What is a Greenway?

There are many ways to define a “greenway.”

Locally, the first definition came from the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and their GreenWays Initiative. They capitalized the “W” to emphasize the connections these trails make.

The GreenWays Initiative connects communities, fosters increased engagement with the outdoors, promotes healthier lifestyles, and provides safe alternatives to motorized transportation.

Greenways Initiative webpage, Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan

When the Detroit Greenways Coalition began, there was much discussion about whether regular painted bike lanes were truly greenways. They often weren’t separated from vehicle traffic, weren’t green, and weren’t all that distinct. There was some consensus that enhanced bike lanes (e.g. separated, landscaped) could serve as a greenway. After all, not every non-motorized facility can be along a river or a former railroad corridor.

When the City of Detroit asked us for a definition, we gave them this:

A greenway is a named, designated non-motorized pathway that intentionally connects places, is designed for users of all ages and abilities, and is some combination of shared-use paths, bike lanes, slow streets, bike routes, and green stormwater infrastructure

Detroit Greenways Coalition, 2021

A Green Way to Travel

The definition continues to evolve with the most recent discussions on Climate Change. Walking, biking, and other micro-mobility modes have significantly less carbon emissions that other modes, including electric vehicles. Therefore, they truly are the “green way” to travel that requires more investments in greenways.