Our April 2023 newsletter is now online!
Joe Louis Greenway
The Joe Louis Greenway is a collection of projects, which includes some rails-to-trails conversions, on-road separated bike lanes, and park pathways. Two of those parks, Romanowski and Patton are in Southwest Detroit. The City of Detroit is applying for a couple $300,000 state grants to revitalize these parks and build a portion of the greenway.
The City is encouraging the public to attend a virtual meeting on this for Thursday, March 18th at 6pm via Zoom or phone, 312-626-6799 (Meeting ID 86979810611#)
While this funding definitely helps, the entire greenway project needs significantly more. One new funding source could be the proposed Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act.
The Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act… provides $2.5 billion in direct funding over five years to help communities and regions across the country to build connected active transportation systems that ensure people can get where they want to go safely by foot, bike or wheelchair—all while reducing carbon emissions and creating new jobs.
We’ve been working with the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance, City of Detroit, and others to encourage Congress to include this Act in the next federal transportation bill. It could be an ideal and critical grant funding source for completing the Joe Louis Greenway.
Detroit City Council is in the midst of their budget hearings. During the Department of Public Works (DPW) session, most of Council’s questions involved speed humps and streetscapes/bike lanes.
Speed humps remain top priority for residents as DPW reported 15,000 residents requests for them. The DPW budget contains funding to install signficantly more speed cushions and asphalt humps as shown on this city map. However, these traffic calming features are limited to residential streets.
More major streets require other traffic calming such as road diets, bike lanes, streetscapes, and other features of Complete Streets+.
This is especially important during the pandemic as road traffic has decreased and motorist speeds have increased. Recent data shows Detroit’s vehicle speeds in urban business districts have soared by 60%, more than the other U.S. cities.
Higher vehicle speeds lead to higher traffic fatality rates. The National Safety Council estimates found a 24% spike in roadway death rates for 2020, which is the highest increase in 96 years!
What does this have to do with our work? Bicyclists and pedestrians are our most vulnerable road users and vehicle speed is the major factor in determining injury severity in crashes. Over the past decade, a third of all road fatalities in Detroit were pedestrians and bicyclists.
Putting the brakes on higher speed limits
Posted speed limits do affect the overall speed of motorists. As we’ve mentioned last month, Michigan House Bill 4014 would allow road agencies to set speed limits on factors (e.g. adjacent land uses, pedestrian activity) other than just the 85th fastest motorist on the road. This is especially important with the increased vehicle speeds since those could lead to new, higher speed limits. The good news is the bill passed out of the Transportation committee and is awaiting a vote on the House floor. We’ll let you know if we need your help keeping this bill moving forward.
- The next public meeting for the city’s Streets for People Plan is Wednesday, March 31st, 7-8pm. You can join by Google Meet or by phone +1 650 466 0753. The city is also asking people to place their transportation concerns (e.g. speeding, bad sidewalks, transit issues, unsafe biking conditions) on this map. That input will help inform the Streets for People plan.
- Further north, the City of Ferndale has released their draft mobility plan. They are also partnering with Pleasant Ridge and MDOT to make Woodward a Complete Street with improved sidewalks and separated cycle tracks. This would be a major safety improvement and also setting the stage for continued this Woodward biking infrastructure south of Eight Mile Road.
- Congratulations to the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy and the Downtown Detroit Partnership! The RiverWalk was named best in the U.S. while Campus Martius was named the county’s fifth best public space by USA Today.
- Great news! Midtown Detroit’s DLectricity event will be back in September and it will include another Light Bike Parade. (Photo credit: Midtown Detroit Inc.)
Joe Louis Greenway
This is going to be a banner year for trail construction in Detroit — and here’s proof. There’s now an actual banner announcing the future of the Joe Louis Greenway. The banner is located on the north side of Grand River just east of Oakman Boulevard.
The Phase 1 construction start is still pending some final environmental approvals. When those are complete, you can expect the City of Detroit to make an announcement.
You may have read the recent Crain’s Detroit Business article ($) about a local company encroaching on the city’s trail property — and the resulting lawsuit. The land in question is along Dexter, north of Oakman. While this segment is not part of Phase 1, it is a critical trail connection. We are hopeful this lawsuit doesn’t delay future trail construction.
The DLBA owns a significant number of properties across the city. Much of the land along the greenway route has been held to restrict outside speculators. Recently, some of this land was transferred to the city for Phase 1 greenway amenities, such as neighborhood connecting trails. Additional properties are available to neighbors along the greenway and this meeting will discuss those options.
This land strategy is one method the city is using to mitigate gentrification — the displacement of local residents along the greenway. Other greenway developments around the country have shared their regrets of not addressing this issue before their trails were built. We’re glad to see the City of Detroit tackling this issue from the start.
