Pedestrian Bridges

Pedestrian bridges provide critical non-motorized connections across freeways that otherwise divide Detroit communities. However, they are often not designed or maintained to be safe, accessible, or convenient. They are typically implemented for the benefit of motorists by eliminating the need to stop or yield to pedestrians crossing the roadway.

The Michigan Department of Transportation owns these bridges and we have raised these issues with them for over a decade, including:

  • The lack of ADA ramps.
  • Trip hazards resulting from low-quality repair work.
  • Unsafe crossings of service drives.

In some cases, MDOT has let the bridges fall into such a state of disrepair that they are closed for years, and in some cases, permanently removed.

Until recently, these bridges did not appear on MDOT’s Michigan Bridge Conditions webpage.

Perhaps what’s been most frustrating is watching MDOT and the state invest millions in building an electric vehicle charging road in Corktown, staking Michigan’s claim to mobility leadership, and not having ADA ramps on the nearby pedestrian bridges.

Community Report on Bridges

We are not the only voice on this. WSU Urban Studies’ students and community organizers documented all of the bridge issues and produced the 2016 report entitled, “Dear State of Michigan DOT: please address accessibility concerns around Detroit’s 71 pedestrian bridges.” They found:

  • 46 bridges (65%) contain trash, glass, and graffiti
  • 36 bridges (51%) are inaccessible
  • 33 bridges (46%) have compromised structural integrity
  • 14 bridges (20%) connect to service drives lacking pedestrian infrastructure
  • 7 of the bridges (10%) are closed
Photo by Ely Hydes

Spruce Bridge Failure

It took a resident falling through a pedestrian bridge to change this. On May 9th, 2022, Ely Hydes fell about 15 feet on to the Lodge embankment as the bridge deck collapsed beneath him. The poor state of many pedestrian bridges was suddenly in the media and apparently higher MDOT’s priorities that spurred further bridge inspections. That led to MDOT closing the Brooklyn pedestrian bridge to make repairs.

The Michigan Bridge Conditions webpage now includes pedestrian bridges and their status.

We heard rumblings that perhaps some of these bridges, such as Spruce, would be permanently closed rather than repaired. We do not support that and we worked with Council member Gabriela Santiago-Romero’s office on a City Council Resolution that states:

The Detroit City Council urges MDOT to ensure and maintain that pedestrian bridges are in good condition, and to refrain from removing pedestrian bridges from communities as a means of lowering maintenance costs.

Resolution approved by Detroit City Council on May 24th, 2022

Demolition through Neglect

Between 2017 and 2022, MDOT spent $732,000 in regular repairs to Detroit pedestrian bridges. They spent $1,646,000 to permanently remove five pedestrian bridges. Pedestrian bridge repair and maintenance appears to be a low priority, which discourages their use. This low usage becomes MDOT’s justification to remove them.

According to State Transportation Commission policy 1100.58, “Pedestrian bridges constructed by the Department will be maintained by the Department except for snow and ice removal.” However, according to the Federal Highway Administration Questions and Answers about ADA webpage, “A public agency must maintain its walkways in an accessible condition, with only isolated or temporary interruptions in accessibility. 28 CFR §35.133. Part of this maintenance obligation includes reasonable snow removal efforts. (9-12-06)”

From what we’ve seem, they remove pedestrian bridges without engaging the or notifiying the community. They have not brought these removals before the MDOT Metro Region or SEMCOG non-motorized committees. Our Safe Routes to Schools contact said that they aren’t alerted either.

Pembroke Bridge Replacement

Not all of the MDOT pedestrian bridges are over freeways. MDOT removed a bridge over Telegraph at Pembroke (7.5 mile). They replaced the bridge with a painted crosswalk over 8 lanes of high-speed traffic. They did not install a traffic signal. In 2017, a 54-year old Detroit woman was hit while trying to cross at this location. Fortunately she survived.

MDOT Pedestrian bridge over Telegraph in 2011 and the “replacement” marked crosswalk

What we want

MDOT has a clear responsibility to maintain safe bridges for walking and biking that connect the community — a stated goal of the US DOT.

We are asking MDOT for these four outcomes:

  • All Pedestrian bridges in a state of good repair with clear maintenance policy
  • All crosswalks to bridges are safe, which may require service drive road diets and other traffic calming to reduce speeding
  • A public a policy on pedestrian bridge removal is developed that requires meaningful community and stakeholder engagement
  • A long term plan is created to replace pedestrian bridges with Complete Streets bridges or wider, high-quality multi-use trail bridges where possible
Complete Streets bridges will replace many of the existing pedestrian bridges over I-94

Additional Reading