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News from the Trail – February 2021

Joe Louis Greenway

This is going to be a banner year for trail construction in Detroit — and here’s proof. There’s now an actual banner announcing the future of the Joe Louis Greenway. The banner is located on the north side of Grand River just east of Oakman Boulevard. 

The Phase 1 construction start is still pending some final environmental approvals. When those are complete, you can expect the City of Detroit to make an announcement. 

You may have read the recent Crain’s Detroit Business article ($) about a local company encroaching on the city’s trail property — and the resulting lawsuit. The land in question is along Dexter, north of Oakman. While this segment is not part of Phase 1, it is a critical trail connection. We are hopeful this lawsuit doesn’t delay future trail construction. 

Speaking of land, the Detroit Land Bank Authority (DLBA) is hosting a virtual public meeting on Tuesday, February 16th from 6-8 PM to discuss their Neighborhood Improvement Plan for land disposition.

The DLBA owns a significant number of properties across the city. Much of the land along the greenway route has been held to restrict outside speculators. Recently, some of this land was transferred to the city for Phase 1 greenway amenities, such as neighborhood connecting trails. Additional properties are available to neighbors along the greenway and this meeting will discuss those options. 

This land strategy is one method the city is using to mitigate gentrification — the displacement of local residents along the greenway. Other greenway developments around the country have shared their regrets of not addressing this issue before their trails were built. We’re glad to see the City of Detroit tackling this issue from the start. 

Planet Detroit recently published an article on this topic, Can Detroit’s Joe Louis Greenway avoid gentrification? Second Wave Media also touches on this issue with this article, Connecting Detroiters with the Joe Louis Greenway. Both articles include a wealth of great photos, too.

Rail bridge over Woodward in Highland Park. A Planet Detroit photo by Doug Coombe


Speed Limits

Last year we supported state legislation that clarified the modest flexibility that local governments have when setting speed limits based on factors other than just the 85th fastest motorist traveling under ideal conditions. Among many safety factors, it would allow the consideration of the road crash history, adjacent land use (e.g. parks), and the presence of pedestrians. This is aligns with recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board and others. 

Unfortunately that bill died in the House Ways and Means committee, but it has been re-introduced (HB 4014) and is before the House Transportation committee scheduled for Tuesday, February 16th at 10:30 AM. 

We’re working to bring more support to the table from local governments to local experts, especially since we expect the Michigan State Police will oppose the bill. Individuals can email their thoughts to the committee clerk, Dakota Soda


Other Updates

Rendering of proposed Rosa Parks Streetscape
  • The construction contract for the Rosa Parks Streetscape project has been delayed in response to comments at City Council. DPW has agreed to do additional community outreach. While a few residents spoke against the proposed bike lanes, there were more concerns shared about a tree nursery project which was unrelated to this contract.  There was also uncertainty about whether the construction would repair the sidewalks — it would. If you live near Rosa Parks (between the Boulevard and Clairmount) and want to learn how to get involved, please email us
  • The City of Detroit is updating their Parks and Recreaton Strategic Plan. They are hosting a virtual public meeting about this on Monday, February 15th at 5pm. Attend via Zoom or call in at 312-626-6799 (webinar ID: 363 140 9738).
  • Don’t forget! I-375 Environmental Assessment comments are due on Friday, February 19th.
  • America Walks is seeking 30 Walking College fellows who want “to be part of bringing about transformative change to their neighborhoods.” Applications are open through February 28th.
  • MoGo is hiring! They recently received a grant from the Better Bike Share Partnership to understand certain barriers to bike and bus transit and develop solutions to improve the connections between them. MoGo is also seeking an executive director after founder Lisa Nuszkowski announced she’s stepping down. Lisa’s done an amazing job taking the idea of bike share and making it a reality in Detroit and Southeast Oakland County. We especially appreciate system’s equity and accessibility aspects which are a model for other bike share systems around the country. We’re sad to see her leave but look forward to see where she lands.
  • Speaking of bike-transit connections, Amtrak and MDOT are improving the bike carrying options for the the Wolverine route out of Detroit. They are testing new passenger coach class cars, each of which include three bike racks conveniently located across from the luggage storage area. We can’t wait to see (and use) them in the near future.