Planet Detroit recently published an article on this topic, Can Detroit’s Joe Louis Greenway avoid gentrification? Second Wave Media also touches on this issue with this article, Connecting Detroiters with the Joe Louis Greenway. Both articles include a wealth of great photos, too.
Last year we supported state legislation that clarified the modest flexibility that local governments have when setting speed limits based on factors other than just the 85th fastest motorist traveling under ideal conditions. Among many safety factors, it would allow the consideration of the road crash history, adjacent land use (e.g. parks), and the presence of pedestrians. This is aligns with recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board and others.
Unfortunately that bill died in the House Ways and Means committee, but it has been re-introduced (HB 4014) and is before the House Transportation committee scheduled for Tuesday, February 16th at 10:30 AM.
We’re working to bring more support to the table from local governments to local experts, especially since we expect the Michigan State Police will oppose the bill. Individuals can email their thoughts to the committee clerk, Dakota Soda.
- The construction contract for the Rosa Parks Streetscape project has been delayed in response to comments at City Council. DPW has agreed to do additional community outreach. While a few residents spoke against the proposed bike lanes, there were more concerns shared about a tree nursery project which was unrelated to this contract. There was also uncertainty about whether the construction would repair the sidewalks — it would. If you live near Rosa Parks (between the Boulevard and Clairmount) and want to learn how to get involved, please email us.
- The City of Detroit is updating their Parks and Recreaton Strategic Plan. They are hosting a virtual public meeting about this on Monday, February 15th at 5pm. Attend via Zoom or call in at 312-626-6799 (webinar ID: 363 140 9738).
- Don’t forget! I-375 Environmental Assessment comments are due on Friday, February 19th.
- America Walks is seeking 30 Walking College fellows who want “to be part of bringing about transformative change to their neighborhoods.” Applications are open through February 28th.
- MoGo is hiring! They recently received a grant from the Better Bike Share Partnership to understand certain barriers to bike and bus transit and develop solutions to improve the connections between them. MoGo is also seeking an executive director after founder Lisa Nuszkowski announced she’s stepping down. Lisa’s done an amazing job taking the idea of bike share and making it a reality in Detroit and Southeast Oakland County. We especially appreciate system’s equity and accessibility aspects which are a model for other bike share systems around the country. We’re sad to see her leave but look forward to see where she lands.
- Speaking of bike-transit connections, Amtrak and MDOT are improving the bike carrying options for the the Wolverine route out of Detroit. They are testing new passenger coach class cars, each of which include three bike racks conveniently located across from the luggage storage area. We can’t wait to see (and use) them in the near future.
- Detroit RiverWalk to expand after successful river remediation, Model D
- What is design speed and how does it affect our streets?, Beyond the Automobile
- Renovation can start on Detroit’s Historic Fort Wayne, Click on Detroit. (Fort Wayne is located along the Joe Louis Greenway.)
End of Year Donation
First, we want to thank everyone that generously donated to our Giving Tuesday fundraiser. These donations are a key funding source that keeps us at the table and advocating for better bike and trail investments across Detroit. We couldn’t do this without your help.
If you haven’t already done so there’s still time to donate on our website via PayPal. There’s an added incentive for donating before this year is over. Under the CARES Act, “taxpayers who don’t itemize deductions may take a charitable deduction of up to $300 for cash contributions made in 2020 to qualifying organizations”. The Detroit Greenways Coalition is a 501(c)(3) non-profit.
The current Michigan legislative session is wrapping up. Bills that didn’t pass the House and Senate are dead as everything starts over in the next session. Here are three bills we watched. None of them made it to the Governor:
- HB 4733 — This is the Speed Limit bill which clarifies that local governments have modest flexibility in setting speed limits besides basing them only on the 85th fastest motorist driving under ideal conditions. The original bill language was flawed and we successfully worked with the bill’s sponsor and others to fix it. We supported this new bill, which made its way out of the House Transportation Committee but died in the Ways and Means Committee. We expect this bill to be reintroduced next session.
- SB 892 — We call this the Robots on Sidewalks bill and it was largely being pushed by FedEx and Amazon. We opposed this bill and felt it was very flawed not only from a sidewalk safety aspect, but it largely removed local governments’ ability to manage this disruptive transportation option. Nonetheless, the bill passed the Senate but was not not taken up by the House Transportation Committee. During this time, a similar Senate bill was introduced that would allow these robots on sidewalks at 10 MPH and in bike lanes at any speed! Both bills died in the session, but we expect them to be re-introduced — and we’ll be watching.
- HB 5369 — This bill takes the local Detroit streetcar ordinances and makes them state law. The language is not clear how or even when bicyclists can safely ride on Woodward when the QLine is operating. As a local ordinance without proper signage, it was unenforceable for bicyclists. This bill would change that and be enforceable. As of this writing, it appears to have died on the Senate floor.
