Greenways Safety & Education

Complete Streets? MDOT removes sidewalks at Belle Isle

MDOT has undertaken $4 million in road “improvements” at Belle Isle State Park where they not only failed to build sidewalks that were missing — they removed existing sidewalks.

When we first learned that substantial taxpayer dollars were allocated to Belle Isle roads, we wrote MDOT and the DNR asking that “All of the park roads, including the MacArthur Bridge, should be designed using Complete Streets principles. The major park roads should have wide sidewalks.” We also asked for other non-motorized improvements.

We were clearly ignored.

Now we can expect to see more pedestrians having to walk in the roadway, and more specifically in the bike lane, forcing cyclists to swerve into the vehicle lanes.

Not smart. This certainly does not follow MDOT’s Complete Street Policy.

The political reality is the Detroit Grand Prix got the $4 million from the state legislature with the intention of improving Belle Isle roads for racing. But these are state trunklines — and in a state park no less — and that same legislative body also passed the Complete Streets laws.

Making matter worse, for at least a month now MDOT has allowed the Belle Isle bike lanes and sidewalks to be blocked and inaccessible. We expect this to last at least two more months until after the Grand Prix finishes.

Neither MDOT nor the DNR are being proper stewards of a state park when public access is compromised for a quarter of the year.

While some may point to the benefits the Grand Prix brings to the island, they must be weighed against the $4 million benefit it got from the Michigan taxpayers.

In the end there must be a balance. This is a state park first and foremost for the people.

UPDATE, April 19, 2015: Through Michele Hodges of the Belle Isle Conservancy, the DNR has stated that the removed sidewalks were in poor condition. That is not true, so we’ve added three more photos showing the very good sidewalk condition prior to their removal. (The replaced road surface looks very good as well.)

Additional Background

As part of the Belle Isle lease to the state, the roads on Belle Isle became MDOT’s responsibility. The park itself is the DNR’s responsibility.

In December 2013, the Michigan legislature appropriated $115 million from the general fund to a Roads and Risks Reserve Fund. That project list included the $4 million for Belle Isle roads. A Request for Qualifications was issued in March that described the project yet never mentioned the need to build Complete Streets.  The team “Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix” was selected as project manager in April.

Our Original Suggested Improvements

Below are the suggested Belle Isle improvements we made in February 2013 and shared with the DNR, MDOT, the Belle Isle Conservancy, and the Belle Isle Advisory Committee.

Suggested Improvements for Non-motorized Transportation on Belle Isle

Since Belle Isle first became a park, it has been a popular location for biking and walking – however, there is room for improvement.

The old Belle Isle Master Plan’s Transportation Network section is out-of-date and doesn’t always propose best practices for non-motorized transportation. It was written before the bike lanes were implemented and seems to advocate against Complete Streets, which the city of Detroit and MDOT are using in current road designs. The Plan also offers no options for the large number of cyclists who ride in groups or at higher speeds – a historical use from the start.

Therefore, we are proposing some additional solutions and improvements that will make Belle Isle a world-class destination for those on foot or bike.

Current Problems

  • The two bike lane crossovers south of the MacArthur Bridge are uncomfortable for many cyclists.
  • The bike lanes, especially on the Bridge collect debris, including broken glass.
  • The Jefferson/Grand Boulevard intersection makes bicycle access to the island difficult.
  • There are no sidewalks along some of the major park roads forcing pedestrians to walk in the bike lanes.
  • There is poor drainage that causes large puddles in the bike lanes especially near the soccer field and nature zoo.
  • The asphalt pavement on the forest pathway is in poor condition.
  • There are only a few bike racks and they are not well-positioned.
  • There is a need for a basic bike repair station on the island.
  • Motor vehicle speeding impacts the safety of other park users.

