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Taking back the streets one bicycle at a time

In Detroit, there are cars. And then there is something known as “non-motorized transportation.”

That means bicycles, y'all.

Believe it or not, people in the Car Capital of the World love their bikes. And there is a huge movement to create a culture here that is friendlier to two wheels than four.

One such project would develop about 400 miles of bicycle lanes throughout Detroit. All it would take is some paint, new signs and a little cash, said Scott Clein, who heads the Detroit office of Giffels-Webster Engineers.

The firm, along with other key partners, mapped out every one of those miles with the city's cooperation and a Michigan Department of Transportation grant. Clein and a support staff spent 18 months on the project, studying Detroit and trying to connect its waterways, landmarks and neighborhoods.

These paths have the potential to draw the creative class – artists, singletons and young couples – to the city, Clein said. It also might improve our collective health (Detroit typically ranks as the Top 1or 2 on obesity lists).

“Bikes are all about freedom. It's about access. And that's what makes a city great,” Clein said.

Detroit has the room for cyclists, Clein argues. Its major roads, like Michigan Avenue, have a stunning nine lanes. That is because the city once had cable cars and modes of transportation that needed space. Plus, Detroit used to have more than 2 million residents filling its 140 square miles.

Today, the population is around 900,000. Traffic is minimal on some roadways. And there is a growing number of people across Detroit that want places to walk, bike, skate and blade across.

Plus, if Detroit wants to become the next Portland, it needs to be more feet friendly, Clein said. Car insurance rates are expected to drop significantly with all the new 2-wheelers biking about.

The city adopted the NonMotoroized Master Plan a year ago. But putting it into effect takes money, something the city cannot spare.

There is hope at the grassroots level. Over the past weekend, an estimated 2,000 cyclists came to the city for the 8th annual Tour De Troit – nearly double the number that showed up last year. Its goal is in part is to raise funds for the Corktown-Mexicantown Greenlink, which could link these key communities to the Detroit riverfront.

One great example already exists. The Dequindre Cut Greenway, an urban recreational path, officially opened in May. The 1.2-mile greenway, developed through a public, nonprofit and private partnership, offers a pedestrian link between the Riverfront, Eastern Market and many of the adjacent residential neighborhoods. Formerly a Grand Truck Railroad line, the Dequindre Cut is a below-street level path that features a 20-foot-wide paved pathway, which includes separate lanes for pedestrian and bicycle or rollerblading traffic.

I'm convinced the bike paths will happen. But if you're on the fence, consider this: Each year, Metro Detroit's commuters spend more than 50 hours sitting in traffic, wasting 34 gallons of gasoline per person.

Time to strap on a helmet and ride.

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  • 1

    This is awesome. OK, so it's not public transportation which Detroit desperately needs, but it's a step in the right direction. I'm one of those suburbanites who doesn't pay much attention to our dying city, so I had no idea this was going on. Thanks for sharing this.

  • 2

    While this is a great idea and plan for the future when people begin moving back into the city, I don't believe that this would be money well spent in the recovery process at this point in time. I do not believe that this would be a factor that will encourage people to move back into the downtown area, like say maybe the establishing of a local grocery store might.

    • 2.1

      The lack of a major chain grocery store bit is a little overblown. As in New York City and Chicago there are small markets people shop instead of depending solely on giant corporate chains. Detroit also has one of the largest farmers' markets in the country.

  • 3

    One correction:

    "Over the past weekend, an estimated 2,000 cyclists came to the city for the 8th annual Tour De Troit"

    Came to? A lot of us were already here! I biked from my apartment to the ride start (and then home again), and I know I wasn't the only one.

    JLovett, the money for things like the greenlink and the dequindre cut are coming from a lot of places other than the City budget (federal, state, private money). I think ANY investment in infrastructure in this city is a good idea. And adding bike lanes to roads with excess capacity doesn't take much more than paint. I don't think encouraging biking is going to get people to "move back" to Detroit. But accommodating those of us who are already here and already doing it seems like a good investment. The city might as well embrace what's already happening.

  • 4

    Oh God . . . don't say Portland. You will you attract the hipsters. Detroit has suffered enough.

    • 4.1

      Um ... yeah. Detroit already HAS hipsters. TONS! I hear they inhabit Woodbridge. Other than some Wayne State students, they are the largest "group" of mostly white people living close to downtown Detroit.

