It’s an easy opinion to find on bike forums: Detroit is bad for cycling. Those opinions are usually based on cyclists who ride in the suburbs or exurbs where poor street planning, cul-de-sacs and sprawl means they’re forced to ride on busy arterial roads which don’t have bike lanes.
But it’s simply not correct to label all Metro Detroit as bad. Our cycling condition is far from homogeneous.
The city of Detroit riding is some of the best cycling in America: mostly complete street grids, low speeds, very light traffic — and now many miles of bike lanes.
Some of the inner ring suburbs designed during the streetcar era aren’t too bad or at least have good potential. That includes the suburban cities like Dearborn, Royal Oak, Birmingham, Berkley and the Pointes.
Beyond that, yeah, the cycling can get pretty rough. Cities like Novi and Ferndale have shown leadership on improving cycling opportunities. Royal Oak, Berkley, and Birmingham are coming along, but we don’t see many others following them – at least not yet.
Worse still, some communities have talked the talk on Complete Streets but are not committed to building them. They just don’t see bicycles as transportation and they’re willing to redefine Complete Streets as the status quo with improved crosswalks.
Still, it’s not just about building Complete Streets. A much bigger issue is land use. Sprawl hurts cycling and kills walking as transportation modes. There’s a real vacuum of regional leadership on that issue.
Suburban sense of entitlement
One other difference we’ve seen is the suburban sense of entitlement. Entitlement to the entire road, that is. Getting brushed by motorists and yelled at is a common story shared by many suburban cyclists.
And one of our favorite blogs, Bikes, Books, and a Little Music seems to share this viewpoint after their first ride in the suburbs.
In Detroit, drivers gave me lots of room when passing by and never yelled at me. In the suburbs, the drivers were much more aggressive, many times forcing me to the curb. During my first week of riding, two suburban drivers yelled at me to get out of the street and get on the sidewalk where I belong!
As I soon found out, there is a difference between city and suburban riding. For me, Detroit is a much more interesting place to ride.
Moving from Madison Heights
Here’s another related story of a former Madison Heights city councilman moving to the city of Detroit. This is less about the infrastructure than the culture.
Another roommate worked at the Hub of Detroit, so getting a bicycle was a first priority upon moving in. The bicycle culture here in the city is larger than I had imagined. From Critical Mass to Tour De Troit, to the Bikes and Murder Slow Ride to Slow Jams, to the Full Moon bike ride from Fender Bender, there is not a lack of people who are willing to take a ride on a nice day (or a rainy/snowy one!)
Troy loves sidewalk biking
For some cities, it’s difficult harboring any hope that they’ll ever value safe biking. For us, Troy is one of those cities.
The latest proof? The city of Troy touts their 500 miles of sidewalks… for bicyclists.
A community with sidewalks enables residents to walk and ride bikes. There is a clear correlation between a sedentary lifestyle and poor health. Thus sidewalks make walking & biking a viable option. Bike route signs are placed throughout the City.
Sidewalks are not a viable option for most bicyclists according to the national design guidelines nor their own non-motorized plan, which the Troy City Council paid for but never approved and is not implementing.
Unfortunately we’ve seen many local biking “experts” label this region based on their experience in cities like Troy.
Fortunately, they’re not correct.