Categories
Complete Streets Greenways Newsletter

News from the Trail — December 2020

Giving Tuesday

Two Ways to Give

We have a fundraiser on Facebook. Facebook is matching the first $7 million in all donations starting on #GivingTuesday at 8 AM.

If you prefer, you can setup your own Facebook fundraiser with the Detroit Greenways Coalition as the beneficially.

We also have a donation page on our website with payments handled securely through PayPal. There’s the option for regular monthly or annual donations as well.

There is no better time to make Detroit a more walkable and more bikeable city. We’ve seen COVID-19 affect our family, friends, and communities. We’ve been unable to do many things we enjoy doing while experiencing the added stress of social distancing.

As a result, many of us have been spending more time outside, at the parks and trails, on our bikes, in our kayaks, running, or walking. It’s helping keep us physically, mentally, and socially healthy, while strenghening our resistance to potential illness. For many it’s also providing an alternative safe travel option with good social distancing.

Others are discovering these outdoor options as well. We’ve seen trail usage increase by over 40% on the Dequindre Cut this year. We’ve also see a growing momentum to make Detroit a more convenient, safe, and fun place to walk and bike — a place with more trails, more Complete Streets (e.g. better sidewalks, bike lanes, speed humps), and more greenspace.

Your donation will help keep pushing this vision forward, not only for us, but for many who will benefit from a safer and healthier city yet are unable to contribute. Your support will enable us to continue our advocacy and technical assistance citywide as we have since 2007.

There an added incentive for donating this year. Under the CARES Act, individual taxpayers can deduct up to $300 in cash donations — even when taking the standard deduction.

We appreciate any and all support.

Stay Healthy,


Todd Scott, Executive Director


Michigan Avenue Improvements

Debris-covered Michigan Avenue bike lanes and sidewalk near the LodgeThere is an opportunity for major improvements to Michigan Avenue’s design through Corktown so mark your calendar for Tuesday, December 2nd at 6pm. MDOT is hosting a virtual public meeting to collect your input. (Meeting details) They need your input!

We’ve come quite a ways from ten years ago when we first asked MDOT to add regular bike lanes to this state trunkline. It was met with a great deal of resistance from both legal and engineering standpoints. We continued to push, find answers to the issues, and was eventually successful. Later those became protected bike lanes.

Now we can push this design forward into something much better, e.g. raised or sidewalk-level bike lanes with curb protection, protected intersections, wider sidewalks, and green stormwater infrastructure. One priority we already shared with MDOT is the need for a maintenance plan. We want a great design that’s also free of debris.

This isn’t just a planning exercise. $20 million in construction funding has been allocated for 2022.

Happening in parallel is the MDOT Connected and Automated Vehicles (CAV) Corridor project along Michigan Avenue and I-94 between Detroit and Ann Arbor. They are looking to design “an innovative infrastructure solution that allows for a mix of connected and autonomous vehicles, traditional transit vehicles, shared mobility, and freight and personal vehicles.” We’re on the project’s stakeholder group and really want to ensure that shiny new transportation concepts don’t interfere with the tried-and-true mobility provided by biking and walking. We’re optimistic given that Mark de la Vergne, Detroit’s former Cheif of Mobility Innovation is now leading this project for the contractor, Cavanue.

Of course Ford’s Michigan Central project is along this section of Michigan Avenue. They recently held a public meeting to share more of their vision for the former train station, surrounding campus, and May Creek Greenway. There’s additional information in this Detroit News article, Ford unveils Michigan Central site plan for Corktown.Rendering of the future Michigan Central Station by Ford


Belle Isle Improvements

Central Avenue on Belle IsleThe good news? The Strand pavement near the Coast Guard station has been replaced. The bad news? The last we checked, some sections of the bike lane are in really poor condition here. Still, you should be able to get around them.

Other updates include the reconfiguration of Central Avenue on the eastern portion of the island. It’s now marked for eastbound vehicle travel only with a two-way shared-use pathway. We would have preferred seeing vehicles prohibited altogether from this roadway, but this is an improvement — and the surface has been repaved.

Phase 1 of the new Iron Belle Trail is also under construction from the beach to the Boat Club. This will be a much welcomed trail for all but the faster, fitness-oriented bicyclists who will prefer staying on the road. The DNR also recommended $1.35 million in Land Water and Conservation Funds (LWCF) to build Phase 2 of this trail which will eventually extend this trail around the island.

We are continuing to advocate for safer bike lane designs on the island, but especially for the MacArthur Bridge. Unfortunately we do not have any updates at this time.