    • 4.2

      Detroit's hipsters are way cool! Ever ride critical mass in the D? Imagine a laid back takeover of city streets. It happens!

    • 4.3

      The city has lost over half its population and you're worried about hipsters?

  • 5

    Karen--check out my cousin's blog about our 30-40 mile weekend bike rides around the city and the weirdness we see. If you or your Time friends would like to join us some Sat or Sun before it gets cold, let me know. is my email.

  • 6

    Karen--I forgot to add the website:

  • 8

    I already do some urban cycling around Detroit. Back and forth to Belle Isle. I get screamed at, I've had people swear at me from their cars, but mostly people are amused to see a loan cyclist going through the urban nothingness on one of the very few recently repaved roads.

    Belle Isle drives me crazy, because it's one of the very few places where there are actual bike lanes on the street. I actually cannot recall where there are bike lanes painted on the pavement shared with cars anywhere else in the city ... Unfortunately, people party and throw their glass bottles all over the park.

    I would be incredibly happy to see some sort of greenway going from the city to the suburbs. Something with a little less glass ... and maybe some working street lights. I don't ask for much!

    Todd Scott, from this website is at basically every city or state meeting about making cycling safer in Detroit: He does a great job at keeping the site updated on what's going on in Detroit / Michigan and the burbs for cycling.

    • 8.1

      The repaving of Jefferson made my summer! And the only other bike lane I can point you to is the inconsistent one along Atwater behind the RenCen.

      And I agree, the amount of broken glass on Belle Isle astounds me. If only there was a way to get people to use only plastic, or maybe learn to hold their drink without throwing it on the ground.

      Karen, definitely get in touch with Todd, as well as the folks at the hub/back alley bikes. I hope to read more exposure for the Detroit bike scene from you guys over the next year!

  • 9

    Hello Karen and all,

    If you have any questions about trails and greenways development, I should be able to answer them (or get the answers for you.)

    We're very fortunate to have champions like Scott Clein who are committed to making Detroit even more bike friendly.

    Yes, nearly all of the bike lanes are on Belle Isle and the MacArthur bridge as of today. We can expect to see about 20 more miles of bike lanes built next year. The city of Detroit is beginning to implement the non-moto plan in earnest.

    And don't forget that tomorrow is the member's only early opening of the latest RiverWalk section through Tri-Centennial State Park.

  • 10

    [...] Their project includes a blog and one of it’s early entries was about biking in Detroit. [...]

  • 11


    One other biking option if you want to see ~30 miles of Detroit via bike would be a group that meets at Fort Wayne Saturday mornings. Its a good group of different ability levels, ages, and is a casual ride if your in decent shape. The group will be rolling out until the end of Oct. Here is the website:
    And welcome to Detroit, happy to have you and the gang here!

  • 12

    [...] Their project includes a blog and one of it's early entries was about biking in Detroit. [...]

  • 13

    I am really glad that this was posted about the bikes in detroit, however i think you are missing some important elements...
    There is already a bike culture that exists inside of city limits, is is being promoted and supported by our bike shops the wheelhouse (on the riverwalk) and the Hub of Detroit (cass and MLK). The hub is the front for the program back alley bikes which has been empowering the community collectively with independent transportation since 2000.

    The best parts of this city aren't usually easy to find, they aren't held in the casino's, or in politicians offices, until you can look past that you won't be covering detroit. You will be covering what they want you to see, the same face detroit has been pretending to wear, when in reality life here is found in the coffee shop, on the corner, on the stoop, in the GROCERY STORES, markets, gardens, independent music venues. people actually living good lives. It breeds the individuals that are actively working with their community to make it a better place. No politics or agendas, real one on one positive action.

    If you want to accurately and as far as national media goes, uniquely, represent detroit, you cannot overlook these elements.

    If i could also ask one thing, why is there no attention being paid to the photographers, documenters, and writers who have been covering these stories for years?

  • 14

    [...] Time to strap on a helmet and ride. Karen Dybis Read more: [...]

  • 15

    [...] you’d assume that an item about bicycles would be Minneapolis-related, but it’s not! It’s about Detroit! Believe it or not, people in the Car Capital of the World love their bikes. And there is a huge [...]

  • 16

    [...] Time to strap on a helmet and ride. Karen Dybis Read more: [...]

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