The mean streets of Detroit turn bike friendly

The Motor City may become the next bike city

It is hard to imagine that the city infamously known for the automobile and more recently for its urban decay would have much of a bike scene, let alone a vibrant one. However, that's exactly what is happening in Detroit, Michigan.

Some of the city’s avid riders even believe that the spinning bicycle wheel will turn their town around. They’ll also tell you that a bike ride is among the best ways to see Detroit in transition. 

"The biggest thing the city has to overcome is its infrastructure," says Karen Cage, co-owner of the Wheelhouse, a bike shop located near the heart of the downtown Detroit. "The city was built for over two million people, but we have under a million people right now."

The result is that huge sections of the city are essentially vacant and abandoned. But plans for new "urban farms" and with ongoing attempts to create greens spaces the city is finally beginning to make a turn around.

Granted, it will be a while before the city earns back the moniker of "The Paris of the Midwest," but Gage believes there is still a lot worth seeing in the meantime.

The Wheelhouse, located in the International Waterfront on the Detroit River offers riding tours that highlight the city's cultural gems and call out future possibilities.

"It is an easy city to ride and cycling is a fun way to get around, especially in the downtown, midtown, Eastern Market and Corktown areas," said Gage.

The Veterans Cemetery is one of the stops on the Wheelhouse Civil War Tour of Detroit

Among the highlights are the city's public art installations and the Heidelberg Project, an inner city venture that is meant to inspire people to use and appreciate the once fine houses.

The project began in 1986 when artist Tyree Guyton attempted to save many of the houses in his decaying neighborhood by painting them with bright colored dots. Since that time, the style has grown to be recognized around the world as an inspiration for a better future with tenants that include recycling and reuse.

"Our tours highlight the result of auto industry and culture," says Gage, adding that the tours pass through neighborhoods that were built when the city was a boomtown. "We show how these structures are part of the city in transition. Some are becoming technology incubator spaces, while artists are moving in and forming communities, and vacant lots are becoming small green spaces and even private farms."

The city's vacant factories and light industrial shops are also coming back as chic loft spaces, where residents can easily bike to work. And Gage says, this new downtown community rides their bikes to work.

The city's master plan for non-motorized vehicles currently calls for 400 miles of new bike lanes, mainly through road diets - which will, ironically, reduce the amount of lanes devoted to cars. This plan began in summer of 2010 and is being developed in conjunction with the Detroit Green Network, which calls for the creation of 70 additional miles of greenways for on-road connections.

The biggest hurdle for Detroit commuters remains its vastness. The city sprawls out for miles from downtown and the suburbs then add to the expanse. Hurdles are to be overcome and residents of the upscale Grosse Pointe neighborhoods just north of the city regularly commute to work on Jefferson Avenue, which runs along the still picturesque waterfront.

"A lot of people commute in these days," says Gage. "You just need to plan ahead and always have tools on you."

 Even those who don't regularly plan to commute can take a ride on Detroit's sometime "mean streets" too in the upcoming Tour De Troit.

The Tour De Troit is now in its 9th year and it is a good way to see the city's improvements

Some 3,000 riders are expected to take part in the ninth annual event, which will be held on 25 September. The 30-mile ride will include a police escort through the city's historical areas. For more ambitious riders, there is also a 62-mile "Metric Century" that includes a jaunt through Motown.

The wheels are again turning in Detroit, but instead of 4 wheels and a V8 engine, it’s now 2 wheels and a lot of heart.

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