Three Opportunities for Input
- Michigan Avenue in Corktown — MDOT is still seeking input on how to redesign Michigan Avenue through Corktown. They are using Streetmix which lets you drag and drop various road design features. It’s an interesting way to visualize the road design you want to see in the no-so-distant future.
- FerndaleMoves.com — The City of Ferndale has released draft recommendations for their Ferndale Moves mobility plan update. They are seeking feedback on those draft recommendations using this interactive webmap before January 9th. They have also posted the recording and slides from their December 9 public meeting.
- Gratiot/7 Mile Framework Plan — If you missed the most recent neighborhood planning meeting, you can still take participate in the prioritization poll exercise. This will be available until the end of the month. “Community input is essential to the success of creating a plan to improve your neighborhoods.”
Virtual Bike Tour Video
We previously wrote about Council members Scott Benson and Roy McAllister’s bike tour back in August. This tour went through Ferndale (with Mayor Melanie Piana) and Pleasant Ridge. SEMCOG has made this great video showing the highlights along the tour route.
- Winter 2020 newsletter, Detroit Riverfront Conservancy
- Infotainment: New research study highlights safety dangers, IAM RoadSmart
Bike the Vote
Come join us for a group bike ride on Sunday afternoon, October 25th to encourage greater voter participation. We’d love to have a healthy turnout to show that bicyclists are engaged in this year’s election. The weather doesn’t look too bad for late October, either. Masks and social distancing are required!
In addition to supporting this ride, MoGo has a “Roll to the Polls” program that gives riders a free one hour ride to access their polling location or drop off their absentee ballots. Lisa Nuszkowski, founder and executive director of MoGo says, “Transportation should never be a barrier to voting, and MoGo is proud to join with others in the shared mobility industry to offer free rides on Election Day.”
We continue to endorse Proposal 1 along with more than 30 conservation and environmental groups, including the Michigan Environmental Council, the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance, and the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. The proposal does not change the Trust Fund’s priorities of acquiring and preserving land, which is one reason it’s supported by twelve of the largest land conservancies in Michigan. It also is supported by all of Michigan’s living governors.
Pedestrian Safety Month
We strongly believe that building Complete Streets is the most effective approach for reducing pedestrian (and bicyclist) fatalities. We’ve seen it first hand with improvements to Detroit’s public lighting. Reducing speeding motorists is also a critical issue that can be addressed through Complete Streets, whether it’s more speed humps, lower speed limits, and even bike lanes.
While the City of Detroit is making new, major investments in speed humps, the speed limit issue is moving more slowly in the state capitol. We discuss these issues and more in our new article, Every Month is Pedestrian Safety Month.
Streets for People
The City of Detroit just launched their Streets for People planning campaign. From the project web page:
The City of Detroit is developing Streets for People, a transportation plan with a singular focus — to make it easier and safer for all Detroiters to move around the city. The plan seeks to knit together diverse neighborhoods, prioritize safety of the most vulnerable road users, and identify clear implementation and design strategies for roadways improvement. Most importantly, it will be rooted in an inclusive planning process that gives a voice to the City’s residents who are most implicated by the transportation system. The plan will be completed over the next two years by the Department of Public Works in partnership with MDOT, SEMCOG, city departments, and partner agencies.
The web page also let’s you sign up for updates and provide some initial thoughts. The plan will be completed in 12 months according to the city’s press release.
Streets for People also has this great introductory video which really frames the pedestrian and bicyclist safety issue to be solved.
Joe Louis Greenway
A second Joe Louis Greenway Design public meeting will be held on October 29th from 6pm to 8pm via Zoom. There is more information about this meeting and how to join it on the city’s Joe Louis Greenway webpage.
If you missed the first public meeting, the presentation is now online and well worth looking over.
Phase 1 construction continues moving forward. City Council has been asked to approve an MDOT grant request to build a portion of the greenway near Grand River Avenue and Oakman Boulevard. The city has also sold bonds to help with construction as well. They are “aiming to finish Phase I in Fiscal Year 2022.”
- Detroit is also updating its Parks and Recreation Plan. They are collecting some initial public input with this online survey. There’s also this interesting article on how COVID could affect this planning.
- We’ve been weighing on a number of developments around the city, including the project at the former state fairgrounds involving Amazon. Currently, biking and walking about this area is far from ideal. We submitted comments on how to improve these connections within the development area and with the surrounding neighborhoods, including Ferndale. We also requested bike parking and, if possible, MoGo stations. Our comments seemed to have been addressed by the city and developer.
