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Monday, 30 May, 2011 3:42 AM

Detroit needs more bike lanes on its streets, panelists agree


The Model D Speaker Series discussion titled "Urban Mobility" was held at the Wayne State University Law School on May 26, 2011.

by Jason Rzucidlo



DETROIT -- It's no secret that Detroit's roads were created during a time when the city's population was at its peak of 1.8 million in 1950. Today, the city's population is 713,777 residents, according to the 2010 Census figures. Roads like Woodward, Warren, Grand Boulevard and Jefferson are just too wide for anyone to ride a bicycle across or to have enough time to walk completely across before the light turns green for oncoming traffic. That is where the plan of "Complete the Streets" comes in. It adds bike lanes, shoulders, crossing opportunities, sidewalk bulb-outs, refuge medians, bus shelters, bus lanes and audible pedestrian signals to existing roads.

Panelists included Detroit City Councilman Ken Cockrel Jr., Todd Scott of the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance (MTGA), Wheelhouse Detroit Co-Owner Kelli Kavanaugh, Robin Boyle of Wayne State University's Urban Planning Department, Chicago-based Transportation Consultant Carolyn Helmke, Marja Winters of the Detroit Planning & Development department and Anna Kelly of the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT).

"I am a biker so I have a two-fold interest here," Detroit City Councilman Ken Cockrel Jr. said. "I think expanding opportunities for the city of Detroit are the key to the future. But I'm also here from a policy standpoint. In 2007, I founded something called the Detroit City Council Green Taskforce. It has a focus of internally looking at our own business practices as a city and trying to adopt certain practices and strategies to make us a greener city and make us more energy efficient. The other focus of the taskforce is to promote a broader, green agenda. One of the things that our task force was instrumental in doing was promoting the adoption of a non-motorized plan for the city of Detroit."

"Complete the Streets" is a proposal that benefits the young and the old, motorists and bicyclists, walkers and wheelchair users, bus riders and shopkeepers. The movement is growing across the country to make these changes to roads that are just too wide. The city of Detroit conducts Complete Streets Coalition meetings on a monthly basis. To get involved, e-mail Myra at or call (313) 870-0637.

"We're working with the city to make biking and walking and trails a reality here," said Todd Scott, the Detroit Greenways Coordinator at the MTGA. "My position is funded currently through the Kellogg Foundation as part of their food and fitness collaborative. Some of our greenways are merely bike signs and paint on a road. Some are through parks and some have nice amenities like benches and trees. In Detroit, our streets are so wide it's difficult for people to walk across the street. We have a workgroup in Detroit we've been working on a Complete Streets ordinance."

There are 10 greenways within the city of Detroit that are perfect for bicycling for pleasure or to get to work. The most widely known greenway is the Detroit RiverWalk, where 2.7 miles of the 5.5 miles are completed. Another highlight is the recently-completed Dequindre Cut Greenway, which has 1.2 miles out of the two miles ready for bicyclists. The Conner Creek Greenway has two miles out of its proposed nine miles completed. Other proposed greenways include the Corktown-Mexicantown Greenlink, Downriver Delta Greenways, Hamtramck Trail, Inner Circle Greenway, Lyndon Greenway, Midtown Loop Greenway and the Southwest Detroit Greenway.

"I want to take issue with Mayor Bing's statement about the city of Detroit being built for the automobile because it wasn't," Kavanaugh explained. "The Detroit street system overlayed with spokes is actually an amazing system for biking. It also had a great transit system prior to it being removed. Our freeway system was built for the automobile in a really disastrous fashion. Bikes are stereotyped for people who have no other form of transportation, whether it's economic or legal. I think that's starting to change. You can get a bike that's single-speed or three-speed and ride really comfortably around a city like Detroit."

In addition, a section of Michigan Avenue in downtown Detroit already has bike lanes in use. It runs from the Military Street to Vermont Street. That is a total of 2.3 miles. The entire length of W. Vernor Street is bike friendly.

"I was 12 before there was any car around my house," Boyle said. "Therefore, for about 12 years in my life, moving around was done by a range of different transportation modes. I didn't have any personal automotive system until I was 24. My point is where you come from and the culture is terribly important. The process of change that we're hearing tonight is I think part of a shift. It really does come down to in which the way we live our lives. We need to engage in a broader conversation."

In 2008, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) gave a grant to DDOT to add bike racks to its 440 coaches. Right now, 200 of the buses or 45 percent of the fleet have them in use. Stationary bike racks are being added to bus stations for riders. There are no extra costs for bus riders to place their bicycle onto the front of a bus.

"The next number, which is 70 percent of coaches by the end of June being installed is slightly better," Anna Kelly said. "We are aware that you need reliability as a transit rider. We are working definitely between the planning division, which is where I am, to try to communicate the importance of getting every coach outfitted with a rack."

The discussion was hosted by the website Model D Media and took place on Thursday, May 26 inside the Law School building on the campus of Wayne State University. The program began at 6 p.m. and it was free and open to the public. Attendees who walked, rode their bike or took the bus received a free bicycle patch kit courtesy of Wheelhouse Detroit.

"As you probably heard, the city is involved in a project called the Detroit Works Project," Winters said. "It is a planning project to come up with a longer term vision for the city of Detroit. There are a number of planning considerations that we're exploring. One of which is how we move. Certainly, we have to be diverse in what we do with transportation. There are a lot of different types of needs. More and more people are choosing to live in urban areas. When most people are going to work in the city of Detroit the mode of travel that they're using is private automobile somewhere to the tune of 70 percent of people."

On a separate, but related note, the 20th Annual Michigander Bicycle Tour is scheduled for July 16 - 22 on the west side of the state. The two-day touring option is a great choice for families and first-time riders who want to see what bicycling is all about. The 35-55 mile days allow for plenty of time to stop, take in the sights and enjoy the country side. The seven-day tour begins in Kalamazoo and passes the cities of Plainwell, Vermontville, Lowell, Ravenna, Grand Haven, Holland and wraps up in South Haven.

"A byproduct that I feel is so underrated about being outside and walking and biking is how much you run into people and have a quick conversation," Helmke explained. "That's a high quality of life to me when you see your neighbors and know them. I just think Detroit is so well positioned to be that community that you all want to live in. You're going to feel really good about other people want to come live here too and raise your property values. I think the vision of where this city is going and where you have the opportunity to go is really exciting."

For more information on future Model D Speaker Series events, visit



Detroit City Councilman Ken Cockrel Jr. speaks with a representative from Model D prior to the start of the discussion/



Fort Street and Michigan Avenue already have bike lanes for use.



The Complete Streets plan adds bicycle lanes on both sides of a road.



Todd Scott of the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance (MTGA)



A map of the Woodward Light Rail plan and current Amtrak rail lines.


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Unauthorized duplication or use of Text, Photos, Videos, Site Template, Graphics and or Site Design is Prohibited by Federal and International laws. See our Notice/Disclaimer and Privacy Policy.