Archive for the ‘Detroit’ Category

Detroit Patrolman Charles Stewart’s “Horrible Death”

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

detroit-police-at-elmwood-station-1895The Detroit Police Department (originally called the Metropolitan Police) were among the first to put officers on bicycles.

In 1893, Officer Charles J. Stewart was appointed to the department and began his assignment on the Elmwood Precinct bicycle patrol. The Elmwood station was on Elmwood Avenue between Lafayette and E. Fort Street. The station and those segments of Elmwood and Fort no longer exist, but it would have been a block east and just south of the current Lafayette/McDougall intersection where the MLK High School is now

The Detroit News has an 1895 photo of Officers Joe Whitty (left) and Stewart taken at the Elmwood Station. Both are wearing their bicycle police uniforms, which included knickers to prevent their pant legs from getting caught in their front sprocket. Their bikes were fixed gears with dropped bars and designed to go fast. It doesn’t appear they had brakes.

There were very few automobiles on the roads, but Whitty and Stewart had to be able to catch the fast cyclists of the day who might be scorching (i.e. speeding) on Detroit’s streets. The speed limit was 8 MPH in the downtown area and 12 MPH outside of it.

Baulch-cycle-ad-1897On September 16th 1899, Whitty and Stewart made plans to meet at the corner of E. Jefferson and Orleans. This is where E. Jefferson crosses over the Dequindre Cut today. F. Baulch Cycle Manufacturing and store was in the southwest corner where they’d planned to meet. Baulch made a number of different bikes, including the Defender, Fairy, Junior, Matchless, Queen, and Scorcher. It’s possible that Whitty and Stewart rode Baulch’s, perhaps even the Defender model.

On this evening at 8:25pm, the Detroit Free Press reported:

Very few persons took particular notice of the figure in blue as it sped across Jefferson Avenue at Orleans Street astride a wheel. Cycles were passing to and fro in droves and the usual crowd of wheelmen stood in front of the F. Baulch Manufacturing Company’s store…

Suddenly there was a despairing shriek and all heads turned in the direction of an east-bound Jefferson [street] car, Number 704, that had barely reached the corner. A form was seen to disappear beneath the wheels, the car made a few convulsive movements, and there was a sudden rush to the spot. Witnesses state that the car went at least seventy-five yards after the collision

When the crowd struggled to get closer to the car beneath which was the twisted and bleeding form of a man, some person asked who had been killed.

“Why, it’s Joe Whitty, the bike cop,” remarked one man. Iron jacks were soon employed in lifting the heavy car. Slowly it parted from the human form beneath and finally, after fully half an hour, the body was free and was carried to the side of the road.

“Life was then extinct” according to the Free Press. An ambulance then took the body to the Elmwood police station.

A moment after [the] ambulance had rolled away from the station with what everybody supposed was the dead body of Joseph Whitty, the door of the Elmwood station was thrown open and a man as pale as death entered. He look about as if in a dream.

“My God,” cried an officer, “here’s Joe Whitty. He ain’t dead.”

captain-william-nolan“No, I ain’t dead,” remarked Whitty like a man stupefied, “as I was coming up lots of people said I was dead.”

“Where’s Stewart?” cried Captain [William] Nolan.

“I don’t know,” said Whitty, “he must be dead.”

Tears were falling from Whitty’s eyes and he was trembling. Captain Nolan rushed to the telephone and, in husky tones, notified the undertaker of the error in identifying the dead man. It was a scene of confusion, but the heart of every man in the station was touched and many wept. Whitty could hardly realize the condition of affairs.

There was speculation that Stewart had been pursuing a speeding cyclist, but Whitty concluded his partner was “simply endeavoring to pass in front of a swiftly moving [street] car.” In 1899, the Jefferson Avenue streetcars were electric. The 704 was a big 50-seat model with a weight over 10 tons — no match for a bicycle.

