Our April 2023 newsletter is now online!
- Climate change is making flooding events more severe and more common
- Transportation in Michigan is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change
- Investments in infrastructure that increase biking and walking are the most efficient way of decreasing transportation emissons
The pandemic prompted the question: What priority are greenways and Complete Streets+ in light of the health needs of Detroiters? While they’re certainly not an immediate priority like health care, they do have a role in building a healthier, safer city and residents.
We saw use on the Dequindre Cut rise 55% as people sought safe outdoor activities and transportation options. We learned that walking, biking, and other exercise improved immune system response, not only to COVID but the vaccine as well.
However, one negative pandemic outcome was a drastic increase in speeding, which led to a 67% increase in Detroit road fatalities in 2020. Pedestrian fatalities rose 46% while bicycling fatalities quadrupled. The need for Complete Streets (to deter speeding) and separated bike/walk facilities is apparent from a public safety perspective.
Detroit’s recent flood events have brought the discussion of infrastructure priorities to the forefront. The discussion has mostly been about addressing critical short term impacts.
While that is critically important, we also need to look to the near future and the expectation for substantially worse flooding.
“What you would call a 100-year event of 5 inches of rain, our climate models are now projecting that 5 inches by 2050 could be anywhere from 5 inches to 14 inches of rain,” said Amy O’Leary, executive director of SEMCOG.Close to ‘crisis mode’ — Here’s how much infrastructure improvements could cost, WXYZ
“Researchers warn that unless and until greenhouse gases are controlled, expect more of the same, only worse, in the years ahead.”Floods in metro Detroit bear hallmarks of human-caused climate change, scientists say, Detroit Free Press ($)
It seems the crisis at hand is keeping us from discussing longer term issue of climate change, where transportation is the largest contributor to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. We just can’t keep building bigger sewer pipes.
Perhaps nothing illustrates this better than Governor Whitmer holding a press conference on a flooded I-94 where she said we must do “everything we can to address climate change.” Just to her east, MDOT will be adding travel lanes that add more impervious surface while inducing more vehicle travel and more carbon emissions. MDOT’s long term plan is more of the same.
We are encouraging everyone to comment on MDOT’s Michigan Mobility 2045 long range plan. The draft plan ignores the role Michigan’s transportation has in greenhouse gas emissions. They need to hear that this plan cannot ignore the significant impacts it will have on climate change. It cannot ignore the Governor’s carbon neutrality pledge.
Public meetings are being scheduled for August 3rd and 4th. Comments can also be submitted online.
Reaching Carbon Neutrality
Last September, Whitmer pledged to make Michigan carbon neutral by 2050. It’s a significant commitment that requires significant changes to our transportation system. It’s more than electrifying vehicles. It’s going to require major reductions in vehicle miles travelled (VMT).
That means the Michigan’s transportation funding should no longer be largely prioritized based on pavement surface quality. It needs to be prioritized for increased safety, reduced VMT, and additional green stormwater management. “Fix the damn roads” can’t focus on potholes. It needs to abruptly shift towards building a safe and sustainable state transportation network.
Greenways and Complete Streets encourage more biking and walking, perhaps the two most effective means for reducing VMT while adding green stormwater infrastructure. Improved clean public transportation is also a necessity.
This is why we’re on the Governor Whitmer’s Council for Climate Solutions Transportation and Mobility Workgroup. We making the ambitious push for real policy change along with Transportation Riders United (TRU) and others to ensure the carbon neutrality pledge becomes reality. (Comments can be submitted to the workgroup.)
Joe Louis Greenway
The Joe Louis Greenway is a collection of projects, which includes some rails-to-trails conversions, on-road separated bike lanes, and park pathways. Two of those parks, Romanowski and Patton are in Southwest Detroit. The City of Detroit is applying for a couple $300,000 state grants to revitalize these parks and build a portion of the greenway.