Proposed Solutions and Improvements

  • All of the park roads, including the MacArthur Bridge, should be designed using Complete Streets principles. The major park roads should have wide sidewalks. Green pavement (e.g. color asphalt) would better identify the bike lanes, improve safety, and add traffic calming.
  • The MacArthur Bridge should be reduced to four vehicle travel lanes with the additional space used to create protected bike lanes in the center of the bridge. This would reduce debris issues and eliminate the bike lane crossover safety issue. (Two-way protected bike lanes may not require special sweeping or snow removal equipment, whereas one-ways might.)
  • The Jefferson/Grand Boulevard intersection should be redesigned to better accommodate bicyclists.
  • Bicycle wayfinding should be installed per the Detroit Wayfinding Design Guide currently under development.
  • In-ground automated bicycle counters should be installed at the Bridge to gauge park usage. An Eco-Totem showing the daily and year-to-date bicycle counts would be a great addition and could encourage more people to bicycle onto the island. Pedestrian counters on the bridge sidewalks could also be considered.
  • A sweeping schedule should be established that puts a priority on park roads with bike lanes.
  • The forest pathway should be repaved.
  • More bike racks with overhead lighting should be installed based on APBP Bicycle Parking Guidelines.
  • The Bicycle Pavilion, now called the Athletic Pavilion, should have its name and historic uses re-established. It was built for bicyclists in 1899 and had a bicycle repair station the following year. It likely deserves a state historic marker as a landmark presenting Detroit’s golden age of bicycling.  Improved washrooms, WIFI and a bicycle vending machine would help establish it as a bicycle gathering location.
  • Establish the official starting point for the Governor’s Showcase Trail from Belle Isle to Wisconsin at the Bicycle Pavilion.
  • The Wolverine 200 was a major bicycle endurance event. We would like to start a discussion on whether we should try bringing it back to the island.


8 replies on “Complete Streets? MDOT removes sidewalks at Belle Isle”

Detroit’s Belle Isle Park needs separate and complete bike lanes and sidewalks for walking and other pedestrians. This is my vote as a citizen of Wayne County and as a resident of the State of Michigan.

I think with a city and state that is struggling, the highest bidder (and also most political influence) is going to have the most influence, even more so. So while I am upset to see this, it doesn’t really surprise me.

Slow Roll, even if it’s more transient and temporary from April to October, sort of gets to take over the streets to a degree–acting as a bit of a nuisance on Monday Nights–while there isn’t nearly as much car traffic as in the suburbs on the roads Slow Roll traverses, there are people that are trying to get somewhere in Detrit, whether to or from work for example.

Slow Roll is bringing a bit of money into the city when people spend money and time before and after the ride and a few other positive benefits.

For all the good it does, I make that comparison as Slow Roll having a negative element, primarily because I’m not sure people that partake in the ride would be too enthused about having to wait for a Slow Roll in their city when they have to really get somewhere and are short on time, but they get a bit of a privlidge because it’s bringing some money into the city.

This is ridiculous, and the comparison to the grand prix is laughable.
At the end of the day, this is just breaking the roads. They need to fix them. End of story, that’s what they get paid to do and they’re wasting taxpayer time and money.

Joe, the only parallel I was making is that based on my observations, decisions are going to typically go to the entity that has the most political influence and/or brings in something else attractive (like money), especially to a struggling city/state; with the majority being disregarded because of influence, or in some cases a small but still significant enough minority being mostly ignored..

In the case of where there is an enticement of bringing more people to see the city and build a connection to a city and some money, and that something bicycle-related can bring, bicycles are given an OK by the city.

The negative impact that Slow Roll has is not a huge deal overall, but it is a little hard to plan for to avoid being impacted by with routes changing. I’m primarily talking about people that very often, have very narrow margins regarding time and may often cross paths with the ride, and just either want to get home or have somewhere to be–one may be able to more easily circumvent a train (though not always) and trains are hardly an issue in most of the southeastern quadrant of the city.

The entities profiting off of the Grand Prix using their influence and connections to take state tax money and using it on roads for their own relatively narrow benefit, with crumbling roads, I will readily concede is far bigger deal, and you’re right, it’s not a great comparison, but it does have a bit of a parallel in my opinion.

I guess maybe I don’t completely understand what “compleat streets” is all about, but sitting here reading this article got me to thinking back on my experiences in Michigan State Parks. I have yet to think of one that had streets, at least in the camping areas, which is where my family spent most of our time.
In the State Parks, with lower speed limits, people should not need to be afraid to walk on the roads/streets.

That’s a good point, James. Complete Street designs aren’t fixed. They’re context sensitive. In other words, roads in a more rural park setting would likely not have sidewalks and there would be lower traffic volumes. Urban parks like Belle Isle are different. Complete Streets in urban parks have sidewalks in large part because there is a greater amount of pedestrian, bicycle, and motor vehicle traffic. Unlike other roads in Michigan State Parks, the ones on Belle Isle are designated MDOT State Trunklines.

Why not walk on the grass? I never heard of anyone tripping on grass. I have heard of numerous people tripping and slipping on side walks.

By that logic, we shouldn’t build sidewalks anywhere. You have heard of snow, ice, mud, people with disabilities, right?

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