The Legacy of Bicycles in Detroit Michigan: A look at greenways through time

[Below is a portion of at report created by Gwen Gell, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Michigan.  The complete report with timeline is available as a PDF.]

Greenways are constantly evolving and changing infrastructure. Greenways are trails accessible to non-motorized forms of movement which provide ecological, transportation, and connective functions within an urban area. For the purposes of this piece, the term “greenways” also includes bicycle infrastructure on roadways. As a city’s land uses change, new administrations come into power, and the economy fluctuates, greenways and bicycle routes shift. This brief report highlights the change in greenways overtime in an effort to illustrate the story of non-motorized transportation in the City of Detroit.

Detroit’s topography is favorable to bicycles. The expansive flat land makes for a pleasant experience biking thought the city. While there has been an increase in ridership and bicycle infrastructure in recent years, the known legacy of bicycles began prior to the automobile and contributed to the development of the Motor City.

Management and Next Steps

The new international Gordie Howe bridge, expected completion in 2024, has incorporated plans for a non-motorized lane creating a formal bicycle/pedestrian connection between the United States and Canada. The bridge will result in international connections to greenways in both countries, ranging from a small local loop to larger cross-country paths.

The City of Detroit is in the midst of implementing new greenways, specifically, the Joe Louis Greenway, extending into the neighborhoods on the Westside of the city. The first phase is expected to be completed in 2022. The City also intends to extend the Dequindre Cut to the north. The Conner Creek Greenway is under negotiation to be rerouted in order to accommodate an expected increase in truck traffic due to the new Fiat Chrysler plant.

Greenways are constantly evolving to rise to the spatial opportunities and meet the needs of users. Detroit’s legacy of bicycle usage within the city began prior to the automobile and continues today. The rise of bicycle related infrastructure – including greenways – is evidence of the City’s bicycle tradition. The future holds many opportunities to expand and connect Detroiter’s to their neighborhood, city, and nearby towns and countries.