Categories
Greenways

Public meeting to help plan Belle Isle Trails System

Belle Isle on Google MapsThe Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is hosting a public meeting to allow the community an opportunity for input as we develop a master plan for the Belle Isle Trail system.

DATE: Wednesday, August 24th
TIME: 6:30pm -8:30pm
LOCATION: Belle Isle State Park, Flynn Pavilion

Project Description from the DNR:

The plan is developing a 6-mile paved multi-use trail loop around the perimeter of Belle Isle Park in order to connect to existing park facilities and provide safe non-motorized recreation to all visitors on the island as well as siting of the southern trailhead for the Iron Belle Trail. The park currently includes bicycle lanes located on the park’s main perimeter road and two miles of hiking trails located in natural areas of the park. The master plan will develop a trail system through the 200 acre unique wet-mesic flatwoods on the East end of the island and identify gaps in the Belle Isle State Park’s existing trail system and locate a trailhead for the southern terminus of Michigan’s Iron Belle Trail. The Iron Belle Trail is made of two statewide trails (hiking and biking routes) traveling 2,000 miles from Detroit to Ironwood several park attractions are not easily accessible to pedestrians and other non-motorized uses. The park is in need of a separate multi-use looped trail system in order to connect existing park facilities.

Uses enhanced by this project include bicycle, pedestrian, persons with disabilities, roller bladders, strollers, hikers. The trail will also provide access to natural ecosystems, wildlife observation and educational opportunities. The Master Plan will define types of trails to be developed, determine location of trails and trailheads, determine trailhead layout and site amenities, and develop standards for trail signage. Surfacing and signage will be selected to enhance the surrounding park landscape. Project documents will include estimates of probable cost and phasing plan for implementation of the improvements identified, taking into consideration the current funding climate.

This master plan is critical in developing the Belle Isle State Park as a regional trail hub, connecting the park to the region’s trail system. When combined with the additional amenities on the island, the proposed looped trail around the island with views of the Detroit River and Canada will be a one of kind experience not found anywhere else in the City of Detroit or surrounding region.

Upon Completion of the Coastal Zone Management Grant ($50,000) funded Master plan, the DNR Parks and Recreation Division will proceed with engineering drawings for the first phase of Belle Isle trail improvement that will include construction of the Iron Belle Trailhead. Construction of the Iron Belle Trailhead will be funded through grants from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund ($300,000) and National Recreation Trail Fund ($300,000).

Categories
History Policy

Among many things, Ron Scott was a bike advocate

Ron Scott talks about bikes in DetroitI met Ron Scott on the stairsteps of the old Detroit Police Department (DPD) headquarters on Beaubien in 2008. I didn’t know much about him except that he was interested in helping organize a bicycle ride against the police department’s suddenly announced enforcement of mandatory bicycle registration ordinances.

Along with fellow advocate Tawanna Simpson, we organized a bike protest ride while simultaneously working to make the bike registration ordinances voluntary.

From my limited policy perspective as the MTGA Detroit Greenways Coordinator, the ordinances were archaic and and burdensome. For Ron, it wasn’t a coincidence that DPD starting enforcing the ordinances. It was a tool for targeting certain types of people who happened to be on bikes. Unlicensed bikes were an easy way to write $75 tickets. This was an issue of fairness and equity.

Along the way, Ron bought a bike and was rapidly absorbed in the fun and health aspects of bicycling. He spoke of bicycling’s ability to build inclusive community, perhaps foretelling Slow Roll. He certainly brought a more broad perspective to the discussion.

At the Detroit City Council hearing on the registration ordinances, I was taken aback by the respect and admiration each council member gave Ron as they entered the room. Still not knowing his past, it gave me a great deal of confidence. Council called Ron and I to the table where he spoke elegantly and introduced the need to remove the city’s unnecessary bicycling restrictions. He then introduced me as his brother, which elicited some chuckles. While we’re both Scotts, we don’t look much like siblings. I proceeded to outline the specifics of why mandatory licensing didn’t make sense from a policy perspective.

Detroit Police Chief Ella Bully-CummingsMore people spoke against the ordinances with only DPD speaking in support of them. City council not only moved to make the mandatory bicycle registrations voluntary, they thanked us for bringing this issue before them. Our protest bike ride was then turned into a bike ride celebration that even saw the Detroit Police Chief Ella Bully-Cummings riding with us.

