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 ($)
Joe Louis Greenway
The City of Detroit held its second public design meeting for Phase 1 contruction of the Joe Louis Greenway. If you missed it, the city’s presentation is online. This second meeting was similar to the first but did provide additional updates and details — including this timeline.
There is also an online survey which is open through Monday, November 16th.
While Phase 1 contruction is on a former railroad corridor, other parts of the greenway will be on-road. This include Jos Campau. A mile two-way cycletrack was just completed between McNichols and Carpenter (the border with Hamtramck). This segment connects to the railroad corridor near McNichols and will eventually get extended south through Hamtramck.
A similar but shorter on-road design was recently built on Bagley in Corktown.
The Joe Louis Greenway uses segments of the RiverWalk as well and the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy continues to make progress. The RiverWalk has been extended slightly west of the former Joe Louis Arena site. While the boardwalk in front of the Riverfront Towers is nearly complete, it won’t be opened until the connection to West Riverfront/Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park is completed. That connection will be under construction in the spring as will be the nearby May Creek Greenway. You can read more about these updates, including the new UniRoyal Promenade in the Conservancy’s Fall 2020 newsletter.
MOTION Coalition Mini-Summit
We are members of many advisory committees and task forces, but one that we’ve got much more involved in over the past few years has been the MOTION Coalition at Authority Health. This Coalition focuses on improving public policy to improve health outcomes. Our role has been to promote improvements to the built environment (e.g. Complete Streets, greenways) to increase physical activity and better health.
The Coalition has an annual summit, which is this Tuesday, November 17th starting at 10AM. It’s online and free.
We are moderating the 11:35AM Physical Activity Panel. The panelist include Meagan Elliott PhD, Chief Parks Planner for the City of Detroit, Erika Bocknek, PhD – Wayne State University Family Resilience Lab, and Damon Porter, Detroit Public Schools Community District. We’ll be talking about Detroit parks, greenways, and schools during COVID-19.
Email Dr. Carolyn Custer if you are interested in attending.
- We co-chair the Detroit City Council Green Task Force committee on Green Transportation and Mobility. We host online monthly meetings to discuss projects and policy related green transportation. Email us if you want to be invited to these meetings. The next one is Tuesday, November 17th at 4pm.
- State Ballot Proposal 1 passed overwhelmingly earlier this month. Among other things, this removes the budget cap on park/trail development grants and ensures future state gas and mining revenues go towards land conservation and park development.
- The Ride the Vote event with Council member Scott Benson was a big success. Despite the chilly gray weather, many people came out — and some cast their votes during the ride, too. We had elected officials ride with us, free MoGo bikes, and numerous bike clubs in support. We were on the local news as well. Thanks to all who participated and helped make this event happen. We look forward to doing it again for the next elections, though perhaps during the primaries when the weather is better.
- We highly recommend that everyone sign up to receive updates for the city’s Streets for People transportation planning effort. That plan’s focus is to “make it easier and safer for all Detroiters to move around the city.” If you want to see changes in the streets near you, this is a great opportunity to begin that discussion.
- We also recommend taking this quick survey for the city’s new parks and recreation plan. One interesting change with this new plan is it includes greenways!
- Ford is hosting an online event on Tuesday, November 17th at 6PM to share their vision for Michigan Central, work they’re doing in the community, and their thoughts on what future of mobility might look like. We wouldn’t be surprised if they talked about their connection to the nearby May Creek Greenway. Event Registration
- Talking Greenways in Detroit and What the Future Holds for Them, DetroitIsIt
- An Update on the Joe Louis Greenway Project, DetroitIsIt
- Cleanup work set to begin on next phase of the Joe Louis Greenway on city’s west side, Model D
- Connecting Detroiters with the Joe Louis Greenway, Model D
- Making parks and green spaces easier to access for Detroiters, Model D