I-94 Modernization Project. We are critically disappointed that funding for this project has apparently been delayed by two decades. The Complete Streets/Multimodal portions of this project were highlighted in prior five-year plans, but with the new time frame, we see these as broken promises to reconnect the community.
Hubbell Street bridge deck replacement over I-96. We would like to see this bridge cross section improved to better accommodate bicyclists with bike lanes, preferably grade-separated bike lanes. This segment of Hubbell is very popular for Detroit bicyclists since it is easier to cross I-96 at Hubbell since there are no interchange nor grade changes. The popularity of this route is shown on the Strava heatmap for bicyclists.
Virgil Street bridge deck replacement. This bridge should be also designed to better accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists, preferably with grade-separated bike lanes. This bridge provides a critical community connection across I-96 with Eliza Howell Park to the north and Rouge Park on the south. City of Detroit plans envision this bridge carrying the Rouge River Greenway.
Pedestrian Bridges. We like seeing the Vassar and Sawyer bridges being replaced as well as the addition of a Verne bridge over I-94. However, we want the Spruce bridge added to the plan as well. This is a critical community connection for North Corktown with no legal, direct, or viable alternative for bicyclists.
Fort Street (M-85) road rehabilitation from Rosa Parks to Griswold. We want this designed as a Complete Street. It provides a critical, direct connection between the Gordie Howe International Bridge and Downtown Detroit.
US-12 and Gordie Howe International Bridge. We are glad to see these projects moving forward within this plan. We have led the non-motorized advocacy on these projects and look forward to celebrating their completion.
Carbon Neutrality. We see no mention of MDOT plans to reduce GHG emissions and help make Michigan carbon neutral per the Governor’s commitment. In fact, the plan includes many major and minor widening projects that will induce higher VMT and increase GHG emissions.
At first glance, it appeared this five-year plan removed prior MDOT commitments for the Iron Belle Trail/Conner Creek Greenway bridge over I-94. After conversations with the City of Detroit and MDOT, we learned that it wasn’t removed. It was no longer individually identified and had been wrapped into another I-94 phase line item. This is confusing. We ask that MDOT consistently list projects for each five-year plan so the public can more accurately determine what changes exist or do not exist.
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.
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.
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.
The City of Detroit announced the Phase 1 construction of the Joe Louis Greenway. This will mostly be on 3-mile section of the former Conrail property between Warren and Fullerton Avenues. Construction is expect to begin in the spring of 2021. The City adds, “Phase 1 will include separate paths for slow and fast users (such as walkers and cyclists) and will provide safe street crossings and neighborhood connections.” Awesome!
For those disappointed that only 3 miles are being built should remember that Phase 1 of the Dequindre Cut was less than a mile. Greenways that require environmental cleanup and are more than just a strip of asphalt or gravel are expensive. This is a fairly good start that will build momentum for further investment.
In the meantime, the City is asking everyone to take this very interesting survey to gather your thoughts and expected uses. The survey will close on August 21st.
The City is hosting an online public meeting on August 13th at 6pm. This meeting is primarily focused on residents in the 48210, 48238, and 48204 ZIP codes as well as Dearborn residents. The City “heard loud and clear” during the Framework meetings that local residents wanted a lead voice in the greenway’s design through their community.
I-94 Project Improvements
For more than a decade, we’ve highlighted our concerns about MDOT’s I-94 project through Detroit. When the City and other stakeholders joined in, MDOT listened. They’ve made nearly all of the changes we’d asked for, including fewer service drives, more connections over the freeway, and improved pedestrian crossings. Those changes were just approved by the Federal Highway Administration and are posted online.
MDOT is hosting two online public meetings on August 13th at 9:30AM and 5:30PM to discuss this milestone and provide additional information.
As part of the project, MDOT has already removed the Second Avenue bridge over I-94. The new bridge should be open by the fall of 2021. The Cass Bridge will be replaced starting next year. While the Third Avenue bridge was to be removed next year (and not replaced), MDOT is now looking at repurposing this bridge to maintain access in the near term.
The changes to the I-94 project also include a fully separated trail bridge for the Conner Creek Greenway and Iron Belle Trail. This bridge connects to the existing trail north of Harper Avenue as well as the new Chandler Park trail at Shoemaker. The path will continue south as a two-way cycletrack on Conner Avenue to E. Jefferson.
We brought forward many issues relating to the FCA Expansion and how it affected the Conner Creek Greenway. The Greenway was routed on portions of St. Jean which no longer exist. We were concerned the Conner Avenue bike lanes might go away as well. That is not the case as the State of Michigan recently awarded road funding to improve Conner Avenue near the plant and shift the bike lanes to the eastside of the road.