- We’ve also been involved in a new proposed warehouse near Conner and Gratiot at the former Cadillac Stamping Plant. Our primary concern was the project’s plan to allow truck traffic to cross the Conner Creek Greenway/Iron Belle Trail at Conner Playfield. It wouldn’t be safe and we expected the trucks would block the greenway as they waited to turn onto Conner. Council member Scott Benson worked with the city and developer to find an alternative truck route that doesn’t cross the greenway.
- Last month we raised concerns about the city removing unprotected bike lanes during repaving projects, namely the bike lanes on E. Grand Boulevard. DPW followed up and said this was not a city policy. There are proposed plans for adding protected bike lanes on W. Grand Boulevard from Cass to Rosa Parks. We’ll be encouraging the city to continue this design east to replace what was removed.
- Council President Brenda Jones’ Community Engagement Ordinance passed. It requires many city projects that impact the neighborhoods to have community outreach.The installation of bike lanes was one type of project named in the ordinance. After the E. Grand bike lanes were removed, we proposed that the installation or removal of bike lanes should require community outreach. Council member Benson motioned to add this language to the ordinance and it passed unanamously.
- The Michigan State Historic Preservation Office launched an online bike tour of Detroit civil rights sites. We were part of the team that helped determine the 17-mile route between the sites.
- Lastly, Free Bikes 4 Kids really needs volunteers to help clean and refurbish used kids bicycles to giveaway this year. Please signup for a shift or two and help them get these bikes ready.
October is Pedestrian Safety Month where safety groups roll out tepid safety messaging and do a modest amount of short-term traffic enforcement in a handful of Michigan cities. This approach certainly hasn’t led to reduced pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries, which have actually increased over the past decade.
What is much more effective than education or enforcement? It’s engineering — building Complete Streets that can self-regulate motorists and reduce speeding 24 hours a day. This is critical since vehicle speed largely determines the degree of injury suffered by pedestrians and bicyclists in crashes. (Vehicle design is a significant determinant as well.)
If there is any doubt that Detroit has speeding problem, just consider Detroiters’ overwhelming demand for speed humps to slow motorists on residential streets. This demand has led Mayor Mike Duggan to shift $11.5 million in road funding to install significantly more speed humps in 2021 — perhaps more than any other major U.S. city.
I’m not sure there’s been any innovation in this city that has been received with more enthusiasm than the speed humpsMayor Mike Duggan Press Conference, September 16, 2020
|Year||Speed humps installed||Resident requests|
Of course speed humps only work on streets were speed limits are 25 MPH or less. Other streets require different Complete Street designs to reduce speeding, e.g. bike lanes, bumps outs, narrower travel lanes, street trees.
Reframing bike lanes as speed humps for bigger roads is invaluable. Bike lanes help reduce speeding and increase safety for everyone, not just bicyclists.
Another issue we’re working on is how speed limits are set in Michigan.
One major reason the auto industry wrote the “Rules of the Road” in the 1920s was to have higher speed limits and restrict other users, predominantly pedestrians, from using these roads. Higher travel speeds gave motorist a clear advantage over other travel modes and helped sell more cars.
Michigan’s speed limit laws still reflect this history with minimums limits for speed limits and by having the 85th fastest motorist under ideal conditions determine the speed limit — not traffic experts or local governments. This leads to higher speed limits that don’t consider road design, crash history, local land use, and pedestrian and bicyclist use. What’s equally bad is that when roads are reconstructed, they are designed to accomodate the speed limit rather than what is appropriate and safe for the local community.
One local example of this is W. Fort Street near Schaefer. It used to have a 35 MPH speed limit. The Michigan State Police measured the 85th fastest motorist at a bit over 40 MPH, so they raised the speed limit to 45 MPH. They didn’t consider that the neighborhood to the south crossed the road to get to Kemeney Rec Center and park on the north. After the speed limit changed, 8-year-old Brandyn Starks was hit and killed while crossing the street to get to the park.
We’re part of a stakeholder group that’s helping shape current legislation (HB 4733) to provide a modest amount of flexibility in setting speed limits. This change is very much inline with recommendation from the NTSB and many other national organizations. We look forward to providing future updates on this bill.
What about 20 MPH speed limits?
There is a push in many cities around the world to reduce residential speed limits from 25 MPH to 20 MPH. This change is being promoted to help reduce pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities and serious injuries. Recent studies show that lower speed limits do reduce motorist speeds.
However, Michigan law prohibits setting Detroit’s residential speed limits below 25 MPH through January 2024. The Michigan State Police will be doing motorist speed studies on these local roads across the state. We anticipate they will more likely want to raise this 25 MPH minimum rather than lower it by 2024.
Of course, if the legislature takes no action before that time, residential speed limits could be set based on the 85th fastest motorist…