Underground Railroad Self-Guided Bike Tour
For Juneteenth 2021, the Detroit Greenways Coalition has created a free self-guided bike tour of Detroit’s historic Underground Railroad sites. The 14.3 mile tour includes 25 stops that help tell the story of those seeking freedom from slavery as well as those that supported abolition.
Highlights along the tour include the Gateway to Freedom International Monument, the site of the Blackburn uprising, the Ulysses Grant house, and Elmwood Cemetery.
Detroit had a significant role supporting the Underground Railroad as well as shaping the politics of abolition during the 1800s. The city’s smaller footprint during that era has made the historic sites relatively close and easily biked to.
The bike tour is available through the Ride with GPS program. The phone app provides turn-by-turn navigation and includes the points of interest along the way — some with photos and links for those seeking additional information.
We’ve also updated our Underground Railroad webpage with information on this bike tour and much more. Additional self-guided tours are also being planned.
Federal Funding Updates
The process to develop the next federal INVEST in America transportation bill continues — and so far, so good. The current House and Senate bills both would double the amount of dedicated funding for active transportation. The Transportation Alternatives program, which funds many local Complete Streets projects, would see a 75% increase. The Recreational Trails Program, which the DNR uses exclusively for its trails, would also increased by 75%.
Both bills also include the Connecting America’s Active Transportation System or CAATS. This new program would provide grant funding for major non-motorized projects such as the Joe Louis Greenway. CAATS would provide $1 billion in funding over 5 years with a mininum 30% for building out networks within communities and 30% for building spines between communities. The minimun construction grant would be $15 million. We’ve been assisting the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy on this.
Included in the House bill are Member Designated Projects, formerly known as earmarks. Our local House members included funding for trail projects and two from Representative Lawrence have made the cut:
- $1.8 million for the Detroit RiverWalk to connect the Riverfront Towers and the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park.
- $3.9 million for the Joe Louis Greenway to connect a future Dequindre Cut extension to Joseph Campau in Hamtramck (see conceptual rendering below).
There are additional positives aspects within the bill as they includes goals for climate change, safety policy (especially for bicyclists and pedestrians), accessibility, and equity — all of which could lead to more Complete Streets being built without the need for dedicated non-motorized funding.
Both the House and Senate bills include funding for freeway removal, which could help with MDOT’s I-375 project, This project has been in the news more lately and was just featured on NBC Nightly News, MSNBC, Click4Detroit, and Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson.
Of course neither bill has been signed into law yet, but it is positive that unlike prior multi-year federal transportation bills, there was little opposition to non-motorized priorities. Given the policy changes the bill includes, INVEST will require some level of bipartisan support.
You may have also heard about the American Jobs Act, an infrastructure stimulus bill. President Joe Biden has said he wants that bill to be separate from INVEST and provide additional funding. It’s too early to know what that bill will include.
American Rescue Plan
Federal funding has also been distributed to cities, counties, and states through the federal American Rescue Plan.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer is proposing $250 million of this funding to be allocated to state park and state trails to help address the backlog of maintenance projects — many of which are on Belle Isle. Her funding proposal would need to be approved by the legislature.
The City of Detroit is receiving $826 million in American Rescue Plan funding. Mayor Mike Duggan has proposed how that funding should be spent, which includes setting aside $400 million to fund the city’s workforce and prevent layoffs.
Of the remaining $426 million, the Mayor has proposed $50 million for parks, walking paths, and the Joe Louis Greenway as part of a larger $100 million investment in parks, recreation, and cultural facilities.
This seems like a wise investment given that residents used greenways much more during the pandemic. (Dequindre Cut usage was up over 40%!) Biking and walking not only improves community health and resiliency to COVID-19, it also increases the effectiveness of vaccines.
- Detroit DPW has announced a Paint the Streets program for residents and community groups interested in adding “artistically painted streets and crosswalks.” The program has developed guidelines for what’s allowed and where this artwork can be located.
