Perhaps you read recently that the Mayor of London’s bicycle infrastructure plan was recently approved. This plan includes 12 Cycle Superhighways, which are described in this video from Transport for London.
Detroit could certainly benefit from Cycle Superhighways. The most obvious routes would be on the major spoke roads: E. Jefferson, Gratiot, Woodward, Grand River, Michigan, and W. Fort. The Inner Circle Greenway could serve as a good spoke road connector as well. Although shorter in length, the Dequindre Cut as well as the planned rail-trail from the Michigan Central Station to the RiverWalk could also have a role as connectors.
It seems the key Superhighway design features include:
Having good length and connectivity. They have to get you places in a direct manner.
Being built so that a wide range of people feel safe bicycling on them. These may require segregated bike lanes.
Offering fewer required stops for stop signs and traffic lights. They might even incorporate Green Waves.
Also, new e-bike technology makes longer distance bicycle trips more realistic for more people. There’s more speed and less sweat. During rush hour, e-bike trips between Downtown Detroit and the first-ring suburbs might be the fastest option.
Detroit’s non-motorized master plan is a bit outdated and does not include Cycle Superhighways. Until it does get updated, we’re trying to interject this Superhighway concept into the more immediate plans for E. Jefferson, the Woodward corridor, and the Inner Circle Greenway.
Of course it’s good to plan ahead, and with Detroit’s rapidly progressing bicycle culture, these Superhighways seem not only attainable, but necessary.
[Thanks to Tim Springer for being an early promoter of this concept during visits to Detroit.]
They’re the oldest bike lanes in Detroit — almost 10 year old.
They were implemented under the guidance of Al Fields in the Mayor’s office. Al now serves as President of the Detroit Greenways Coalition.
But the Belle Isle bike lanes are no longer under city control. They’re not controlled by the DNR either. As part of the Belle Isle lease, all of the roads on Belle Isle, including the MacArthur Bridge are now state trunklines controlled by MDOT. Also as part of the lease, MDOT receives the state fuel tax money for these roads that used to go to Detroit.
Last summer the bike lane sweeping wasn’t the best, but it did seem to improve.
While at a Metro 313 Cyclones meeting last week we heard the snow was being consistently plowed from the bike lanes, so we contacted MDOT. They said they’ve had some problems getting all the snow removed on the same day.
How well the bike lanes are cleared initially depends on the characteristics of the snow event. The crews may not always be able to clear the bike lanes immediately; they may have to get to them after the main roadways have been made passable.
MDOT had planned to contract the snow plowing but the bids came in too high, so their own maintenance garage is handling it.
What do you think about the maintenance of the Belle Isle bike lanes?
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.
Within that riverfront study is the $61 million Orleans Landing, 20 new buildings with mixed-use development and 278 residential units along the Dequindre Cut and just north of Milliken State Park. The initials plans include new retail along the Dequindre Cut. We sure hope that includes a coffee shop.
According to this mLive article, the “apartments will be marketed toward those seeking an active urban lifestyle and people who work downtown.”
The Michigan Economic Development Corporation also has bought into this development and have even made a video about it. We love this quote from Jack Hambene, Sr. Vice President, McCormack Baron Salazar.
While everyone else was fleeing, we saw an opportunity. And I think the fact that the site has such an incredible investment of public infrastructure with the RiverWalk and [Dequindre] Cut bike trail and now of course the Outdoors Adventure Center, I think it really is a unique opportunity — and it’s right on the riverfront. We don’t know where that exists anywhere else in urban America.
What excites us is this is just the beginning. We waiting for those GM surface lots to transform, and of course, the UniRoyal site.
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…
This 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
Detroit 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.
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
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!