“FCA appreciates the coordination of efforts between the City of Detroit and MDOT to secure funding for local road improvements that will support the addition of 5,000 new jobs at our Mack and Jefferson North Assembly plants,” said Marc Brazeau, head of Logistics – North America, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. “We are equally pleased that these improvements will benefit local residents and businesses, as accommodations will be made for bicyclists and pedestrian access to local core services and recreational facilities.”
Complete Streets and COVID
The Detroit Department of Public Works (DPW) has been continuing their Complete Streets projects, working on a transportation master plan called “Streets for People”, and responding to the COVID pandemic. Caitlin Malloy-Marcon, Deputy Director of Complete Streets recently presented updates during a recent Green Task Force Transportation and Mobility committee.
The Complete Streets projects will mostly be completed this year. This includes Grand River (and the Grand Parklet), Livernois, Riopelle (in Eastern Market), Jos Campau, Conant, Kercheval, W. McNichols, and Rosa Parks (from W. Grand Boulevard to Clairmont). East and West Warren are slated for 2021, but require additional community engagement.
Complete Streets are more important than ever. With fewer vehicles on the roads, increased speeding has been reported. Detroit residents also continue to request speed humps to reduce speeding in residential areas. There are now 6,000 speed hump requests in the queue. This is far more than the city has funding for so they are prioritizing locations near schools and parks.
The “Streets for People” planning is underway though they are largely doing data collection at this time while trying to determine how to best enage the public during the pandemic. They have found that 40% of all reported collisions occur on just 3% of city streets. They have also developed educational materials. We’ll certainly share more information about this project as it progresses.
Lastly, DPW has been responding to the pandemic by making it easier for businesses to offer outdoor dining within public right-of-ways, i.e. sidewalks, alleys, and roads. They’ve streamlined the permitting processes, and where requested, closed some roads to vehicle traffic. It’s been a “great success” though most of the requests have been in the downtown area. They are also looking to pursue similar efforts that would open right-of-ways for outdoor retail as well as recreation near schools, especially since some gyms may be repurposed as classrooms.
Robots on Sidewalks
Amazon and FedEx want automated delivery devices as a last-mile solution for delivering packages. They have been working with legislators to change state law and allow autonomous half-ton, motorized vehicles on all Michigan sidewalks operating at 10 MPH — and grant them all the rights pedestrians.
What could possibly go wrong?
From the start, we’ve been leading on this issue, creating an analysis of how other states regulate these, and highlighting issues with the proposed language. We’ve focused on protecting existing pedestrian access (including those with disabilities), while keeping them out of bike lanes and trails. Perhaps most importantly, we’ve asked for local control so cities like Detroit have the flexibility to manage these new devices and preserve a walkable environment. Council member Scott Benson introduced a resolution (later passed by Council) that also asked for local control.
The legislation (SB 892) passed out of committee with Senator Adam Hollier (D-Detroit) opposed. It did include some of what we asked for, including a prohibition on trails. It doesn’t specifically allow them in bike lanes. The local control is extremely limited. It also allows any individual to operate these devices and for reasons other than delivery. On a positive note, it does include improved pedestrian crosswalk provisions which we strongly support.
We’ll continue working with others, including the Michigan Municipal League and Detroit City Council to try influencing legislators to pass a bill that doesn’t prioritize the delivery business over walkability.
Bike lane maintenance. Maintenance has been reduced during the pandemic, but it’s starting to improve. However, given expected cuts in future state road funding (from decreases in fuel sales), DPW is making adjustments. Their updated maintenance plan should be released soon. One bright spot: their new bike lane mini-sweepers are being tested and should make it much easier to sweep and vacuum the bike lanes.
Greenway maintenance. With grant funding from the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, we’ve been able to contract the Greening of Detroit to do maintenance work and tree plantings along greenways. We’re also using this funding to make repairs and improve the automated bicyclist and pedestrian counters on both the Dequindre Cut and Cass Ave.
Michigan Trails Publication. You may have seen the high-quality printed magazine called Michigan Trails at your local bike shop. You may have noticed in recent issues that Detroit trails were excluded. We worked with the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance — a major sponsor of the publication — to get the Detroit trails re-added. The Michigan Trails website now links to our new Detroit trails page with a map, photos, and destination highlights aimed more at those unfamiliar with what’s happening in Detroit.
I-375 Alternatives. We were concerned about MDOT’s proposal to delay construction funding for this project until 2027. The project would greatly improve walking and biking along the entire eastside of downtown, including connections into Eastern Market. It would also allow significant green stormwater management handling runoff the many large roads and paved parking lots in this area. This month the SEMCOG Transportation Coordinating Council rejected MDOT’s request. The local press has now picked up on the story. We’re continuing to advocate for this project happening sooner. We believe the full story has not yet been revealed.