Other Updates

  • Ford Hunger March monumentThe grand opening of the new Fort Street Bridge Park was at the end of October. This park gives recognition to the Ford Hunger March of 1932 with a monument constructed from parts of the original historic bridge. There are additional bridge parts remaining and we’re trying to see if they can be used for a gateway monument to welcome bicyclists and pedestrians entering Detroit via the Gordie Howe International Bridge.
  • We were glad to provide some modest assistance to Council Scott Benson, Greenway Guy Tim Springer, Henry Ford Health System, and others with their Bikes 4 Essential Workers program. It was a great success despite the lack availability of new bikes.
  • The City of Ferndale has a public meeting on December 9th at 6:30pm to review a draft of their updated mobility plan. This is a great opportunity to discuss how to make it easier when biking and walking between Detroit and Ferndale.
  • There’s still time to get involved in the City of Detroit’s Streets for People planning project as well as take an online survey for the Parks and Rec Plan update. Both are very important planning efforts.
  • Detroiter Kristin Shaw is writing a book on women in the mobility/transportation space and she’s looking for nominations of stories to tell — or perhaps your story. Entries are open until the end of the year at www.womendrivenmobility.com.
  • Lastly, Free Bikes 4 Kids Detroit continues to look for volunteers to help them clean, prep, and giveaway kids bikes this year. Their volunteer signup is online.

Additional Reading

Huron-Clinton Metroparks to establish Detroit presence through agreement with Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, Crain’s Detroit Business.

Drivers let their focus slip as they get used to partial automation, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Piloting wayfinding to connect community to resource centers in Detroit, Smart Growth America.

Categories
Complete Streets

The Community decides on Complete Streets

Photo from Alexis Wiley’s Twitter feed

Mayor Mike Duggan led a community meeting to discuss four streetscape options for W. McNichols just west of Livernois. The first was to rebuild what already existed, a two-lane road with on-street parking on both sides. The second and third options added landscaping and bumpouts. The fourth converted one side of the on-street parking into a two-way bicycle lane.

After a couple hours of community input and discussion, the group voted. It came down to options 3 and 4. While business owners preferred the additional parking in option 3, the city had created an off street parking lot for 88 vehicles — and could add more.

The vote was 39 to 12 in favor of adding the bike lanes. Project construction will begin later this year.

Approaches to Advocacy

Some bicycle and Complete Streets advocates take more adversarial approach (e.g. the War on Cars.). Some bring an intellectual elitism that is willing to belittle local decision making in communities they know little about. We don’t partner with these groups.

We have confidence that Complete Streets can help solve existing community issues like speeding, pedestrian safety, blight removal, access to parks, economic development, etc. The key is to bring all the information to a pragmatic discussion and let the community decide. They may not always support bike lanes and other Complete Streets designs — and advocates may have to live with that.

Certainly there are voices opposing Complete Street designs. While there are valid concerns, most aren’t well support by data. We’ve heard bike lanes emphatically called “the most dangerous thing in Detroit.” We’ve heard bike lanes blamed for causing one persons car crash. (They didn’t. We pulled the police report.) We heard our electronic bike counters on E. Jefferson were wrong because some only saw about three bicyclists in a month. We’ve heard that bike lanes being built for white suburbanites despite the very visible, growing Detroit #bikelife movement.

What have we not heard many say publicly (at least not directly)? That they want to continue driving faster than the speed limit and be able to pass traffic in the curb lane. Bike lanes help curb those unsafe practices. It’s one of the major benefits to bike lanes. They reduce speeding and reduce crashes among everyone: motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists. Bike lanes are not just for bicyclists’ benefit. They especially improve pedestrian safety in a city with one of the nation’s highest pedestrian fatality rates. They’re like speed humps for major roads.

There will nearly always be opposition any time changes are proposed. There was opposition to the Dequindre Cut before it was built. Once it was a success, the change was embraced, which helped open the door for future greenways in Detroit.

Successful Complete Streets can do the same.

Additional Reading

Categories
Complete Streets Greenways

A Change of Plans: Maurice and Janet

Major changes are coming to the leadership of the Detroit Planning and Development Department (PDD). Planning Director Maurice Cox and Deputy Director Janet Attarian are both stepping down. Both have had a tremendous impact on moving Detroit forward, but especially with parks, greenways, and biking infrastructure. We’ve really enjoyed working closely with them and learning from them.

