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Climate Action Events Greenways Newsletter

News from the Trail – October 2023

Our October newsletter is now online! Many ribbon cuttings, public meetings, surveys, and more.

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History

Some History of the Uniroyal site

  • The Morgan and Wright Tire Company was the largest bicycle tire manufacturer in the world during the 1890s.
  • They moved their factory from Chicago to Detroit in 1906 to start making tires for the growing automobile industry.
  • They eventually became a division of the U.S. Rubber Company then Uniroyal Inc.
Illustration of a bicyclist getting a flat tire from the 1896 Morgan & Wright Bicycle catalog
Illustration from the 1896 Morgan & Wright catalog

By now you’ve likely heard the RiverWalk segment between Mt. Elliott Park and Gabriel Richard Park called the Uniroyal site, but why? Since 1906, a large portion of this property has been used for tire manufacturing, the last company bearing the name Uniroyal.

However, there’s an interesting bicycle history connection with this site.

The first company to manufacture tires at this location was Morgan & Wright. They were the largest bicycle tire manufacturer in the world during the 1890’s and located in Chicago. Shortly after the turn of the century, with the end of the Golden Era of Bicycles and the rise of automotive manufacturing, they moved their operations to Detroit. They continued making bicycle tires but primarily manufactured tires for cars and trucks.

This is another example of how the bicycling industry was the parent of the automotive industry. Bicyclists brought many innovations to transportation, including the first use of pneumatic tires, which the auto industry benefitted from.

Last note: As far as we know, Morgan & Wright have no relationship with the Wright Brothers.

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Events Greenways Newsletter

News from the Trail – September 2023

Our monthly newsletter is now online with updates on the Joe Louis Greenway, I-375 replacement, Bikes 4 Employees and much more.

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Climate Action Complete Streets

MDOT 5 Year Plan Comments

Below are our comments on the draft MDOT 2024-208 Five-Year Transportation Plan. You can submit your own comments before September 8th, 2023.

  • I-94 Modernization Project. We are critically disappointed that funding for this project has apparently been delayed by two decades. The Complete Streets/Multimodal portions of this project were highlighted in prior five-year plans, but with the new time frame, we see these as broken promises to reconnect the community. 
  • Hubbell Street bridge deck replacement over I-96. We would like to see this bridge cross section improved to better accommodate bicyclists with bike lanes, preferably grade-separated bike lanes. This segment of Hubbell is very popular for Detroit bicyclists since it is easier to cross I-96 at Hubbell since there are no interchange nor grade changes. The popularity of this route is shown on the Strava heatmap for bicyclists.
  • Virgil Street bridge deck replacement. This bridge should be also designed to better accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists, preferably with grade-separated bike lanes. This bridge provides a critical community connection across I-96 with  Eliza Howell Park to the north and Rouge Park on the south. City of Detroit plans envision this bridge carrying the Rouge River Greenway
  • Pedestrian Bridges. We like seeing the Vassar and Sawyer bridges being replaced as well as the addition of a Verne bridge over I-94. However, we want the Spruce bridge added to the plan as well. This is a critical community connection for North Corktown with no legal, direct, or viable alternative for bicyclists.
  • Fort Street (M-85) road rehabilitation from Rosa Parks to Griswold. We want this designed as a Complete Street. It provides a critical, direct connection between the Gordie Howe International Bridge and Downtown Detroit. 
  • US-12 and Gordie Howe International Bridge. We are glad to see these projects moving forward within this plan. We have led the non-motorized advocacy on these projects and look forward to celebrating their completion. 
  • Carbon Neutrality. We see no mention of MDOT plans to reduce GHG emissions and help make Michigan carbon neutral per the Governor’s commitment. In fact, the plan includes many major and minor widening projects that will induce higher VMT and increase GHG emissions.

At first glance, it appeared this five-year plan removed prior MDOT commitments for the Iron Belle Trail/Conner Creek Greenway bridge over I-94. After conversations with the City of Detroit and MDOT, we learned that it wasn’t removed. It was no longer individually identified and had been wrapped into another I-94 phase line item. This is confusing. We ask that MDOT consistently list projects for each five-year plan so the public can more accurately determine what changes exist or do not exist.