Officer Charles Stewart (Free Press)Stewart was 30 years old, married with a 2-year old daughter Leona. Detroit City Council provided a pension to his widow of $25 per month for the rest of her life or until she was remarried. Every month, Lillian Stewart had to provide the City Clerk with certificates from two reputable people stating that she had not remarried. It appears she never did. We found a gravesite for a Lillian Thomas Stewart at Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery in Southwest Detroit. However we did not find one for Officer Stewart.

Leona also received a pension of $5 a month until she turned 16.

So why wasn’t Whitty riding with Stewart to the bike shop? Whitty had a tire puncture and had to fix it, wrote Isaiah “Ike” McKinnon in his book In the Line of Duty.

According to the International Police Mountain Bike Association, Officer Stewart was the second public safety cyclist killed in the U.S. The first was Patrolman Frederick H. Lincoln of the New York City Police Department who crashed after hitting pedestrian and striking his head against a curb.

Evolution of the Wheel

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

The following editorial ran in the August 5th, 1899 Detroit Free Press.

This year was arguably at or near the peak of Detroit’s golden-era of bicycling. What’s striking is how the benefits of bicycling are practically the same today as they were more than a century earlier. Surprisingly, the health benefits of bicycling are not mentioned.

Evolution of the Wheel

There could be no more fitting time to apostrophize the bicycle. The pavilion dedicated to it last evening at the island is a monument to one of the most marked and widely appreciated innovations of our modern civilization. The evolution of the wheel has been steadily toward the ideal. In beauty, speed and utility, its record is one of unbroken progress. It has made itself a formidable factor in the social problems, in politics, in war and in the ever pressing question of personal economy. It is the foe of monopoly, the handmaid of pleasure, the companion of loneliness and the champion of good roads.

Like many other great successes in this uncertain world, the bicycle was of humble origin. It sprang from the wheelbarrow, and no one blames it. This is the reason that you can fall so far and be so long about it when you are mixed up with one of these machines, no matter what price or what model. The velocipede, which the best authorities testify was a connecting link, was uglier than anything except a three-humped camel trying to escape its keeper. The device will best be recalled as propelled by a small boy with a straw hat over his ears, his busy feet on a level with his chin and his shoulders settled down on his waist line. Then came the ungainly affair with the enormous fly wheel in front, and a pitiful little baby wheel trailing. To drop from it was like falling off a load of hay and it forced upon short, fat men the indignity of mounting from a second story window or a convenient shade tree. Nearly all of those who were thrown from it and survived are miscellaneously maimed.

But it is through such rugged stages that success is reached. The bicycle became a thing of beauty and a joy forever, with pneumatic tires that are blown up as they deserve it, artistic finish, ball bearings, spring seats and an unaccountable disposition to participate in a scorch. At last they have thrown off their chains and have the highest degree of freedom attainable by things inanimate. They neither eat nor drink but are always merry. They toll not, neither do they spin — when a policemen is looking — yet Solomon in all his glory could not have ridden one of them to save his life. They do not shy at firecrackers, a cow in the road, or a locomotive whistle, it does not require two hands to hold them when an interested couple are going home, as it does a horse headed for the oats bin, and they will stand without hitching, wherever the bicycle thief permits. In time, it is predicted, they will have wings, and humanity itself aspires to nothing more desirable.

The pavilion mentioned in the editorial was Bicycle Pavilion on Belle Isle. It still stands but is now called the Athletic Pavilion.

The Good Roads movement led by bicyclists in 1899 is similar to today’s Complete Streets movement.

A “scorch” is riding fast on a city street. Those who did that often were called scorchers.

Wings? Well that prediction came up a bit short.

Woodward Transit Community Meetings this week

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

Six meeting are planned this week to discuss the initial bus rapid transit (BRT) plans for Woodward Avenue.

