Greenways Safety & Education

Healthy biking and walking during the Stay Home order

Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced a Stay at Home order, which includes:

Subject to the exceptions in section 7, all individuals currently living within the State of Michigan are ordered to stay at home or at their place of residence. Subject to the same exceptions, all public and private gatherings of any number of people occurring among persons not part of a single household are prohibited.”

The Exception is:

Individuals may leave their home or place of residence, and travel as necessary: To engage in outdoor activity, including walking, hiking, running, cycling, or any other recreational activity consistent with remaining at least six feet from people from outside the individual’s household.

While announcing the order, Governor Whitmer added, “You can go outside, get that fresh air… just be smart about it.”

UPDATE: In order to comply with this order, the Michigan DNR has announced all campgrounds, overnight lodging facilities, and shelters are closed through April 13th. State parks and recreation areas do remain open.

UPDATE: Kayaking and stand up paddle boarding are also allowed during this time as long as social distancing is practiced.

City of Detroit Statement on Park Usage

The City’s General Services Department (GSD) issued a statement on park usage during the outbreak:

To reduce the spread of COVID-19, the City of Detroit has closed all of its recreation centers through April 5, 2020. Park facilities such as clubhouses, community centers, and public restrooms will also remain closed during this time.

Recent evidence suggests that the COVID-19 virus can live for several days on surfaces such as playgrounds and other “high touch” areas in public spaces. For this reason, please refrain from using playgrounds or other park amenities, and instead focus on taking long walks or bike rides, practicing social distancing of at least 6 feet from other individuals.

Reducing Mental Stress

We have signed on to the National Recreation and Parks Association statement supporting the safe use of parks and open spaces during the COVID-19 outbreak. We agree that we need our parks, trails, sidewalks, and bike pathways more than ever, not just to get around, but to keep our wits.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has flagged mental health as a top concern associated with the COVID-19 outbreak. We recognize that social distancing may take a toll on our mental health, especially during high-stress and anxiety-producing global public health emergencies. We also know that parks provide a connection to the outdoors and green space as well as opportunities for physical activity which studies demonstrate reduces stress and improves mental health.

Our local parks, trails and open spaces have always served as places where people can find respite and seek peace and restoration. During this time of uncertainty, these places are needed now more than ever. Our nation’s park and recreation professionals are working hard to maintain these spaces and keep them safe, accessible and benefiting our communities during these challenging times. Let us all do our part to use them in a way that respects each other and public health guidance.

Sad News from Chicago

John LaPlante recently passed from the coronavirus. He was “a staunch advocate for bicycle lanes” in Chicago, but he also played a major role in Detroit.

LaPlante taught a workshop for the Michigan Department of Transportation on how to better design streets for bicyclists and pedestrians. We were able to first bring that workshop to Detroit in 2009. LaPlante brought his extensive engineering knowledge as well as many years of experience implementing it.

The workshop came at a perfect time as we’d recently helped get the City of Detroit’s non-motorized master plan passed by City Council.  The Department of Public Works was tasked with implementing the plan and the workshop helped inform the city’s traffic engineers on how to do so.

While we’d been advocating for bike lanes, it was a challenge. This helped turn things around. LaPlante made this a key milestone in Detroit’s transportation history. Shortly afterwards, the city added many more bike lanes around the city, including the ones on Dexter, Grand Boulevard, Conner, Kercheval, Lafayette, and more.

This news only reinforces the responsibility all of us share in reducing the COVID-19 impact for everyone in the community. Stay healthy.

Complete Streets Safety & Education

Detroit Public Lighting Improvements Reducing Pedestrian Fatalities

  • 48 fatalities in dark, unlighted conditions from 2013-2014; only 2 from 2016-2017

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Traffic Safety Facts report shows Detroit’s 2015 pedestrian fatality rate of 6.79 deaths per 100,000 residents was the highest among U.S. cities with populations over a half million.  This far outpaced the other cities and was quadruple Chicago’s rate.

Nationally, pedestrian fatality rates have “skyrocketed” according to a recent Detroit Free Press article. While they’ve increased 46% since 2009, Detroit’s pedestrian fatality rate has been in decline since 2016. By 2017, the city’s pedestrian fatality rate had dropped nearly 40% to 4.16 deaths per 100,000. We examined the police report data to determine why.

From 2008 to 2010, there were 4.5 fatalities annually in dark, unlighted conditions. By 2013 and 2014, that annual average had jumped to 24.

According to the Detroit Public Lighting Authority’s 2014 report, “Detroit’s street lighting system was broken. Street lights haven’t been maintained for decades and roughly 40% of the existing street lights were not working.” The Authority began rebuilding the system in February 2014, and by December of 2016, had completed the installation of 65,000 new LED lights.

As these street lights were installed, pedestrian fatalities in dark, unlighted areas dropped drastically from 24 in 2014 to just 1 in 2017.  As expected, the data shows an increase in fatalities in dark, lighted areas during this time, however there was still an overall decrease.