- Detroit ranks 61st in latest The Trust for Public Land ParkScore. The bright spot is 80% of residents are within a 10-minute walk of park,” well above the 55% national average.
- We will be joining the SmithGroup and others for a Rails-to-Trail Conservancy webinar on June 23rd at 1pm called, “Creating Inclusive & Equitable Trail Development: Case Studies in Detroit and Milwaukee”. Detroit and the Joe Louis Greenway will be a major focus of the webinar. Registration is free.
- Did you know the Detroit Department of Public Works (DPW) has Instagram and TikTok pages where they’ve posted some brief, introductory, and fun videos about Complete Streets, biking, and more. We especially like the ones on Grand River and Bagley.
- WeRun313 also posted this city-made video that features them and talks about the Joe Louis Greenway and more. This is a much watch!
- Have you signed up for the Detroit Bike Challenge yet? This free City of Detroit program that’s encouraging more people to ride bikes continues through October. Your rides help you earn points and get the chance to win prizes. The city has released this brief video to help promote it. There’s also a Juneteenth ride planned at 11am from the Heilmann Recreation Center on the Eastside.
- ‘Greenway Stimulus’ Could Bring Boom in Bike and Walking Trails, Bloomberg CityLab
- In absence of Detroit Slow Roll, biking crew hosts Soul Roll for long rides around city, Detroit Free Press ($)
Happy Earth Day!
Updates from around the Joe
The pandemic has halted many things, but not the construction of new trails, especially those that are part of the Joe Louis Greenway.
Phase 1 construction hasn’t officially broken ground, but the City of Detroit has been busy clearing the land in preparation for it. The City has also been transferring land parcels from the Detroit Land Bank Authority to the project to help create neighborhood connections and more.
The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy is continuing to make progress on the Southwest Greenway (formerly called the May Creek Greenway.) According to their Spring 2021 newsletter, “With the final easements in place and the design stage nearing completion, the Conservancy will break ground this summer.”
The Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority has selected a design for the greenspace between the U.S. Port of Entry plaza and West Jefferson near Historic Fort Wayne. This segment will include a shared-use path. They also have this video that describes the project’s design in more detail.
Much discussion has been happening at the city and federal level about additional funding for these projects. There’s talk of a federal infrastructure bill, a renewal of the federal transportation bill, and more. Detroit Is It published this article about the Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act that we’ve been supporting. We’re optimistic these discussions will eventually result in dollars.
There’s also been a number of news article about these projects:
- Joe Louis Greenway groundbreaking planned for mid-spring 2021, Detroit to release framework plan, Model D
- Joe Louis, Southwest Greenways to start construction soon, Urbanize Detroit
- Detroit greenway projects blaze trails for recreation, tourism, Detroit News ($)
Great Lakes Way
If the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan has its way, southeast Michigan will soon have a regional trail of national significance called the Great Lakes Way…
The Community Foundation together with regional partners developed a vision map for the Great Lakes Way – an interconnected set of 156 miles of blueways or water trails and 160 miles of greenways stretching from southern Lake Huron through western Lake Erie. The vision is that all residents and visitors of southeast Michigan are connected to and benefit from world-class freshwater, wildlife, recreation, and heritage right in our backyard through the Great Lakes Way.
An emphasis will be placed on ensuring that all residents and visitors – people of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities and interests – feel welcomed and share in its benefits. This Great Lakes Way will improve close-to-home outdoor recreation, enhance regional competitive advantage, help attract and retain employees for businesses, and celebrate, protect and capitalize on our region’s defining natural resources.
SEMCOG has also created an interactive project map with additional details.
From our perspective, this is another tool for encouraging communities to build Complete Streets that don’t have a history of doing so. We also asked that the Great Lakes Way infrastructure works for people of all ages and abilities. We don’t want to see a community install some sharrows and think the job is done.
