Building community in Detroit with bicycles

The Free Press special report Living with murder: Complete coverage contains some positive coverage of Detroit residents building community. One story highlights bicycling’s role in the community fabric.

The brothers have lived for 40 years in a run-down house on the corner of Bessemore and Georgia. They’re members of The East Side Riders, a custom-bicycle club that gathers for casual rides. They hold workshops for neighborhood kids to show them simple things such as how to change a flat tire, to more difficult tasks such as customizing — or tricking out — their bikes. What started as fun has become a crime-fighting tool.

When the bodies of women were being found scattered on the east side inside abandoned houses and lots in the summer of 2009, the brothers rode around, handing out flyers and warning women not to walk alone. On Angels’ Night, the eve before Halloween, they’ve patrolled the neighborhood. They even ride along with children as they walk to and from school.

“We just want to keep it safe where we live,” said David Jarrell, 47.

This article also shows the great value places like the Hub of Detroit bring to the community. It’s great that we can find millions to build walking and biking facilities, but it’s challenging to find those same kinds of dollars for this bicycling support network. Both need to be supported if we’re to be successful in getting more Detroiters choosing bicycles.

Sharrows on Gratiot and Fort Street

Recently the East Side Riders asked for bike lanes on Gratiot, a route they often ride to get Downtown and to the RiverWalk. That request was passed along to MDOT. Years ago MDOT had discussed adding bike lanes to Gratiot but that would have removed the on-street parking – a non-starter for the city.

Now MDOT is looking to simply add sharrows, shared lane markings that remind motorists to share the road while providing guidance to cyclists on where to position themselves on the road. MDOT hopes to have them installed next year from Conner Avenue/Conner Creek Greenway to the Dequindre Cut. These may be a forerunner to some eventual bike lanes.

We recently spoke with Tim Springer from Springer Consulting in Minneapolis. He visited Detroit to share his experience with their Midtown Greenway and look at opportunities in Detroit.

One of his thoughts was to add separated two-way cyclepaths to our major spoke roads such as Gratiot and Grand River. Yes, it would take away some vehicle travel lanes, but those roads have extra capacity. While surveys find many Detroit residents would feel comfortable riding in bike lanes on major roads, other cities are finding that many more would feel comfortable on physically-separated bike lanes. And as Springer noted, the spoke roads are often the fastest routes to get across the city so we should prioritize investing in them for better bicycling.

As for sharrows, MDOT is also looking to add them on Fort Street in Southwest Detroit, a route used by the Underground Railroad Bicycle Route.


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One Response to “Building community in Detroit with bicycles”

  1. Joel Batterman Says:

    Separated paths on Gratiot and the other spokes (not to mention Fort) are a no-brainer. Those roads carry a fraction of the cars they were built to serve. Few American cities have this kind of opportunity, and Detroit should take advantage of it, not just add sharrows.

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