We did not see similar decreases in nearby cities such as Hamtramck or Highland Park.

In fact, Detroit’s significant drop in pedestrian deaths is helping mask a dramatic pedestrian fatality increase occurring statewide. According to the Michigan Traffic Crash Facts web site, since 2009 pedestrian fatalities:

  • Within Detroit have decreased by 16%
  • Outside of Detroit have increased by 47%

Based on our analysis, the public lighting improvements appear to be the primary factor behind Detroit’s dropping fatality rate. Certainly no pedestrian fatalities or serious injury crashes are acceptable, but city’s safety data is improving. We expect this trend to continue as additional Complete Streets treatments, such as road diets, bike lanes and other pedestrian infrastructure improvements reduce motor vehicle speeding and pedestrian exposure leading to a safer, healthier, and more walkable city.

PDF of safety data and chart

Policy Safety & Education

Making sensible bicycle passing laws in Michigan

1280px-Michigan_state_capitolWe track all state legislation that gets introduced pertaining to traffic laws. Why? Like most Michigan cities, Detroit has adopted the state motor vehicle code as local ordinances. When the vehicle code changes, so to do the local traffic ordinances.

In October 2015, we found a safe passing bill for bicycles had been introduced in the Michigan House, which was apparently the same language the city of Grand Rapids used. It required drivers of vehicles to give five feet when passing bicyclists. However, we wouldn’t support it for a couple major reasons.

First, since bicyclists must follow the same rules as the driver of vehicles while on the roadway, they too would have to give five feet when passing other bicyclists.

Second, it mandated that vehicles (and bicyclists) to always pass bicyclists on the left. It would have prohibited passing bicycles on the right, which often happens:

  • When a bicyclist is in a left turn lane
  • When a bicyclist is at a light going straight and there’s a right turn lane next to to them
  • On one-way streets with more than two lanes where bicyclists can ride on either side of the road
  • Where bike lanes are on the left side of the road, like on Belle Isle.

Yes, with this legislation, cars could not legally pass bicycles in the bike lane on Belle Isle. Clearly all the implications of the bill hadn’t been considered.

We contacted the League of Michigan Bicyclists and learned they had a role in the bill language. We outlined our concerns.

Last month, we discovered a new safe passing bill was introduced in the Senate. One of the bills allowed right side passing as we’d proposed. However, the bills required bicyclists on the roadway to pass other bicyclists by five feet. Again, we couldn’t support the bills as written.

This time, working closely with our friends at Henry Ford Health System, we directly contacted the bill sponsors, State Senators David Knezek and Margaret O’Brien. We proposed alternative language so that the five foot requirement only applied to motorists.

And we were successful! Substitute bills (SB 1076 and SB 1077) with our modified language passed out of Senate committee before passing the full Senate. Since these bills aren’t tie-barred (one can pass without the other), it’s possible that just the left side-only passing bill will pass. We’ll see what happens in the House.

Being Realistic

It’s great to have Senate support for improving bicycling in Michigan. Unfortunately, there’s little data that passing bills in other states have had much effect.

These passing bills are in some ways a reaction to the tragedy earlier this year in Kalamazoo. Clearly that driver ignored the state laws regarding driving while under the influence. He all but certainly would have ignored safe passing laws had they already been enacted.

Another consideration is that 36% of all reported Detroit bike crashes with vehicles are hit and run. Fifty percent of the crashes causing a bicyclist fatality are hit and run. If the driver gets away, no new bike law will help.

The Michigan Senate also passed a bill (SB 1078) that sets minimum time of one hour for the existing motorist education requirement on laws pertaining to motorcycles and bicycles. The bill also adds the laws pertaining to pedestrians. The Coalition supports this bill and thinks

Take Action: Please contact your state representative and ask them to support Senate Bills 1076, 1077 and 1078.




At a glance: Michigan Road Funding bills

1280px-Michigan_state_capitolThe Detroit Free Press has a story today on the package of Michigan road funding bills headed to the governor.

While state road funding is one of many used in Detroit, it’s typically not the primary source for trail and bike lane projects. Those projects rely more often on federal grants and philanthropy. Still, this funding is important and does affect our work.

The good news is that unlike legislation introduced in earlier sessions, these do not affect the road funding formulas much. Prior changes included registration and fuel tax increases while effectively shifting funding from cities to the counties. Detroit was set up to lose millions. Other bills bypassed the formula altogether which shortchanged public transit funding and the 1% for non-motorized requirement. Those changes aren’t happening with these bills.

However, one change does give Detroit the flexibility to shift up to 20% of its state road funding to DDOT.

These bills also transfer substantial general fund money to the transportation funding. It’s a major shift from motor vehicle user fees (e.g. vehicle registration and fuel taxes) to general funds that everyone pays through state income and sales taxes. While these transfers have been done in recent years — especially at the federal level — they haven’t been done to this extent in Michigan.

Having more general funding for roads only reinforces the justification for Complete Streets. We’re all paying for the roads so they should be designed for all of us.