A Historical Perspective

Bicyclists and pedestrians were using Detroit streets long before the automobile was invented. There was always a balance between road use and safety.

Then came the automobile and everything changed. Motorists did not want to follow existing speed limits, yield at intersections or even to pedestrians outside of crosswalks. Following these sensible rules of the road meant automobiles offered few advantages over bicycles or streetcars.

The auto industry recognized that this lack of competitive advantages would limit sales, so they set out to redefine the purpose of public roads and changed them from shared public spaces to driving-centric spaces. They created the concepts of traffic engineering focused on the automobile and developed new “rules of the road” which are still in use today. These rules restrict road use for pedestrians and bicyclists and introduced stop signs, traffic lights, one-way streets, and freeways. All to increase speeds; features that create significant delays and safety concerns for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The Detroit Greenways Coalition along with other bicycle, pedestrian, and transit advocates support the return to safe roads for everyone; something Detroiters once had. This approach is called COMPLETE STREETS, where anyone using a public road is essential to the road design whether they travel along the corridor or across it. This can be accomplished by narrowing wide roads, adding crosswalks, bike lanes safety features and more.  Designing Complete Streets will make roads safer for all users, including motorists. The Coalition continues to work to improve laws that increase bicyclist and pedestrian safety. For example, we are advocating for the adoption of the Idaho-stop law in Detroit; where bicyclists treat stop signs as yield signs like they did prior to the 1920s.

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