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Newsletter Policy Safety & Education

End of the Year 2020

End of Year Donation

First, we want to thank everyone that generously donated to our Giving Tuesday fundraiser. These donations are a key funding source that keeps us at the table and advocating for better bike and trail investments across Detroit. We couldn’t do this without your help.

If you haven’t already done so there’s still time to donate on our website via PayPal. There’s an added incentive for donating before this year is over. Under the CARES Act, “taxpayers who don’t itemize deductions may take a charitable deduction of up to $300 for cash contributions made in 2020 to qualifying organizations”. The Detroit Greenways Coalition is a 501(c)(3) non-profit.


Legislative Updates

The current Michigan legislative session is wrapping up. Bills that didn’t pass the House and Senate are dead as everything starts over in the next session. Here are three bills we watched. None of them made it to the Governor:

  • HB 4733 — This is the Speed Limit bill which clarifies that local governments have  modest flexibility in setting speed limits besides basing them only on the 85th fastest motorist driving under ideal conditions. The original bill language was flawed and we successfully worked with the bill’s sponsor and others to fix it. We supported this new bill, which made its way out of the House Transportation Committee but died in the Ways and Means Committee. We expect this bill to be reintroduced next session.
  • SB 892 — We call this the Robots on Sidewalks bill and it was largely being pushed by FedEx and Amazon. We opposed this bill and felt it was very flawed not only from a sidewalk safety aspect, but it largely removed local governments’ ability to manage this disruptive transportation option. Nonetheless, the bill passed the Senate but was not not taken up by the House Transportation Committee. During this time, a similar Senate bill was introduced that would allow these robots on sidewalks at 10 MPH and in bike lanes at any speed! Both bills died in the session, but we expect them to be re-introduced — and we’ll be watching.
  • HB 5369 — This bill takes the local Detroit streetcar ordinances and makes them state law. The language is not clear how or even when bicyclists can safely ride on Woodward when the QLine is operating. As a local ordinance without proper signage, it was unenforceable for bicyclists. This bill would change that and be enforceable. As of this writing, it appears to have died on the Senate floor. 

Three Opportunities for Input

  • Michigan Avenue in Corktown — MDOT is still seeking input on how to redesign Michigan Avenue through Corktown. They are using Streetmix which lets you drag and drop various road design features. It’s an interesting way to visualize the road design you want to see in the no-so-distant future.
  • FerndaleMoves.com — The City of Ferndale has released draft recommendations for their Ferndale Moves mobility plan update. They are seeking feedback on those draft recommendations using this interactive webmap before January 9th. They have also posted the recording and slides from their December 9 public meeting.
  • Gratiot/7 Mile Framework Plan — If you missed the most recent neighborhood planning meeting, you can still take participate in the prioritization poll exercise.  This will be available until the end of the month. “Community input is essential to the success of creating a plan to improve your neighborhoods.”

Virtual Bike Tour Video

We previously wrote about Council members Scott Benson and Roy McAllister’s bike tour back in August. This tour went through Ferndale (with Mayor Melanie Piana) and Pleasant Ridge. SEMCOG has made this great video showing the highlights along the tour route.

Riding Livernois through Ferndale

Additional Reading

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Complete Streets Greenways Newsletter Policy Safety & Education

News from the Trail – October 2020

Bike the Vote

Come join us for a group bike ride on Sunday afternoon, October 25th to encourage greater voter participation. We’d love to have a healthy turnout to show that bicyclists are engaged in this year’s election. The weather doesn’t look too bad for late October, either. Masks and social distancing are required!

In addition to supporting this ride, MoGo has a “Roll to the Polls” program that gives riders a free one hour ride to access their polling location or drop off their absentee ballots.  Lisa Nuszkowski, founder and executive director of MoGo says, “Transportation should never be a barrier to voting, and MoGo is proud to join with others in the shared mobility industry to offer free rides on Election Day.”

We continue to endorse Proposal 1 along with more than 30 conservation and environmental groups, including the Michigan Environmental Council, the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance, and the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. The proposal does not change the Trust Fund’s priorities of acquiring and preserving land, which is one reason it’s supported by twelve of the largest land conservancies in Michigan. It also is supported by all of Michigan’s living governors.