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Complete Streets

Our I-375 Concerns & Suggestions

The following document was sent to M-DOT on August 10th, 2023. On September 14th we had a productive meeting with MDOT and the City of Detroit to review these concerns and suggestions:

While we generally support a planned alternative to I-375, the design alternative (April 2023) has significant safety and connectivity concerns for bicyclists and pedestrians. Except for the cycletracks and some new sidewalks, this project does not reconnect the community as currently designed. The boulevard and intersections prioritize vehicle mobility similar to other major MDOT roads like Telegraph — a road that disconnects the communtiy. 

The boulevard with its wide roadways, sweeping curves, and overly-large intersections isn’t designed as an urban arterial. We believe this will encourage motorists exiting I-75 to maintain high travel speeds, especially north of Gratiot. Higher speeds result in more bicycle/pedestrian crashes with increased severity. 

There also seems that reductions in vehicle commuting to Downtown post-COVID presents an opportunity to downsize and narrow roadways and intersections.

With today’s I-375, bicyclists and pedestrians avoid conflict with the below-grade vehicle traffic. Bringing this traffic to grade increases pedestrian and bicyclist conflicts with vehicles. The additional ad-grade vehicle traffic also leads to wider crosswalks and more pedestrian/bicyclist delay, both of which negatively impact connectivity and walkability.

We’ve outlined specific concerns and suggested solutions below.

Gratiot/Boulevard Intersection

The intersection design is not safe for bicyclists or pedestrians given its slip lanes and high-volume conflict areas. It’s not appropriate for an urban setting. We are especially concerned for bicyclists and pedestrians using the cycletrack and sidewalks when traveling north and south across Gratiot. 

We expect the WB Gratiot to NB boulevard slip lanes will become an uncontrolled turning movement even with a No Turn on Red. If vehicles stop, they will likely not be looking for southbound cycletrack/sidewalk traffic. Having two lanes creates a highly unsafe multi-threat situation. Large vehicles in one lane can block sight lines for seeing vehicles in adjacent lanes. There is also a high likelihood that vehicles will block the cycletrack/crosswalk. 

To address these concerns:

  1. We want a non-motorized underpass for the cycletrack and sidewalk under Gratiot. This grade separation would not only improve safety, it would decrease delay for all road users and provide an opportunity for artwork within the underpass. 
  2. The dual slip lanes from WB Gratiot to NB boulevard should be removed. If this cannot be achieved, the at-grade crossing of a single slip lane should have a raised crosswalk/cycletrack and be No Turn on Red. Additional turning traffic could be accommodated beyond the slip lane.

E. Lafayette/Larned and Boulevard Intersections

The dual right turn lanes from WB E. Lafayette to the NB boulevard are a major concern for reasons similar to those mentioned above: vehicles will not stop, motorists will not look for southbound traffic, the cycletrack and crosswalk will get blocked, and the multi-threat concerns. In addition, very few bicyclists will find it safe traveling with two lanes away from the curb and with no physical separation from vehicles on both sides.

Also, we see no need for E. Lafayette to grow from its existing 4 lanes east of the boulevard to 7 lanes. This makes the intersection notably larger and less safe for those crossing it on foot or by bike. Larned suffers from the same design bloat. 

  1. To address these concerns either the dual lanes should become a single turn lane or move the bicyclists to a cycletrack on the southside of E. Lafayette. 
  2. Reduce the two dedicated turns lanes to WB Larned to NB boulevard to one lane.