One especially memorable moment with Maurice occurred shortly after he came to Detroit. He pulled together many of the long time bicycle advocates with city staff and we met in a Mayor’s office. Here he announced that he wanted to make Detroit the best bicycling city in America. There wasn’t much reaction. We were in shock to hear this coming from the city.

It was also Maurice who early on declared that protected bike lanes would be the design minimum for major Detroit streets. He promoted the 20-minute neighborhood idea, where every Detroiter could walk or bike for their non-work errands in under 20 minutes. He expanded the Joe Louis Greenway vision from a mere trail to neighborhood revitalization tool. He was adamant that the Detroit Riverfront should be developed with world class public spaces for Detroiters.

While he and his team achieved much more, we must mention that he also was a regular bike commuter.

Maurice will step down in September and begin his new role as Planning Director for the City of Chicago.

A Bike Infrastructure Rock Star

Bike to Work Day 2018 with Ashok Patel, Prasad Nannapaneni, and Janet Attarian

Losing Janet is equally tough. She came to Detroit via Chicago where she was their Complete Streets Director. She also led the development of hundreds of other projects, including the McDonald’s Bicycle Station, Bloomingdale Trail framework plan, and more.

We used to hustle to bring bike and trail design rock stars to Detroit for workshops, but with Janet, we had one here full-time. She brought a wealth of experience and a pragmatic approach to making safer streets for everyone. She led the design and development of the protected bike lane designs, such as the ones on Cass and E. Jefferson.

She was also instrumental for the framework planning currently underway with the Joe Louis Greenway. At that time, we weren’t certain that was necessary. Now we now it was the right decision. This greenway planning is bringing a much more diverse community voice into the project that strengthens the greenway’s support.

Janet’s last day with the City is July 26th. She’s being coy about where she is headed, but has said she “will not be going far.”

What’s Next?

It remains to be seen who will be the permanent replacements for these positions. We can easily imagine Mayor Mike Duggan seeking equally qualified candidates. In the meantime, there is still a fully-staffed planning department that supports greenways and Complete Streets. Two former members of PDD are now in DPW and GSD as this work has spread between departments.

In short, we’re not worried.

Categories
Complete Streets In the Media Safety & Education

Why the Cass Avenue bike lanes?

Mini-Festivus poles separate the bike lane

WDET held its annual Festivus Airing of Grievances show and perhaps surprisingly the Cass Avenue bike lanes rose to the top.

Show panelist Candice Fortman said, “The problem is that they put these bike lanes in, so now you’ve got the bike lanes and you’ve got the parking in the middle of the street, and then you’ve got one lane of traffic, and buses and cars and snow, and it’s too much.” Panelist Matt Marsden said he doesn’t see people on it but flashed his behind-the-windshield bias by saying he wasn’t a biker, “I’m a commuter” apparently unaware that bicyclists commute, too.

These grievances are not news to us, but think many are missing the larger picture.

We did appreciate the WDET commenter “Jennifer” who correctly noted that Cass Avenue got bike lanes in exchange for MDOT making Woodward much less safe for biking.

MDOT knowingly made Woodward significantly less safe for bicyclists by allowing the streetcar to operate at the curbs. Since the rails have been installed, we know of bicyclists breaking collar bones, hips, and loosing front teeth due to crashes. Though not a bicyclist, in August 2016 a Detroit senior crashed his moped and later died due to the rails according to the Detroit Police Department report. And because everyone knew these types of events would occur ahead of time, the Federal Transit Authority required an improved parallel route for bicyclists. That’s Cass Avenue.

Any discussion about the discomfort motorists have with the new Cass should be weighed against the sacrifices bicyclists made (and continue to make) on Woodward. While every road user group has made compromises with the redesign of Cass and Woodward, bicyclists crashes and injuries from the streetcar rails are atop the list.

But let’s also address the other Cass bike lane grievances.

There’s no one using them

Clearly that’s untrue. Back in September 2015 we took bicycle counts on Cass and recorded 300 in 24 hours on a Wednesday. There were probably another 100 we missed that rode on the sidewalk. That’s comparable to the bike counts we see on the Dequindre Cut at Gratiot.

With the new Cass Avenue bike lanes, we expect this counts to be much higher. Automated bike counters are being installed along Cass and we should have real data this summer.

