Complete Streets History In the Media

Say hello to the Mobility City

Recently there have been prominent editorials and comments about the loss of “our culture” because of changes in road safety and accessibility. In a recent Op-Ed, Keith Crain of Crain’s Detroit Business said that bicyclists “must have a powerful lobby.” We agree.

The Detroit Greenways Coalition and its coalition member organizations and the city have been honing their skills for well over fifteen years. Our organization has garnered significant support from the public to support the State of Michigan efforts to build Complete Streets that balance the needs for everyone who uses and pays for our public roads. It is important to note that these efforts do not diminish vehicle access but improve them for everyone’s use, to save lives and spur neighborhood growth and economic development. Our organization does not derive our support and lobby power from big bucks, we get it from the thousands of grassroots voices that say we can make our public roadways work better for everyone.

To the assertion that we should say “good-bye to the Motor City”, that’s just not true. Even Ford Motor Company accepts the fact that transportation is changing and every type of choice made by a Detroit resident is important. To further dispel what made Detroit transportation hub is that in 1868 the first person rode a bicycle in Detroit on East Jefferson – nearly 28 years before the first motorized vehicle.

Now 150 years later, the city of Detroit is making East Jefferson safer for everyone, bicyclists, pedestrians as well as motorists. The goal is to make it a neighborhood road where driving the speed limit feels right, where pedestrians can safely cross the road and where bicycling is a viable option for residents to shop, visit neighbors, shop and eat Downtown, picnic on Belle Isle, enjoy the RiverWalk and live the urban lifestyle of everyone strives for.   Jefferson can no longer be a “speedway” designed only to accommodate and encourage high-speed automobile traffic. Studies show that changes like this are important and impactful to revitalizing commercial corridors – something East Jefferson can certainly benefit from.

Over the past decades, the approach to East Jefferson and the neighborhoods along its route has not changed. And admittedly any change can be difficult to adjust to. Unfortunately it is even harder for those that think their time “behind the wheel” and their hurry to get to their next destination is more important that quality of life, safety or the economics of the neighborhood corridors through which they speed by.

The following are common refrains and misconceptions, along with the clarifications needed to educate those unwilling to recognize the importance of these changes or even to have the patience to accept the improvements that come over time.

“Bike lanes came without notice.”

Detroit started its citywide bicycle planning in 2005 with a non-motorized transportation master plan. There have been hundreds of public meetings since then for bike lane projects. Public feedback at these meetings has helped shape what the city is installing. East Jefferson in particular has seen significant non-motorized planning and meetings, including the “2012 Visions of Greenways” plan, the Detroit East Riverfront Framework Plan, and countless neighborhood and business meetings along the corridor.

“No one bikes in Detroit.”

This has not been true for over 150 years. While no city has exact numbers on bicyclists, we do know that there are at least 68 bike clubs in Detroit, each with many members who regularly ride throughout the city.  Slow Roll is the largest weekly bike ride in the United States with many rides topping well over a thousand participants. On an average day over 1,200 people use the Dequindre Cut, both pedestrian and bicyclists. The very popular MoGo bike share program hit its annual 100,000 trip goal in under 5 months and has shown non-motorized transportation is needed by both residents and visitors. Few cities in the country can make similar boasts.

“Bicyclists don’t pay their fair share.”

There is an unfortunately universal misconception that State and Federal taxes on motorist fuel and vehicle registrations fees cover Michigan’s road costs. They don’t. In 2014, those collected fees only covered 62.1% of the state road costs. The balance comes from the general fund and property taxes, which every Michigander pays, those with or without motor vehicles. The cost of bicycle and pedestrian facilities are just a fraction of the transportation costs in this state. If anything, bicyclists and pedestrians subsidize motorists.

“Bicyclists don’t follow the rules.”

Nationwide studies show this is not true.  It is simply that motorists notice others breaking the law more than they notice themselves. There is more severe and permanent danger to pedestrians and bicyclists from motor vehicles than the other way around.

It is worth remembering that the rules of the road were birthed by the auto industry to gain a competitive mobility advantage over other modes of transportation, be it bike, horse, cart or tram. The speed limit on East Jefferson used to be 12 MPH and everyone using it had to yield at every intersection. The industry pushed for higher speeds, stop signs, traffic lights, one way streets and later freeways so the convenience of motor cars over other modes would help sales. They coined the term “jaywalking” and restricted the pedestrian rights to the roadways. Cities nationwide are re-evaluating these archaic rules to bring more balance to the public rights-of-way. Having rules that make sense for pedestrians, bicyclists and motor vehicles will lead to greater safety in our neighborhoods.

Even on East Jefferson.



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.