Detroit Bikes. For its 125th anniversary, Schwinn is collaborating with Detroit Bikes on a limited-edition cruiser inspired by the 1965 Schwinn Collegiate Deluxe. Detroit Bikes is now producing upwards of 10,000 bike per year in the city.
Erb Family Foundation. We want to thank the Erb Family Foundation for their continued support of the Detroit Greenways Coalition and our efforts to get green stormwater infrastructure routinely included in all park, greenways, and Complete Streets projects.
Why is the Greenways Coalition involved in a freeway project? Freeways in Detroit have disconnected neighborhoods across the city for those on foot or bike. They disconnect them for motor vehicles, too, which funnels all traffic to use high-stress bridges (e.g. Forest and Warren over the Lodge or Mt. Elliott and Conner over I-94.) While Detroit freeways have pedestrian bridges, they are often poorly maintained and have ramps that dump you onto the service drive with speeding motorists.
The I-94 project in Detroit is one attempt to make improvements. We didn’t like the early designs and starting raising issues a decade ago. With the city’s actions, MDOT has proposed major design changes. Key bridges we bike and walk over will no longer be permanently removed — and they’ll be improved. Those pedestrian bridges will be converted to Complete Streets with wide sidewalks, bike lanes, and no ramps. They’re will be fewer new service drives.
One major highlight is the new Iron Belle Trail/Conner Creek Greenway trail segment and bridge over I-94. This provides a safer alternative to the busy (and getting busier thanks to FCA) Conner Avenue.
We’ve written more about this update on our web site with links to MDOT’s Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement or DSEIS.
Though not part of the DSEIS, the Second Avenue bridge over I-94 is getting rebuilt next year and it will be a major improvement for non-motorized users. The Cass bridge will be replaced in 2021. The entire project won’t be done until about 2036, so stay healthy in order to be around for the grand opening.
Joe Louis Greenway
The City of Detroit has wrapped up a second round of public meetings for the greenway. This time the conversations dove into more details regarding design, affordable housing, economic development, and more.
One of the biggest changes has been the greenway’s routing in Southwest Detroit. We had originally proposed that the greenway follow W. Vernor since it already had bike lanes and was part of the Southwest Detroit Greenlink. However, the current bike lanes are not ideal and certainly not family friendly. The road is not wide enough for other designs that would preserve the well-used vehicle parking. So, the city is routing the greenway further south and using W. Jefferson. This change connects more points of interest, including the recently renovated Riverside Park, Fort Wayne, the Gordie Howe International Bridge, Woodmere, and Patton Park.
The Framework Plan is expected to be completed by February.
Detroit’s automotive heritage casts a heavy shadow over its trails and bicycling history. This report helps shine a light on the latter.
As summary of it with the graphic timeline is now on our web site. There’s also a link to the full PDF version.
Atwater Beach/Valade Park construction continues on the RiverWalk. There’s no announced opening date as of yet but we expect it to be in late October.
Spirit Plaza is under construction as it receive an $800,000 upgrade after Council voted to make it permanent.
The city’s numerous Complete Streets projects are under construction as well, including Jos Campau (part of the Jos Campau greenway), Bagley Street (part of the Iron Belle Trail), and Livernois (part of the Joe Louis Greenway.) These are major reconstruction projects that are affecting local businesses along them. Please consider supporting these businesses.
We recently biked over to Windsor (using the Tunnel Bus bike racks!) to present at the Trans-Canada Trail – Ontario annual meeting. They were very interested in learning what is happening with Detroit and Michigan trails now that we will eventually be connected via the Gordie Howe International Bridge. There is a great deal of interest in how we promote trail tourism on both sides of the border.
We were recently featured on the Beaumont Housecall podcast with Dr. Asha Shajahan. We talked about biking, trails, health and much more.
There isn’t an Open Streets in Detroit this year, but Dearborn is hosting their first! It’s Sunday, October 6th from 11am to 3pm. More details
Two community workshops are planned for Corktown on October 9th and 10th. They are focused on transportation, including parking, streetscapes, circulation (e.g. 1 & 2-way traffic), and mobility. These workshops are also in partnership with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) who is kicking off a Michigan Avenue Planning & Environmental Linkages Study. This 16-month MDOT study will “formalize a future” for Michigan Ave., from Campus Martius to I-96/75 interchange.
Lastly, the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance is having their Annual Meeting on October 19th at Belle Isle. It’s a free event but you must register. As part of the event, we are leading a short bike tour at 10am, but there’s also a paddle trip and history walk.