- Sign up now for the free Detroit Bike Challenge. We are helping the City of Detroit with this program that encourages more people to ride bikes in the city, but especially to work. The Challenge runs from May through October. You record your rides, earn points, and get the chance to win prizes. There are also monthly mini-challenges as well. Detroit riders will also be competing with other cities across the country. There is no cost to you, so register now and start earning points.
- Detroit Bike to Work Day is May 21st. We’ll have more information available soon.
- Last year, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced the MI Healthy Climate Plan to make the state carbon-neutral by 2050. We’re on the Transportation and Mobility Working Group and supporting policies that promote more trips by walking and biking — two great carbon neutral transportation options. There are two public listening sessions planned: April 22nd at 10:30am and May 5th at 6pm. Please consider joining one of those two sessions.
- House Bill 4014 that allows cities to post safer speed limits has now passed the House and is in the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. We worked with Council member Scott Benson who got a City Council resolution in support of the bill.
- Have you seen the work the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy is doing on the new RiverWalk section between Mt. Elliott Park and Gabriel Richard Park? From their newsletter: “Crews are currently on site at the Uniroyal property clearing land and placing rip rap along the water’s edge. This stone barrier will help to prevent erosion, and will serve as a base for the Riverwalk and a habitat for fish species.”
- Ferndale and Pleasant Ridge are making progress on a long-sought Woodward Avenue road diet. This project would add bike lanes, shorten pedestrian crosswalks, and improve safety on this segment of Woodward. While not in Detroit, we’ve been very supportive since the project touches the border at Eight Mile. Those bike lanes could eventually be extended into Detroit.
- Lastly, we’re taking over Model D’s social media for the week of April 26th. Watch out!
People making moves
There has been a large number of moves and retirements announced recently of people involved in greenways. We want to recognize them and offer our appreciation for their continued commitment to making Detroit a better, greener place to walk, roll, bike, and paddle.
- Mariam Noland, the longtime leader of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan announced her upcoming retirement. The Community Foundation has been the major catalyst for greenways in Detroit and across Southeast Michigan. It’s doubtful there would be a Dequindre Cut without the Foundation and Mariam’s leadership.
- Paul Yauk, the State Trails Coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has retired. We worked with Paul for many years and he developed a great enthusiasm for what was happening in Detroit. We’ll never forget when major rain storm rolled in on us during our Iron Belle bike tour, a ride we would have cancelled if not for Paul’s optimism. “We can do this!”
- Jodee Raines, our former program officer at the Erb Family Foundation is now the COO at New Detroit, Inc. We’ll be working again with Melissa Damaschke who was named Vice President of Programs. Both Jodee and Melissa are strong supporters of our work to get green stormwater infrastructure routinely incorporated into all our greenway and streetscape projects.
- Julie Edwards, an MDOT Metro Region planner has retired. We’ve known Julie for many years as she has helped bring a multi-modal perspective to MDOT’s role in regional transportation. We’ve promised her a bike tour after the I-375 project is finished.
- Meagan Elliott, the City of Detroit’s Chief Parks Planner is now the Deputy Chief Financial Officer for Development & Grants. Meagan has played a major role in the Joe Louis Greenway’s planning. She’s also helped incorporate greenways into the city’s park plans. In her new role, she’ll be leading city efforts to find funding to get these projects (and others) built. Congratulations, Meagan, and we’re glad your still involved.
- Council member Raquel Castañeda-López just announced she will not be pursuing a third term. Raquel has been one of our biggest supporters at Council. She was part of a study tour that visited European cities and learned how they were designed for better bicycling. She also has participated in Bike to Work Day on her very cool folding bike!
- This Detroit Running Group is Transforming Lives in the Community, Two Miles at a Time, Runner’s World
- High Gear: A preference for American-made products and simpler lifestyles has shifted Detroit Bikes’ fortunes to another level, dBusiness
- Great parks don’t just have rec space. They create jobs, Fast Company
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