), but I’m wondering if you are aware and how to correct it.

    Based on what I looked at on Sunset Dr. and Casino Way, there is no current issue with attributes, but those road segments did have restrictions (deleted in 2014), so maybe those old restrictions are somehow still active, though not showing up in the road segment attributes.

    • There were some issues with the road direction on those segments. We corrected them though it’s not clear if this fixes the issue you note. We should know more by tomorrow as these changes flow through the Google map system.

  5. One other issue worth mentioning: Not only did MDOT widen the park road, they straightened it. Straighter roads encourage speeding, so this was clearly done to benefit the Grand Prix. It is another example of MDOT ignoring their Complete Streets policy.

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