Seizing on this political momentum, we decided to bring the Department of Public Work’s non-motorized master plan before council for their approval. Council passed it unanimously before we could finish our presentation. More success!

In the end, DPD gave us a gift that not only led to Ron’s involvement, it fostered a relationship with Council that made Detroit more bike- and trail-friendly. Our positive relationship with Council continues to this day.

Belle Isle State Park

Another issue dear to Ron was the lease of Belle Isle to the State of Michigan. With that lease came an increased state enforcement that made many long time park users feel unwelcomed. This included many Detroit’s bike clubs that no longer felt comfortable holding their events on the island.

We worked with Ron and the bike club presidents to have DNR State Parks Director Ron Olson and the DNR Chief of Southern Field Operations Scott Pratt ride together for the 2014 fireworks. It was an opportunity to make introductions and an initial attempt at changing conditions and perceptions.

The following month, Ron and I spoke before the Michigan State Parks Advisory Committee. Per the meeting minutes:

Scott Pratt, Ron Scott, Ron OlsonRon Scott, applauds the state for what they have accomplished so far with Belle Isle and the increase in Recreation Passport sales just in the Detroit area. However, he encouraged the DNR Parks and Recreation Division to reach out to other stakeholders in the City (i.e. businesses, organizations, the districts, and the general public) and the surrounding areas. For whatever reason, some groups or individuals have not felt comfortable or welcome on the island. He feels that if the department were to reach out to these groups (i.e. have public meetings, discussion or interaction), regarding what would encourage them to visit and enjoy the island, it would not only benefit the island with increased revenue, but it would also help the city and local businesses. He also recommended reaching out to surrounding communities to encourage interest in Belle Isle and point out what it has to offer on a more localized level. Organizations like the Detroit Greenways Coalition, the state, and others would benefit by meeting, having these discussions and figuring out ways to attract more visitors to the area. He also reminded the committee that the state needs to be sensitive to the way enforcement is handled on the island.

 At an event just last month Ron reiterated the need to resolve this issue. We’re still working on it.

Certainly Ron contributed much more to Detroit than bicycling advocacy. Others will write much more about that. I just feel so fortunate that our causes overlapped, to have worked with him and be inspired by him, and to be called his brother.

Thank you, Ron.

On November 30th, 2015, Ron Scott passed after a battle with cancer at age 68. 

[More about Ron Scott]

Categories
Greenways Policy

Updates on Belle Isle’s streets and sidewalks

20150416_113940Last Friday the DNR called a meeting to address the concerns we’d outlined in a previous post about the construction and conditions on Belle Isle related to the Grand Prix. The meeting also included MDOT representatives, State Representative Stephanie Chang, and Michele Hodges from both the Belle Isle Conservancy and Belle Isle Advisory Committee.

This meeting was mostly about information gathering. The DNR is hiring a planner soon and will host public listening sessions this summer to discuss these issues further with a much wider audience. We’ll let everyone know when those listening sessions are scheduled.

Three MDOT issues seemed to rise to the top.

  • MDOT took a small portion of the $4 million road funding for project management. The remainder went to the Grand Prix, who designed and built the Belle Isle roads. There were no public meetings and MDOT thought that listening to the DNR was sufficient stakeholder input. We don’t believe this follows their Context Sensitive Solutions or Complete Streets policies.
  • On portions of the new road, they will paint a pedestrian lane. This is not a sidewalk, but a pedestrian lane next to the curb and in the street. A bike lane will be next to this walking lane. An on-street walking lane does not follow AASHTO guidelines even though that was a design requirement. Also per AASHTO, “sidewalks, provided on both sides of a street, are the preferred pedestrian facility.” We learned that the initial Grand Prix design removed more sidewalks, so perhaps this was a compromise. We are waiting to see the road design cross sections from MDOT. However we do know these designs were not reviewed by MDOT’s bike and pedestrian coordinator.
  • On some new sections of road, no sidewalks were installed despite the MDOT Complete Streets policy. MDOT ‘s explanation was that they typically assume local governments will add them,  or in this case, the DNR. While local governments can be asked to contribute to adding sidewalks, MDOT cannot assume others will keep them compliant with their own Complete Streets policy.

One frustrating point that others made was that the sidewalk was in poor condition and that this somehow justified it being removed. However there was no evidence of its poor condition in Google Streetview. We passed around photos showing that. Besides, under this logic, the road was in poor condition. Why wasn’t it removed? That logic has no place under a Complete Streets policy.

