Detroit: a national model for public-private partnership

As the MTGA Detroit Greenways Coordinator, I worked with different City departments to complete Detroit’s Bicycle Friendly Community application, which was submitted last Friday.

One question was to name three primary reasons Detroit deserves this recognition. Here’s one of the given reasons:

Detroit is a national leader in developing and maintaining greenways/biking facilities through public-private partnerships. Philanthropy, community development organization, business organization, and other non-profits are the driver behind much of the bicycle friendly infrastructure in Detroit. For example, the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy has raised $104 million to transform Detroit’s industrial riverfront into a world class greenway. That said, a limitation of this BFC application is it presumes the city is always the project development and maintenance lead. That is not often the case in Detroit. For example, while there is approximately city of Detroit 1 FTE working on bicycle issues, there are approximately 30 FTEs among the non-profits and retained consultants.

This recent video from the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy highlights their public-private partnership on greenway security. In most cities, security would be provided by a police agency or perhaps contracted by them.

Maintenance on the RiverWalk and Dequindre are similar in that the Conservancy hired Clean Detroit and others to perform the work. In other cities this work is more commonly performed by city staff.

The other two reasons

The Bicycle Friendly Community application asked for three primary reasons. Here are the other two.

Detroit is bike friendly in 2012 for many of the same reasons it was bike friendly in 1910. There are not that many cars on the roads, which is not something that’s reflected in this application. The city’s population has dropped over 61% since 1950 and we’ve added a comprehensive freeway network. Both issues have pulled cars off the surface streets. Detroit has 23 linear feet of road for every resident, nearly double the rate in Los Angeles. Cyclists dont always need a bike lane when they have a car lane to themselves. During a recent meeting on creating another Detroit bike map, we realized that there are so many roads that accommodate bikes well in their current state. We agreed it would be easier to just mark the few roads that don’t.

Detroit has a burgeoning Black bike cultures perhaps unmatched by any other city. Despite being the Motor City, that’s not unexpected since Detroit has the highest percentage of African American residents among U.S. cities over 100,000. There are at five Detroit riding clubs that have formed in the past 2 years. These clubs are growing in popularity. One club, Grown Men on Bikes (GMOB) just released their own theme song to ride to. These clubs along with the youth clubs and Hispanic bike clubs are helping overcome the stigma of the bicycle as a last choice mode of transport.

We should know in a couple months whether Detroit will be recognized as a bicycle friendly community. Currently there are none in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties. Ferndale applied years ago but was unsuccessful.

It would be quite exciting if Detroit was the first.

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2 Responses to “Detroit: a national model for public-private partnership”

  1. Joe Says:

    Hey Todd, this is an exciting application to hear about! Will you (or the league) make the application form public at some point in time?
    I’m familiar with the app, and it has lots of great questions about city resources, who our city bike/ped coordinator is and so on, and people ask me about these types of things all the time. I’d love to be able to tout the X lane miles or tell them “Call [insert name here] at the city! They’re our bike person in planning!”

  2. Todd Scott Says:

    I just emailed it to you.

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