All Intersections

It is imperative that every intersection is designed to prioritize pedestrian and bicyclist safety. To address this:

  1. Bicyclists must have bike signal heads at every intersection with traffic signals. These are allowed under FHWA Interim Approval since they would “augment the design of a segregated counter-flow bicycle facility” and “Provide an increased level of safety by facilitating unusual or unexpected arrangements of the bicycle movement through complex intersections, conflict areas, or signal control.” These accepted uses also align with NACTO guidance. Bicyclists cannot be expected to use pedestrian signals, which have no application for cycletracks under Michigan law. Having a cycletrack travel through an intersection without any traffic control is clearly unsafe. 
  2. Cycletrack users should not be required to press actuation buttons to receive green bike signals. 
  3. Pedestrian delay should be minimized by employing “Rest in WALK” signaling. Pedestrian actuation should only be used when necessary, perhaps only used during peak vehicle travel. 
  4. While traffic signals might be optimized for vehicle movements during peak hours, they should be minimized for local users, including bicyclists and pedestrians outside of those time periods.
  5. No Turn on Red and Leading Pedestrian Intervals should be used to reduce turning conflicts. 
  6. R10-15C signs should be used at intersections where vehicles turn across a cycletrack.
  7. Crosswalks and cycletracks should be raised whenever possible to increase motorist yield compliance.
  8. All intersections designed to minimize crosswalk distances through bumps outs and lane reductions.
  9. Intersection curb radii should be minimized to reduce turning speeds and should follow NACTO best practices for urban streets. 
  10. Dual turn lanes should be downsized to a single lane to eliminate the multi-threat safety issue.
Sign alerting turning vehicles to yield to bicycles and pedestrians
R10-15C sign

Sidewalks

We appreciate seeing sidewalks added along all non-freeway streets. However, the sidewalk within the median north of Gratiot could be a very unpleasant place to walk. 

  1. We want to see extra landscaping that could provide some buffering from the NB and SB travel lanes. 
  2. There especially needs to be hardened protection for pedestrians where the three I-75 exit lanes turn south on the boulevard. Vehicles will undoubtedly lose control by taking this turn too quickly and drive into the median.

Cycletrack Designs

The boulevard and Montcalm cycletracks should mimic the Hudson River Greenway design in NYC. 

  1. There should be increased greenspace between the vehicle lanes and the cycletracks. 
  2. The cycletrack widths should be 12 feet, which is the NACTO desired width.
  3. The cycletracks should be designed to prevent road debris from accumulating in them and to require less maintenance.
  4. No additional access should be granted across the cycletracks to minimize conflict points. 
  5. The cycletrack should be extended south to the RiveWalk. 

One operational concern we have with the Montcalm cycletrack is on its west end. This area around the stadiums is often closed or restricted for bicycle use. We would like to see a city policy that keeps this bicycling connection open while also addressing any stadium safety issues. 

Other Bike Lanes

This is an opportunity to add and improve other bike lanes within the project footprint..

  1. The Wilkins bike lanes over I-75 should be made sidewalk-level and separated from the vehicle lanes. 
  2. Separated bike lanes should be added to the entire length of Gratiot Avenue. 
  3. The E. Jefferson bike lanes should continue west of the boulevard. The current design shows the removal of existing bike lanes on the EB side from St. Antoine to the boulevard.
  4. Bike lanes or a cycletrack should be installed along Atwater. 

Green Stormwater Management 

The design appears to free up significant land between Eastern Market, Brush, and Crain’s. We would like to see this become green space that can manage stormwater from these surrounding properties. A walking/biking trail through this area (with access off of Montcalm) would be an ideal addition.

Additional clusters of trees (and not simply street trees) should be planted throughout the project to not only address stormwater, but reduce noise and air pollution for the surrounding community.

Map snippet showing potential green stormwater infrastructure space within I-375 footprint

We made the I-375 replacement part of our successful pitch to get the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycling Professionals Conference in 2024. This project will certainly be on the agenda and we want to make sure we can talk about it in a positive way. By incorporating the changes we’re proposing, it can be

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Complete Streets Greenways

Our Belle Isle Mobility Comments

The below comments on the Belle Isle Mobility Plan draft were submitted to the DNR on July 24, 2023:

While we attended the video presentation (and have since rewatched it many times), we don’t feel we have enough information to fully weigh in on the changes proposed in the mobility study. We still have many design questions that prevent us from offering our full support at this time. However, there’s quite a bit that we do like and there are opportunities to make further improvements – 

10-foot vehicle travel lanes – We would like the plan to consistently use 10’ travel lanes. This will reduce speeding without other negative safety impacts.