Grand Prix impact on other park users

The other major concern discussed was the impact of this year’s Grand Prix event set up on other park users. The DNR inherited this event permit from the city of Detroit and we were told there are some gray areas within in. Seemingly unbeknownst to those at the meeting, the Grand Prix had a different interpretation of the permit requirements and set up earlier than expected.

The DNR will discuss this with the Grand Prix to make improvements for 2016. They plan to update the permit when it expires after next year’s event.

As a means for overseeing all this activity, Michele Hodges will add this entire topic as a standing agenda item to the Belle Isle Advisory Committee meetings.

We look forward to addressing all these issues and keeping Belle Isle as a great place to bike and walk.

Categories
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.)

Categories
Greenways

Governor approves Beltline Greenway funding & more

Beltline GreenwayGovernor Rick Snyder signed the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund appropriations bill today — St. Patrick’s Day — which spreads a bit-o-green around the state.

Included in the bill is $2 million in land acquisition funding to buy property within Wayne County in order to complete gaps in the cross-state Iron Belle Trail.

One of those gaps is the Beltline Greenway in Detroit. This conceptual path was part of the GREEN non-motorized planning for the lower eastside. The community recognized it as a priority connection.

The greenway would follow a former railroad called the Beltline that connected the Uniroyal Site on the RiverWalk and headed north to the Gleaner’s Community Food Bank and beyond. It actually goes under E. Jefferson Avenue. The city rebuilt this bridge last year in anticipation of the greenway.

For the Iron Belle Trail, the routing goes from the RiverWalk to Kercheval, shown as the purple line on the map graphic.

Conrail no longer owns this railroad property. The DEGC owns the property south of Jefferson while it’s in private hands to the north. With this funding, the DNR will have conversations with these private property owners about purchasing land to create the trail.

Of course additional funding is needed to design, build, and endow a maintenance/operations fund, but this is a major step forward.

Categories
History

The Belle Isle Bicycle Pavilion

Detroit bicycle pavilion on Belle IsleYou’ve probably ridden past it many times without realizing it is among the oldest and most significant historic structures still remaining from America’s Golden Era of Bicycling.  It’s the Bicycle Pavilion, now called the Athletic Pavilion/Shelter on Belle Isle.

In 1898, the League of American Wheelmen (LAW) Michigan Division secured $10,000 from the city of Detroit to build a bicycle pavilion on Belle Isle.

Then Detroit Park Commission Secretary and Manager M. P. Hurlbut explained its purpose:

It is to be a two-story building and the first or ground floor ‘will be used by bicycle riders in case of stormy weather to store their wheels in, and undoubtedly some time in the future there will be a privilege for renting bicycles leased from this building, and possibly a temporary repair shop.

“Wheels” was another term for bicycles.

Detroit Parks Annual Report 1899The building was designed by architect Edward A. Schilling. The lower floor was designed to store 400 to 500 bicycles. The upper floor was an open-air gallery with a broad balcony across the building’s length. According to the Free Press, it offered “a beautiful view down the park.” There were also rooms for retiring and refreshments.

In 1899 they got another $2,500 to “furnish up bicycle pavilion with pump, repair outfit, racks, and other conveniences” according to Edward Hines, one of Detroit’s most famous bicycle advocates. (Yes, Hines Drive is named after him.)

The city also leased 1,000 square feet of the pavilion for $1,000 to be used as a bicycle rental concession.

According to the City of Detroit’s Parks Annual Report, the Bicycle Pavilion opened on August 4th of 1899 with 6,000 to 8,000 people in attendance.

Athletic Pavilion on Belle IsleWhile Hines was largely responsible for getting the funding, it helped that Detroit Mayor William Maybury was a member of the LAW and Detroit Wheelmen bicycle clubs. A statue of Mayor Maybury is in Grand Circus Park, sitting in a chair opposite of Mayor/Governor Hazen Pingree, who was also a member of the Detroit Wheelmen.

The size and grandness of this pavilion is a testament to the strength and importance of bicyclists in the city of Detroit in the late 1890s. We’re very fortunate to have this historic bicycle landmark in Detroit though we need to do a better job of telling its story. Perhaps a historic marker would be a good start.

Also, given it’s significance, we’ve suggested that the Iron Belle Trail from Belle Isle to Wisconsin begin at the Pavilion. Certainly Hines, Maybury, Hurlbut would approve.