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Lessons from biking in Detroit

Although people may not associate Detroit with biking, there are a few things Washington can learn from the Motor City. I recently got to ride 2 new trails that include features which could work well in our region.

Photo by Dave Hogg on Flickr.

The Michigan Trails & Greenways Alliance and the Detroit Food & Fitness Collaborative recently invited me to Detroit for a bike tour and to talk about biking in the nation's capital. My tour guide, Todd Scott of Michigan Trails & Greenways Alliance, showed me the Detroit Riverwalk and the Dequindre Cut Greenway, a rails to trails project in the heart of Detroit.

Detroit is still in the beginning phases of building a bike infrastructure, their trails already sport some excellent features.

Separate bicycles and pedestrians

The trail is wide enough for a bike lane in each direction plus a wide pedestrian lane. For the most part, everyone stayed in their allotted space. I was on the trail during the middle of a weekday, so I can't speak for when the trail is busy on a weekend.

Dequindre Cut Greenway. All photos by the author.

Make wayfinding and signage clear

Immediately I noticed the signage along the trail. Below is the sign at the beginning of the trail that serves as wayfinding and provides the rules of the trail.

Sign at the entrance of the Dequindre Cut.

The trail mile/kilometer markers are spaced every 0.1 mile. In the background there are banners on the lights. I didn't get a good photo of them, but they say things like "play," "bike," and "fun."

Mile Markers along Dequindre Cut.

Incorporate public art

Public art gives an area a sense of place. There are murals all along the Dequindre Cut on the walls and bridge underpasses. Some range from graffiti to elaborate works of art. This mural was my favorite.

Ensure security and safety

I saw security guards patrolling the trails. In addition, there are emergency lights about every 200 feet along the trail. They have security cameras and an emergency button.

I really enjoyed the bike tour of Detroit. They have aggressive plans to implement new bike infrastructure, including a new bike sharing program. If they can keep expanding the system, bicycling could become a real travel option for a great many Detroit residents.

Veronica O. Davis, PE, has experience in planning transportation, urban areas, civil infrastructure, and communities. She co-owns Nspiregreen, LLC, an environmental consulting company in DC. She is also the co-founder of Black Women Bike DC, which strives to increase the number of Black women and girls biking for fun, health, wellness, and transportation. 


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It is important to include signage on the trail. So often you come across a road on junction and you don't know what it is unless you're really familiar with the area. In that sense we need to think of these trails as roads where you put up street signs to alert people of the cross streets.

Many of the trails in the DC area are used for transportation as much as recreation but even if you're joy riding in a car you still have road signs.

by drumz on Nov 6, 2012 2:27 pm • linkreport

I think one of the most important features missing from much of the bike infrastructure in the region is separated pedestrian facilities. Pedestrians move at ~2-4 mph whereas bicycles can move at 15-25+ mph. It is just plain dangerous to mix these modes on narrow multi-use trails. I would love to see trails widened to include separated facilities.

by Sam on Nov 6, 2012 2:42 pm • linkreport

Thanks again for coming to Detroit, Veronica.

Those banners on the Dequindre Cut were designed by students at the local elementary school located on the greenway. Here's a close up photo of one of them.

P.S. Love the Captcha

by Todd Scott on Nov 6, 2012 2:51 pm • linkreport

I walked a section of the Dequindre Cut in July and chatted with the artist of the mural you like best; it was only 1/3rd done then. There were a good many people enjoying the Cut, and as that sign indicates, such an excellent amenity to link (their) Eastern Market (which is better than ours - hard to believe) to the newly renovated waterfront park. Hopefully it will continue to get high use when not the high tourist season, of course it was full of trash and hobo camps until very recently.

by Angry Parakeet on Nov 6, 2012 4:24 pm • linkreport

Detroit: Wide streets, low traffic, flat. Perfect for building out bike infrastructure. I hope they keep these efforts rolling. Thanks for this piece, I'd love to visit sometime and ride that trail.

by jackson on Nov 6, 2012 10:58 pm • linkreport

I'd suggest looking at Oakland County. They have a very nice system of little downtown and some biking. Really, a good model for Fairfax/MoCo counties.

by charlie on Nov 7, 2012 5:29 am • linkreport

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