We received these questions from a Danish Landscape Architect. We thought we’d shared the answers here and get your thoughts as well.
I am working on a project in Detroit and I am interested in understanding how you have decided which roads are bicycle friendly roads and which are not? What are the requirements for a bicycle friendly road?
There are many ways to look at this, but let’s work through some different perspectives:
The City of Detroit is designing and building roads that are comfortable to use for those from 8 years old to 80 — and for people of all abilities. Whereas initially the City built more traditional bike lanes and bike routes, now they’re looking at biking infrastructure with more separation from moving motor vehicles as a minimum design feature for major roads. This includes separated (or protected) bike lanes and off road trails.
However, Detroit hasn’t added much separation at intersections. We expect to see more of that in future projects.
Many cities are doing this across the U.S., so this answer is not unique. The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) provides guidance on how to design streets for all users based on the type of road. Detroit is working on a strategic transportation master plan which we expect will incorporate similar principles.
We would add that some of the designs that accommodate slower, less confidant riders aren’t fully embraced by the faster, more confident riders. That’s a trade off in order to get more people riding. Still, the new infrastructure calms motor vehicle traffic, so riding in the roadway becomes a better option for higher speeds or group rides. State law gives bicyclists the right to use most roadways (freeways being an exception.)
Wide streets with little traffic
Detroit’s street network was built for nearly 2 million residents. It built out a freeway network that then pulled motor vehicles from the surface streets. Over a million residents (and countless businesses) left.
What they left behind were wide roads with very little motor vehicle traffic, especially outside of peak travel periods. These roads are very bike friendly to moderately skilled riders without any specific infrastructure treatments. It’s these conditions that make large group rides like Slow Roll more doable.
The caveat is this doesn’t make the street safe for everyone.
Safety in Numbers
Some roads are bicycle friendly for those riding in a group but not necessarily for those riding solo. We hear this often, especially with female riders. Many feel safe riding busier roads if they’re with a group, but they wouldn’t ride them as individuals.
This reflects the feeling safety that these bike groups share. Everyone is looking out for each other. Everyone is more visible and it’s less likely anyone is going to “mess with” the group. This is likely one reason why Detroit has more bike clubs than any other U.S. city we know of.
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.
Let’s start by saying it’s not easy picking only five — and that speaks well about all that is happening to make the city of Detroit a better place for biking and trails. But here we go in no specific order…
This multi-faceted $20 million non-motorized project will be completed by the summer. Yes, it was supposed to be completed by last November but construction was delayed with unexpected utility issues and a polar vortex.
What does this project involve?
Extending the Dequindre Cut from Gratiot to Mack Avenue with a additional connecting trail into Eastern Market along the north side of Wilkins.
Adding bike lanes from the end of the Cut to Hamtramck, mostly along St. Aubin. These are done.
Replacing three bridges over the Dequindre Cut. If you’ve ridden the pothole-ridden Wilkins bridge before then you know this is good news for bicyclists.
Improving Russell Street. This mostly focuses on pedestrian improvements, but it also include some very nice bike parking stations.
Adding bike lanes and a Midtown Loop path connection from Eastern Market to Midtown.
We thought it would be invaluable to count how many people are using this new section of the Dequindre Cut, so we got the DEGC (who’s managing the project) to add 3 automated bike and pedestrian counters. These will count 24/7 and the data will be part of the Coalition’s much larger city wide effort to count usage and document trends.
Inner Circle Greenway
Detroit city staff refer to this as the “mother of all non-motorized projects.” If you’ve not heard about it before, the Inner Circle Greenway is a 26-mile pathway that encircles the city of Detroit while passing through Hamtramck, Highland Park, and a little bit of Dearborn. It makes use of existing trails such as the Southwest Detroit Greenlink, RiverWalk, and Dequindre Cut, so roughly half of the pathway is complete. For all these reasons and more, it is a very high-priority project for our Coalition.
The largest gap is an 8.3 mile segment of abandoned railroad property. If all goes as planned, we expect Detroit will purchase the property this year using $4.5 million in grant funding the Coalition helped secure. We will be making another announcement soon about additional grant funding for planning. We will also work with the city on a substantial federal grant to build out the Greenway while also trying to get funding for more community engagement.
Lastly, we are finalizing some nice new maps of the trail. We’ll have those by the bike show in March.
Conner Creek Greenway
This Greenway begins at Maheras Gentry Park on the Detroit River and heads north roughly following Conner Avenue. It’s a mix of bike lanes, shared roadway, and off-road paths — and it’s nearly complete. This year it will get extended from Conner along E. Outer Drive to Van Dyke, crossing Eight Mile, and ending at Stephens Road (9.5 mile.) While this seems like a modest project for the top five, one should consider how many organizations were involved in making this happen: Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, Detroit Eastside Community Collaborative, Nortown CDC, Eight Mile Boulevard Association, the Detroit Greenways Coalition, City of Warren, City of Detroit, SEMCOG, Wayne County and two MDOT TSCs.
It also is significant since it crosses Eight Mile and is part of the Showcase Trail between Belle Isle and Wisconsin. Look for plenty of green bike lanes in Warren’s section.
E. Jefferson Bike Lanes
A very short segment of E. Jefferson will get bike lanes this year from Alter Road to Lakewood. Why is this a big deal? They’ll be the first separated (aka protected) bike lanes in Southeast Michigan. This is precedent setting and could serve as a model for all of Detroit’s major spoke roads.
East Jefferson Inc. is also working with other members of the GREEN Task Force and the city of Detroit to extend those bike lanes to the Belle Isle entrance at E. Grand Boulevard.
Cass Avenue Bike Lanes and Midtown Loop
M1-Rail is creating a major cycling safety hazard on Woodward by locating streetcar rails near the curbs where bicyclists ride. As a result, the FTA and MDOT agreed to make Cass Avenue a more attractive cycling option. This summer Cass will be getting bike lanes (some buffered) from W. Grand Boulevard to Lafayette. A mixture of bike lanes, sharrows, and off-road paths will connect Cass to the RiverWalk via Lafayette, Washington Boulevard, E. Jefferson, and Bates.
But that’s not all. Public bike repair stations and air pumps will be installed along with automated counters including two kiosks that display bike counts in real-time. Those counts will also be automatically uploaded and available on the web as well.
This project also completes the final leg of the Midtown Loop along Cass Avenue between Canfield and Kirby.
Honorable Project Mentions
The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy should complete two new sections of the RiverWalk in 2015: Chene Park East and Chene Park West. A third project will begin later this year that connects the current dead end near Riverplace to Chene Park East.
The Downtown Detroit Partnership is becoming our non-motorized champion in the downtown area. They are currently developing a plan for sorely needed biking connections. They’re looking to take the best of what New York City, Chicago, Portland have done and bring it here, which couldn’t happen soon enough.
We really need to mention the amazing work of the Detroit Public Lighting Authority. Their ongoing installation of new LED street lights is making biking and walking much safer. Pardon the bad joke, but it’s like night and day.
Complete Streets ordinance
This is not really a project but a policy change that the Coalition, Detroit Food and Fitness Collaborative and others have been working on for years. We expect it to go before a City Council vote this year and we’d be surprised if it didn’t pass. For more information, check out Detroit Complete Streets page.
No, we didn’t mention the public bike sharing or the Uniroyal Site. We need to save some projects for future years!