The City is encouraging the public to attend a virtual meeting on this for Thursday, March 18th at 6pm via Zoom or phone, 312-626-6799 (Meeting ID 86979810611#)
While this funding definitely helps, the entire greenway project needs significantly more. One new funding source could be the proposed Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act.
The Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act… provides $2.5 billion in direct funding over five years to help communities and regions across the country to build connected active transportation systems that ensure people can get where they want to go safely by foot, bike or wheelchair—all while reducing carbon emissions and creating new jobs.
We’ve been working with the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance, City of Detroit, and others to encourage Congress to include this Act in the next federal transportation bill. It could be an ideal and critical grant funding source for completing the Joe Louis Greenway.
Detroit City Council is in the midst of their budget hearings. During the Department of Public Works (DPW) session, most of Council’s questions involved speed humps and streetscapes/bike lanes.
Speed humps remain top priority for residents as DPW reported 15,000 residents requests for them. The DPW budget contains funding to install signficantly more speed cushions and asphalt humps as shown on this city map. However, these traffic calming features are limited to residential streets.
More major streets require other traffic calming such as road diets, bike lanes, streetscapes, and other features of Complete Streets+.
This is especially important during the pandemic as road traffic has decreased and motorist speeds have increased. Recent data shows Detroit’s vehicle speeds in urban business districts have soared by 60%, more than the other U.S. cities.
Higher vehicle speeds lead to higher traffic fatality rates. The National Safety Council estimates found a 24% spike in roadway death rates for 2020, which is the highest increase in 96 years!
What does this have to do with our work? Bicyclists and pedestrians are our most vulnerable road users and vehicle speed is the major factor in determining injury severity in crashes. Over the past decade, a third of all road fatalities in Detroit were pedestrians and bicyclists.
Putting the brakes on higher speed limits
Posted speed limits do affect the overall speed of motorists. As we’ve mentioned last month, Michigan House Bill 4014 would allow road agencies to set speed limits on factors (e.g. adjacent land uses, pedestrian activity) other than just the 85th fastest motorist on the road. This is especially important with the increased vehicle speeds since those could lead to new, higher speed limits. The good news is the bill passed out of the Transportation committee and is awaiting a vote on the House floor. We’ll let you know if we need your help keeping this bill moving forward.
- The next public meeting for the city’s Streets for People Plan is Wednesday, March 31st, 7-8pm. You can join by Google Meet or by phone +1 650 466 0753. The city is also asking people to place their transportation concerns (e.g. speeding, bad sidewalks, transit issues, unsafe biking conditions) on this map. That input will help inform the Streets for People plan.
- Further north, the City of Ferndale has released their draft mobility plan. They are also partnering with Pleasant Ridge and MDOT to make Woodward a Complete Street with improved sidewalks and separated cycle tracks. This would be a major safety improvement and also setting the stage for continued this Woodward biking infrastructure south of Eight Mile Road.
- Congratulations to the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy and the Downtown Detroit Partnership! The RiverWalk was named best in the U.S. while Campus Martius was named the county’s fifth best public space by USA Today.
- Great news! Midtown Detroit’s DLectricity event will be back in September and it will include another Light Bike Parade. (Photo credit: Midtown Detroit Inc.)
Bike the Vote
Come join us for a group bike ride on Sunday afternoon, October 25th to encourage greater voter participation. We’d love to have a healthy turnout to show that bicyclists are engaged in this year’s election. The weather doesn’t look too bad for late October, either. Masks and social distancing are required!
In addition to supporting this ride, MoGo has a “Roll to the Polls” program that gives riders a free one hour ride to access their polling location or drop off their absentee ballots. Lisa Nuszkowski, founder and executive director of MoGo says, “Transportation should never be a barrier to voting, and MoGo is proud to join with others in the shared mobility industry to offer free rides on Election Day.”
We continue to endorse Proposal 1 along with more than 30 conservation and environmental groups, including the Michigan Environmental Council, the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance, and the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. The proposal does not change the Trust Fund’s priorities of acquiring and preserving land, which is one reason it’s supported by twelve of the largest land conservancies in Michigan. It also is supported by all of Michigan’s living governors.