Pedestrian Safety Month

We strongly believe that building Complete Streets is the most effective approach for reducing pedestrian (and bicyclist) fatalities. We’ve seen it first hand with improvements to Detroit’s public lighting. Reducing speeding motorists is also a critical issue that can be addressed through Complete Streets, whether it’s more speed humps, lower speed limits, and even bike lanes. 

While the City of Detroit is making new, major investments in speed humps, the speed limit issue is moving more slowly in the state capitol. We discuss these issues and more in our new article, Every Month is Pedestrian Safety Month.


Streets for People

The City of Detroit just launched their Streets for People planning campaign. From the project web page:

The City of Detroit is developing Streets for People, a transportation plan with a singular focus — to make it easier and safer for all Detroiters to move around the city. The plan seeks to knit together diverse neighborhoods, prioritize safety of the most vulnerable road users, and identify clear implementation and design strategies for roadways improvement. Most importantly, it will be rooted in an inclusive planning process that gives a voice to the City’s residents who are most implicated by the transportation system. The plan will be completed over the next two years by the Department of Public Works in partnership with MDOT, SEMCOG, city departments, and partner agencies.

The web page also let’s you sign up for updates and provide some initial thoughts. The plan will be completed in 12 months according to the city’s press release.

Streets for People also has this great introductory video which really frames the pedestrian and bicyclist safety issue to be solved.


Joe Louis Greenway

A second Joe Louis Greenway Design public meeting will be held on October 29th from 6pm to 8pm via Zoom. There is more information about this meeting and how to join it on the city’s Joe Louis Greenway webpage.

If you missed the first public meeting, the presentation is now online and well worth looking over. 

Phase 1 construction continues moving forward. City Council has been asked to approve an MDOT grant request to build a portion of the greenway near Grand River Avenue and Oakman Boulevard. The city has also sold bonds to help with construction as well. They are “aiming to finish Phase I in Fiscal Year 2022.” 


Other Updates

  • Detroit is also updating its Parks and Recreation Plan. They are collecting some initial public input with this online survey. There’s also this interesting article on how COVID could affect this planning. 
  • We’ve been weighing on a number of developments around the city, including the project at the former state fairgrounds involving Amazon. Currently, biking and walking about this area is far from ideal. We submitted comments on how to improve these connections within the development area and with the surrounding neighborhoods, including Ferndale. We also requested bike parking and, if possible, MoGo stations. Our comments seemed to have been addressed by the city and developer.
  • We’ve also been involved in a new proposed warehouse near Conner and Gratiot at the former Cadillac Stamping Plant. Our primary concern was the project’s plan to allow truck traffic to cross the Conner Creek Greenway/Iron Belle Trail at Conner Playfield. It wouldn’t be safe and we expected the trucks would block the greenway as they waited to turn onto Conner. Council member Scott Benson worked with the city and developer to find an alternative truck route that doesn’t cross the greenway.
  • Last month we raised concerns about the city removing unprotected bike lanes during repaving projects, namely the bike lanes on E. Grand Boulevard. DPW followed up and said this was not a city policy. There are proposed plans for adding protected bike lanes on W. Grand Boulevard from Cass to Rosa Parks. We’ll be encouraging the city to continue this design east to replace what was removed.
  • Council President Brenda Jones’ Community Engagement Ordinance passed. It requires many city projects that impact the neighborhoods to have community outreach.The installation of bike lanes was one type of project named in the ordinance. After the E. Grand bike lanes were removed, we proposed that the installation or removal of bike lanes should require community outreach. Council member Benson motioned to add this language to the ordinance and it passed unanamously.
  • The Michigan State Historic Preservation Office launched an online bike tour of Detroit civil rights sites. We were part of the team that helped determine the 17-mile route between the sites. 
  • Lastly, Free Bikes 4 Kids really needs volunteers to help clean and refurbish used kids bicycles to giveaway this year. Please signup for a shift or two and help them get these bikes ready.

Additional Reading

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Complete Streets Policy Safety & Education

Every Month is Pedestrian Safety Month

October is Pedestrian Safety Month where safety groups roll out tepid safety messaging and do a modest amount of short-term traffic enforcement in a handful of Michigan cities. This approach certainly hasn’t led to reduced pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries, which have actually increased over the past decade

What is much more effective than education or enforcement? It’s engineering — building Complete Streets that can self-regulate motorists and reduce speeding 24 hours a day. This is critical since vehicle speed largely determines the degree of injury suffered by pedestrians and bicyclists in crashes. (Vehicle design is a significant determinant as well.)