Cycletrack on MacArthur Bridge – We like this design as it provides separation from the vehicle traffic. We also ask that:

  • This facility safely and efficiently connects with the West RiverWalk, East Jefferson, and East Grand Boulevard. We understand that the East Jefferson intersection is outside the scope of this plan, but it is absolutely critical that it is designed properly.
  • More information is provided on how this cycletrack connects with the bike lane that encircles the island.
  • The cycletrack is at least 12-feet wide, which can be accomplished with 10’ vehicle lanes. Per NACTO, “the desirable two-way cycle track width is 12 feet.” 
  • The buffer reduces road debris migrating from the vehicle lanes into the cycletrack. 
  • An automated, permanent bike counter and pedestrian counter is installed. 
  • A prominent sign be installed for travel lanes heading on to the island that clarifies bicyclists legal right to travel in the roadway. This can inform motorists and law enforcement on what to expect on the island and what is legal. 

Outer roads – We support the one-way to two-way conversions to improve safety, but think there’s still some opportunity for improvement. We think this will reduce the Vehicles Miles Traveled on the island, which is a benefit to those walking and biking, as well as teh environment. We do support the separated bike lane traveling clockwise around the island. 

  • We like that Sunset Drive remains one-way. For larger, faster cycling groups traveling counterclockwise on the island, this is where the groups are at their widest and the design accommodates that. However, we’re not sure the two roundabouts are necessary and they could cause issues for the larger groups. 
  • We are concerned about the transition from the single-lane on the Strand and would like to see this design. We’re not sure there’s much benefit having two-way vehicle traffic between Fountain Drive and Picnic Way. We’d prefer keeping this one-way for the larger cycling groups to allow them to pass slower moving vehicles, which is common in this busier section of the park. It would be ideal for the larger groups if the one-way vehicle travel continued to Nashua Drive where the Strand gains a travel lane. Again, the roundabouts seem problematic for the faster cycling groups, so their need and design should be very intentional. Other traffic calming treatments might be preferred. 
  • For the constrained section of Lakeside Drive, a 10-foot clockwise travel lane will free up space for cycling groups traveling counterclockwise. We do have a concern about groups making unsafe passing decisions on this constrained segment. 
  • For Riverbank, we would like to see additional space for the larger groups traveling counterclockwise. Having 10-foot lanes would help, but they would also be traveling near angled parking, which would be less safe. As with the constrained portion of Lakeside, we are concerned that the cycling groups will make unsafe passing decisions.

Other roads –  We generally find these roads to be less of a concern for bicyclists compared. 

  • We like the Central and Inselruhe Avenue promenades. 
  • We also like the shared use path along Loiter and Vista Drives but we’re not clear how this interfaces with the promenades, the forest pathways, and Iron Belle Trail loop. 
  • We support the reduction in curb radii as a means of traffic calming and shorting crosswalks.
  • We have received multiple reports of motorists traveling in the Central Flatwoods bike lanes, so we really appreciate this road being converted to a walking and biking pathway. We don’t see the need for any one-way vehicle travel on this segment. 

Bike lane maintenance – We want to see that the DNR and/or MDOT is committed to a maintenance plan for all of the bike lanes.  Too often we’ve seen separated bike lanes suffer from a lack of maintenance, resulting in debris and stormwater collecting at the curb. 

Stormwater Management – We support adding infrastructure and trees that naturally manage stormwater. We also find that removing pavement and other impervious surfaces is an even simpler solution that should be considered in all mobility designs. It seems that this plan adds to the island’s total impervious surface area, which is a concern.

Belle Isle’s Bicycle Heritage – There is a unique opportunity to celebrate the island’s bicycle heritage, especially with the Bicycle Pavillion.  Bicyclists were riding on the island well before the first car was ever driven in Detroit. There were many prominent bicycle events on the island from major races in the 1890s to the Wolverine 200 ride. We would like to see how this connection between history and mobility could be included within the plan.