Pedestrian Safety Month
We strongly believe that building Complete Streets is the most effective approach for reducing pedestrian (and bicyclist) fatalities. We’ve seen it first hand with improvements to Detroit’s public lighting. Reducing speeding motorists is also a critical issue that can be addressed through Complete Streets, whether it’s more speed humps, lower speed limits, and even bike lanes.
While the City of Detroit is making new, major investments in speed humps, the speed limit issue is moving more slowly in the state capitol. We discuss these issues and more in our new article, Every Month is Pedestrian Safety Month.
Streets for People
The City of Detroit just launched their Streets for People planning campaign. From the project web page:
The City of Detroit is developing Streets for People, a transportation plan with a singular focus — to make it easier and safer for all Detroiters to move around the city. The plan seeks to knit together diverse neighborhoods, prioritize safety of the most vulnerable road users, and identify clear implementation and design strategies for roadways improvement. Most importantly, it will be rooted in an inclusive planning process that gives a voice to the City’s residents who are most implicated by the transportation system. The plan will be completed over the next two years by the Department of Public Works in partnership with MDOT, SEMCOG, city departments, and partner agencies.
The web page also let’s you sign up for updates and provide some initial thoughts. The plan will be completed in 12 months according to the city’s press release.
Streets for People also has this great introductory video which really frames the pedestrian and bicyclist safety issue to be solved.
Joe Louis Greenway
A second Joe Louis Greenway Design public meeting will be held on October 29th from 6pm to 8pm via Zoom. There is more information about this meeting and how to join it on the city’s Joe Louis Greenway webpage.
If you missed the first public meeting, the presentation is now online and well worth looking over.
Phase 1 construction continues moving forward. City Council has been asked to approve an MDOT grant request to build a portion of the greenway near Grand River Avenue and Oakman Boulevard. The city has also sold bonds to help with construction as well. They are “aiming to finish Phase I in Fiscal Year 2022.”
- Detroit is also updating its Parks and Recreation Plan. They are collecting some initial public input with this online survey. There’s also this interesting article on how COVID could affect this planning.
- We’ve been weighing on a number of developments around the city, including the project at the former state fairgrounds involving Amazon. Currently, biking and walking about this area is far from ideal. We submitted comments on how to improve these connections within the development area and with the surrounding neighborhoods, including Ferndale. We also requested bike parking and, if possible, MoGo stations. Our comments seemed to have been addressed by the city and developer.
- We’ve also been involved in a new proposed warehouse near Conner and Gratiot at the former Cadillac Stamping Plant. Our primary concern was the project’s plan to allow truck traffic to cross the Conner Creek Greenway/Iron Belle Trail at Conner Playfield. It wouldn’t be safe and we expected the trucks would block the greenway as they waited to turn onto Conner. Council member Scott Benson worked with the city and developer to find an alternative truck route that doesn’t cross the greenway.
- Last month we raised concerns about the city removing unprotected bike lanes during repaving projects, namely the bike lanes on E. Grand Boulevard. DPW followed up and said this was not a city policy. There are proposed plans for adding protected bike lanes on W. Grand Boulevard from Cass to Rosa Parks. We’ll be encouraging the city to continue this design east to replace what was removed.
- Council President Brenda Jones’ Community Engagement Ordinance passed. It requires many city projects that impact the neighborhoods to have community outreach.The installation of bike lanes was one type of project named in the ordinance. After the E. Grand bike lanes were removed, we proposed that the installation or removal of bike lanes should require community outreach. Council member Benson motioned to add this language to the ordinance and it passed unanamously.
- The Michigan State Historic Preservation Office launched an online bike tour of Detroit civil rights sites. We were part of the team that helped determine the 17-mile route between the sites.
- Lastly, Free Bikes 4 Kids really needs volunteers to help clean and refurbish used kids bicycles to giveaway this year. Please signup for a shift or two and help them get these bikes ready.