If there is any doubt that Detroit has speeding problem, just consider Detroiters’ overwhelming demand for speed humps to slow motorists on residential streets. This demand has led Mayor Mike Duggan to shift $11.5 million in road funding to install significantly more speed humps in 2021 — perhaps more than any other major U.S. city.

I’m not sure there’s been any innovation in this city that has been received with more enthusiasm than the speed humps

Mayor Mike Duggan Press Conference, September 16, 2020
YearSpeed humps installedResident requests
201832
20195433,000
20201,2008,000
20214,500 (planned)

Of course speed humps only work on streets were speed limits are 25 MPH or less. Other streets require different Complete Street designs to reduce speeding, e.g. bike lanes, bumps outs, narrower travel lanes, street trees.

Reframing bike lanes as speed humps for bigger roads is invaluable. Bike lanes help reduce speeding and increase safety for everyone, not just bicyclists.

Speed Limits

Another issue we’re working on is how speed limits are set in Michigan.

One major reason the auto industry wrote the “Rules of the Road” in the 1920s was to have higher speed limits and restrict other users, predominantly pedestrians, from using these roads. Higher travel speeds gave motorist a clear advantage over other travel modes and helped sell more cars.

Michigan’s speed limit laws still reflect this history with minimums limits for speed limits and by having the 85th fastest motorist under ideal conditions determine the speed limit — not traffic experts or local governments. This leads to higher speed limits that don’t consider road design, crash history, local land use, and pedestrian and bicyclist use. What’s equally bad is that when roads are reconstructed, they are designed to accomodate the speed limit rather than what is appropriate and safe for the local community.

One local example of this is W. Fort Street near Schaefer. It used to have a 35 MPH speed limit. The Michigan State Police measured the 85th fastest motorist at a bit over 40 MPH, so they raised the speed limit to 45 MPH. They didn’t consider that the neighborhood to the south crossed the road to get to Kemeney Rec Center and park on the north. After the speed limit changed, 8-year-old Brandyn Starks was hit and killed while crossing the street to get to the park.

We’re part of a stakeholder group that’s helping shape current legislation (HB 4733) to provide a modest amount of flexibility in setting speed limits. This change is very much inline with recommendation from the NTSB and many other national organizations. We look forward to providing future updates on this bill.

What about 20 MPH speed limits?

There is a push in many cities around the world to reduce residential speed limits from 25 MPH to 20 MPH. This change is being promoted to help reduce pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities and serious injuries. Recent studies show that lower speed limits do reduce motorist speeds.

However, Michigan law prohibits setting Detroit’s residential speed limits below 25 MPH through January 2024. The Michigan State Police will be doing motorist speed studies on these local roads across the state. We anticipate they will more likely want to raise this 25 MPH minimum rather than lower it by 2024.

Of course, if the legislature takes no action before that time, residential speed limits could be set based on the 85th fastest motorist…

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Newsletter Policy Safety & Education

News from the Trail — May 2020

Staying Healthy, Events Cancelled

We hope everyone is staying safe and healthy during these challenging times. Our thoughts go out all that have lost friends, family, and club members during this pandemic.

We have been updating our COVID-19 page based on information from federal, state and local government agencies. They advise everyone riding, walking, and running to social distance from others, and to wear a mask in places that make social distancing difficult to maintain, eg. RiverWalk.

There are reports of more motorists speeding given fewer motor vehicles on the roads. Please be extra vigilant and walk/ride/run defensively. 

As for events, we obviously could not hold Bike to Work Day this year. We may consider doing something this fall, but it’s too early to make any commitment. We have cancelled our Joe Louis Greenway fundraiser ride scheduled for next month.