A lane was taken away for motorists

Some segments of Cass south of I-75 did lose a lane but traffic counts showed they were not necessary to handle the traffic volumes. Most of Cass was and still is a two-lane road. The lanes used to be wider and people would drive in the parking lanes. That option has been removed. The expected result is more motorists will drive the speed limit and there will be fewer sideswipes from cars passing other cars on the right. Lower speeds bring a significantly safer environment for all modes, but especially pedestrians and bicyclists. Lower travel speeds have also been shown to improve sales for local businesses along the streets, too.

Pedestrians also benefit from these narrower lanes as there is now a much shorter crossing distance.

Motorists now open their doors into traffic

This is not new. However, before motorists could swing open their doors without looking and not get hit by another car due to the over-sized vehicle lanes. The newer narrower lanes make it more important to look before opening ones door into traffic. Opening a door into oncoming cars and bicyclists is illegal. We recommend learning the Dutch Reach.

Ideally there would have been more room for parking so people would be more comfortable exiting their cars, but there wasn’t enough room. This was one compromise among many.

There’s no education on bike lanes

This is an underlying problem in Michigan. There isn’t a mechanism for informing drivers about new road designs. There’s no longer testing for driver’s license renewals. MDOT has bike lane brochure for motorists, but it’s not been widely printed or distributed. The Detroit Greenways Coalition, City of Detroit, Jefferson East Inc., MoGo Bike Share, SEMCOG and others are working to develop and share information. While there is funding at the state level for education on these laws, we’re finding it very difficult to use effectively.

Change is hard but especially when there is not a good existing process for education. As we often tell people, bike lanes are the new roundabouts. Everyone will eventually figure this out. We’ll all work together to try make that happen sooner than later.

Photo by L. Demchak

Grievances from Bicyclists

We’ve also heard complaints from bicyclists, mostly about the maintenance of the new lanes with respect to debris and snow. The Detroit Department of Public Works is responsible for their maintenance and have told us the recent snow storm has been a major learning lesson for their staff. Certainly there is a learning curve to maintaining this new style of bike lane and Detroit will eventually get past this as other cities have.

Motorists are parking and sometimes driving in bike lanes. From what we’ve seen, there’s not been much enforcement. There has been a grace period to allow time for motorists to learn how to drive and park legally, but that won’t last forever.

Lastly, we’ve heard from fast cyclists saying they don’t feel safe in the protected bike lanes — and that’s totally understandable. The new lanes are designed for slower, less confident bicyclists. MoGo riders, too. Under Michigan law, bicyclists can ride in the vehicle travel lanes and are not required to use the bike lanes. As far as we know there are no plans to change the traditional bike lanes on parallel routes along Second and Third Avenue.

If there are design deficiencies at specific locations along the route (e.g. bad sight lines), the city has shown interest in tweaking the design to make it better.

And it will get better. It’s part of our mission to make certain.

UPDATE: We were reminded by Alice on Twitter that left turns at many intersections are now more challenging for bicyclists using the bike lanes. It’s more difficult to get to the vehicle lane and make the left. This is certainly a trade off of having protected bike lanes. At some intersections, a two-stage turn can help especially those with green bike boxes. 

Categories
Complete Streets Greenways History Newsletter Policy

News from the Trail – December 2017

Happy 149th Anniversary!

The first bicycle was ridden in Detroit 149 years ago. Ben Fletcher brought a 100-pound Hanlon bicycle to Detroit. It was mostly made of wood and iron — bicyclists hadn’t invented inflatable rubber tires yet. Fletcher crashed often as he tried riding it along Jefferson according to the Detroit Free Press. As much as the newspaper mocked the rider, they did believe bicycles would eventually be “as plenty as carriages in the streets.”

Year end donation

While it’s fun to look back, we need to keep focusing on moving things forward. To help us do that, we rely heavily on donations both big and small to cover our operating costs. It’s not too late to make a tax-deductible donation to the Detroit Greenways Coalition. We also have a montly support option if that’s more convenient. We appreciate any and all support!

Protected Bike Lanes (and Snow!)

People for Bikes just announced America’s best ten bikeways for 2017.  Though outside the top ten, Detroit did get honorable mention.

Every year, a handful of good projects narrowly miss our list.

One that stood out this year: the 3.5-mile protected bike lanes in Detroit’s Michigan Avenue, the latest in a series of massive projects that show the Motor City’s potential but have, so far, struggled with maintenance and poorly parked cars.

The City and MDOT have made rapid increases in new protected bike lanes — more than nearly all other U.S. cities — and there’s a learning curve for motorists and maintainence staff. The recent snow storm was a major challenge. The city has told us they are committed to maintaining them as well as the vehicle lanes. Once that happens, we can expect to see Detroit projects in that top ten.

