Long before Detroit was Detroit, Native Americans had created a network of footpaths throughout this region. What we’re trying to achieve today is not all that different. No, Detroit has not always been the Motor City. Bicycles rode the streets 150 years ago, well before cars were invented. In fact it was bicyclists who started the Good Roads movement in Michigan and created organizations like the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Wayne County Road Commission.
In 1898 Detroit was considered one of America’s best bicycling cities.
This video from the Library of Congress shows a fire drill at the Parke-Davis complex on the Detroit River in June 29th, 1899. Over 1,000 employees were involved, including 400 on bicycles.
In the 1890s, Mayor Hazen Pingree proposed a public promenade along the riverfront. It never happened. That vision was rekindled under Mayor Coleman Young during the 1970s and 1980s. Riverfront parks were created and bicycling routes were promoted which helped set the stage for the Detroit RiverWalk. Below are documents from those 1985 efforts:
- Know your Riverfront Parks… A Historical and Informational Brochure
- Chene/St. Aubin Park: Marina/Canal Feasibility
- Linked Riverfront Parks Project
- Detroit’s East Riverfront: People and Places of Yesterday
- Detroit East Riverfront Bikeway Construction Project Report
- West Riverfront Bicycle/Pedestrian Route
- Mt. Elliott Interpretive Center: An Adaptive Reuse Plan
Regional Greenway Planning
- A Vision for Southeast Michigan Greenways, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy & National Park Service, 1998.
- Southeast Michigan Greenways Regional Overview — Vision, Tools, Resources (DRAFT), Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Michigan Chapter, 1997.