  • Tuesday, December 3 from 6 to 8 pm (Royal Oak and Birmingham)
    Beaumont Hospital Administration Building, 3711 W. 13 Mile Road, Royal Oak, MI 48073
    (Free parking in South Deck Parking, enter from Coolidge Highway.)
  • Thursday, December 5 from 5:30 to 7:30 pm (Berkley and Huntington Woods)
    Berkley Community Center, 2400 Robina Avenue, Berkley, MI, 48070
  • Saturday, December 7 from 11am to 1pm (Pontiac, Bloomfield Hills and Bloomfield Township)
    St. Joseph?s Hospital, Anthony M. Franco Communications Center Auditorium,?44555 Woodward Avenue, Pontiac, MI, 48341
  • Monday, December 9 from 6 to 8 pm (Detroit and Highland Park)
    Michigan State University Event Center, 3408 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, MI 48201
  • Tuesday, December 10 from 6 to 8 pm (Detroit and Highland Park)
    Next Energy, 461 Burroughs Street, Detroit, MI 48202
  • Wednesday, December 11 from 6 to 8 pm (Ferndale and Pleasant Ridge)
    Coolidge Intermediate School, 2521 Bermuda Street, Ferndale, MI 48220

BRT is the preferred model for connecting Detroit and the suburbs for a lower initial cost when compared with light rail. A well-designed BRT can greatly increase bicycling as well. Bicycling is often used for the first and last miles of a transit ride.

One of the major concerns we have with this planning involves M1 Rail. As you probably know, M1 Rail will be predominantly curb-running on Woodward where cyclists now ride. Adding tracks to the roadway will make it much less safe. The mitigation proposed by MDOT is to improve Cass Avenue for cyclists, which parallels a portion of Woodward. There have been rumblings that M1 Rail may also force the BRT off Woodward as well — and on to Cass. This could make Cass much less bike friendly. Our preference is to keep BRT on Woodward where it belongs and make Cass more bike friendly. MDOT owes bicyclists a safe alternative to Woodward per their Complete Streets policy.

 

Woodward Complete Streets planning comes to Detroit & Highland Park

Monday, June 17th, 2013

A Complete Streets planning project along the entire length of Woodward — River to Pontiac — has been setting up visiting parts of M1. For the next three days it will be focusing on Woodward from Jefferson to McNichols.

You can drop in to their pop-up offices at 2990 Grand Boulevard in the New Center from now until Wednesday at 7pm.

There are also a three free special events planned for tomorrow, June 18th:

  • 9am — A walkability audit starting at 2990 Grand Boulevard. If you’ve never been on a Dan Burden walkability audit, you don’t want to miss this. It will give you a newfound common-sense perspective on what works and what doesn’t in the walking environment.
  • 4pm — A second walkability audit starts at the old Ford Admin building on Woodward just north of the Model T Plaza.
  • 6pm — A biking audit start at the Hub of Detroit, 3535 Cass. Bring a bike we’ll tour Woodward discussing how to improve it for all cyclists.

There’s more information on the Transform website.

Woodward Complete Streets meeting on April 17th

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

Woodward Complete Streets flyerThe Woodward Complete Streets planning project has been underway for months, but now it’s time to engage with residents and stakeholders.

To accomplish this, a series of five 3-day open houses are being announced along Woodward. The first is April 17th through the 19th with a focus on Woodward from McNichols (6 Mile Road) north through Ferndale.

The meeting location is the St. James Catholic Church at 241 Pearson Street at Woodward in Ferndale.

A special focus group meeting for cyclists is scheduled for April 17th at noon. Yes, lunch will be provided. This is your best bet to giving feedback on how to make Woodward more bicycle friendly.

If you can’t make this meeting, there are drop in hours:

  • April 17th from 9am until 5pm
  • April 18th from 12pm until 8pm
  • April 19th from 9am until 3pm

There’s also a walking audit with Dan Burden. We’ve been on many of his tours that are full of common sense traffic solutions. He strongly recommend you consider attending one of these.

More information is available on this Woodward Complete Streets flyer.