Joe Louis Greenway Updates

  • Our new Joe Louis Greenway map is nearly complete. We should have copies to hand out by early next year.
  • Michigan Senator David Knezek has introduced Senate Resolution 115 “to support the city of Detroit’s efforts in the creation of the proposed Joe Louis Greenway.” We help craft this resolution with the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance.
  • We wrote supported three recent grants that would add bike lanes to Joseph Campau in Hamtramck, acquire land that would nearly double the length of the Dequindre Cut, and build much of the greenway with an $18.3 million TIGER grant. We also worked with 25 Detroit bike clubs and they agreed to sign on in support. We hope to hear the results of all these grants in early 2018.

Local Bicycle Ordinances

You may have heard about a recently passed state law that increased speed limits on some Michigan roads. Earlier this month we noticed an inadvertent mistake in the bill’s language that makes all local bicycle ordinances enforceable. It effectively removes the need for governments to post signs indicating what local bicycle ordinances exist. We are now working to get this corrected. (The mistake also makes local truck routes largely unenforceable.)

This is not a major concern in the city of Detroit since we’ve been working to clean up and remove outdated bicycle ordinances since 2008. However, we still have work to do in other cities such as Hamtramck.

Bicycle Network Strategy

If you’ve attended our recent Bike Trails & Cocktails event, you already know that Detroit is close to finishing a Bicycle Network Strategy with the Copenhagenize design firm. The latter recently mentioned in on their web site saying it is “… a forward-thinking protected bicycle network strategy for the greater downtown area, helping to set a standard for many American cities to follow.” We’re really looking forward to this becoming finalized and help standardize what our bicycle facilities look like.

Michigan Trails Summit

We’ve been working closely with mParks on their 2018 Michigan Trails Summit. This year it’s in Detroit on February 6th at the DNR Outdoor Adventure Center. Registration and conference details are now online.

Maybe we’ll see you there.

Until then, have a safe and happy holiday season!

Categories
Complete Streets Newsletter

News from the Trail – September 2017

There’s so much going on in Detroit right now. Here are some highlights.

Cass Avenue Bike Lanes

This project is adds three miles of protected bike lanes from Grand Boulevard to Lafayette. It also includes sharrows, bike lanes, and some off street paths that make the connection further south to the RiverWalk.

We’ve been talking about this project for a long time. It’s gone through a number of iterations but now the paint (and posts) are hitting the pavement.

There will be an ongoing education component for all roads users, as:

  • It takes some time getting used to parking vehicles away from the curb.
  • These are the first bike boxes in Michigan.
  • Those large red painted rectangles are new and designate bus stopping areas that are also shared with bicyclists.

Until everyone gets up to speed on how this works, please be cautious and patient.

DLECTRICITY Light Bike Parade Help Needed

This fun, free event on September 23rd needs volunteers:

  • Bike Parade Set Up:  Help riders decorate their rides, distribute free products to those in need.
  • Info Booth/Participant Support:  Interact with riders as they prepare and wait for the ride to commence. Provide answers to any questions, help with decorations, and get riders lined up once decorated.
  • Ride Monitors:  Ride with parade to keep speeds down, as well as check and assist with any safety issues.
  • Route Street Monitors:  Support riders crossing at key intersections and assist riders in maintaining a flow within the group.

Contact Al Fields at fields6306@gmail.com to sign-up to help!

Other Quick Updates

  • We are working with the city of Highland Park and Giffels-Webster to design bike lanes along all of Hamilton Avenue.
  • We are updating our Inner Circle Greenway map/brochure. The City of Detroit should be releasing their Request for Proposals soon to create a Strategic Framework plan for the trail.
  • MDOT is adding protected bike lanes on most of Grand River from I-94 to to Cass Avenue.
  • The City of Detroit should start this month in adding protected bike lanes E. Jefferson from Rivard to Lakewood.

There’s more but we’ll save those for next time.

Upcoming Events
DLECTRICITY
Light Bike Parade

September 23rd 6pm
An easy 4-mile ride that is a not-to-miss experience!
Register for Free
Open Streets
October 1st Noon to 5pm
Bike, Run, Blade, Walk, Play.
This free public event is on the streets from the new Beacon Park downtown to the heart of SW Detroit.

Bike Trails & Cocktails
October 17th evening
Detroit Distillery’s Whisky Factory. We will be providing an overview of where we are now and all the new projects that are forthcoming. We will send another update and mroe details when the event registration opens.