New Website

The Stay-at-Home order has provided a good opportunity to completely overhaul our website, which we rolled out this week. All of the web pages have been brought up to date. We’ve also taken the information from our printed bike/trail map and safety brochure and put it on the site. This includes


UMSI Crash Analysis

Also on the new website is a bicycle and pedestrian crash analysis — a report, slidedeck, and interactive mapping. This was just produced by a team from the University of Michigan School of Information. The team took state crash data, cleaned it up, and analyzed where the crashes were occuring. From the report:

Our data analysis led important discoveries around the existing safety issues per counsel district, specifically, how bikers are currently being impacted with districts. District 4, according to the data, had the most instances of biker injuries. It’s also worth noting that when a bike lane is present, accidents happen at a frequency a fraction of the time compared to instances of no bike lane with the point of contact being in the roadway.

Thanks to the team for this project and we look using this data to justify great investments that make Detroit streets safer for everyone. 


Other Updates

  • Please join us in welcoming two new board members: Beverly Kindle-Walker and Ryan Myers-Johnson. Beverly is the Executive Director for Friends of the Detroit City Airport CDC, a Legislative Assistance to County Commissioner Tim Killeen, and a board member for the Detroit Eastside Community Collaborative. She’s done a great deal of work on the Eastside, including with the Conner Creek Greenway. Ryan is the Founder and Executive Director for Sidewalk Detroit.  You may have met her if you attended any of the Joe Louis Greenway Framework Planning meetings where she was a project consultant.  She’s also been involved in parks and planning in Northwest Detroit, including Eliza Howell Park. 
  • Detroit Council President Brenda Jones proposed an ordinance last year requiring all bike lane projects to have an additional vote by Council. That ordinance wasn’t feasible, so it was incorporated into an ordinance requiring Community Engagement for planning projects, including bike lanes and streetscapes. We strongly support effective Community Engagement! We’ll continue working with her office and suggesting improvements to the ordinance language so that it gets more Detroiters engaged in deciding how their streets look and who they serve.
  • MoGo Bike Share expansion is underway this week with stations being installed north of Eight Mile. We look forward to seeing those new stations automatically popup on our map. 
  • Make sure you complete your census! Michigan cities receive road funding based on their census populations. State road funding will already be lower in the near future with the reductions in fuel purchases. We don’t need to see it drop further.

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Complete Streets Safety & Education

What are the requirements for a bicycle friendly road?

We received these questions from a Danish Landscape Architect. We thought we’d shared the answers here and get your thoughts as well.

I am working on a project in Detroit and I am interested in understanding how you have decided which roads are bicycle friendly roads and which are not? What are the requirements for a bicycle friendly road?

There are many ways to look at this, but let’s work through some different perspectives:

Infrastructure

The City of Detroit is designing and building roads that are comfortable to use for those from 8 years old to 80 — and for people of all abilities. Whereas initially the City built more traditional bike lanes and bike routes, now they’re looking at biking infrastructure with more separation from moving motor vehicles as a minimum design feature for major roads. This includes separated (or protected) bike lanes and off road trails.

However, Detroit hasn’t added much separation at intersections. We expect to see more of that in future projects.

Many cities are doing this across the U.S., so this answer is not unique. The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) provides guidance on how to design streets for all users based on the type of road. Detroit is working on a strategic transportation master plan which we expect will incorporate similar principles.

We would add that some of the designs that accommodate slower, less confidant riders aren’t fully embraced by the faster, more confident riders. That’s a trade off in order to get more people riding. Still, the new infrastructure calms motor vehicle traffic, so riding in the roadway becomes a better option for higher speeds or group rides. State law gives bicyclists the right to use most roadways (freeways being an exception.)

Wide streets with little traffic

Detroit’s street network was built for nearly 2 million residents. It built out a freeway network that then pulled motor vehicles from the surface streets. Over a million residents (and countless businesses) left.

What they left behind were wide roads with very little motor vehicle traffic, especially outside of peak travel periods. These roads are very bike friendly to moderately skilled riders without any specific infrastructure treatments.  It’s these conditions that make large group rides like Slow Roll more doable.

The caveat is this doesn’t make the street safe for everyone.

Safety in Numbers

Some roads are bicycle friendly for those riding in a group but not necessarily for those riding solo. We hear this often, especially with female riders. Many feel safe riding busier roads if they’re with a group, but they wouldn’t ride them as individuals.

This reflects the feeling safety that these bike groups share. Everyone is looking out for each other. Everyone is more visible and it’s less likely anyone is going to “mess with” the group. This is likely one reason why Detroit has more bike clubs than any other U.S. city we know of.

What do you think makes a road bicycle friendly?