With the world headquarters of General Motors dominating the skyline of downtown Detroit, MI few people need a reminder that despite its hard times this city is still the “Motor City.” Yet despite this car culture, city planners are serious about making the old Motown friendlier to those looking to get around via pedal power.
This is evident in the city's recent completion of the Corktown-Mexicantown-Southwest Detroit Greenlink, 16 miles of bike lane that will connect these three inner city neighborhoods. Additionally, this project now connects to the Southwest Detroit Greenway, the largest concentrated network of bike lanes in the city.
The irony of this happening in Detroit is that the city has wide roads, originally built to accomidate big cars, which atucally made adding bike lanes all the easier. “Detroit's streets are actually a huge asset in creating a bicycle-friendly city,” Scott Clein, PE, LEED AP, and executive vice president at Giffels-Webster Engineers, told BikeRadar. “The wide rights-of-way and reduced traffic volumes allow for significant improvements for bicyclists and pedestrians with little to no negative impact on vehicular traffic.”
Clein adds that the unique design of the city’s street plan, which to this day utilizes the post-1805 fire plan by Augustus Woodward, also offered opportunities that many other cities don’t have. “The radial layout of the ‘spokes’ and their relationship to the more traditional grid configuration of streets outside of the central business district is also helpful in creating a connected system,” said Clein. “It allows for more direct routes along streets like Michigan Avenue and positions the city nicely to expand the network out to the surrounding communities.”
The Corktown-Mexicantown-Southwest Detroit Greenlink is the latest addition to the City of Detroit’s Urban Non-motorized Transportation Master Plan, which was also designed by Giffels-Webster. This master plan includes 400 miles of additional bike lane, with this Greenlink being the first large scale segment to be added. This followed last summer’s Complete Street legislation, which was passed by Michigan lawmakers, and encouraged communities across the state to incorporate non-motorized modes of transportation into road designs.
The Corktown Greenlink will help accomplish this goal as Clein notes that it will connect with bike paths and lanes located in the City of Dearborn, while the ultimate goal regionally is to tie this into a larger bike network. The community, including businesses, is also getting behind this project. “The University Cultural Center Association and the New Center Council are already sponsoring modifications to Second Avenue and Third Avenue within their districts,” he said. “These one-ways streets will be converted back to two-way traffic in areas and bike lanes will be added.”
Civil engineering and surveying firm Giffels-Webster, which specializes in infrastructure needs for public and private and institutional clients, worked with the Greater Corktown Development Corporation and the Southwest Detroit Business Association to design the Greenlink and secure the funding to build it. The Michigan Department of Transportation provided 80 percent of the construction funding for the project through the Transportation Enhancement Activity program.
Clein believes the project will have a great impact for city as well. “We've already seen an increase in bicycle-related tourism in the city. Inside Detroit Wheelhouse Detroit, for instance, are two businesses that are leveraging the increased visibility of cycling in the city.”
While Detroit has many problems to resolve before it can return to its heyday, Clein and others involved in the project do this is a move in the right direction. “Truthfully though, for me the biggest positive associated with this project is that the City of Detroit has shown its willingness to adapt its policies to meet the needs and wants of today's market,” he said. “Bike lanes and other Complete Streets improvements should be installed to provide residents with expansive transportation options and to hopefully improve the overall quality of life.”