May 10 2013

Biking in the Motor City: How Detroit, Michigan is Returning to Its Roots

Dequindre Cut, Detroit

Maybe one of the biggest surprises you’ll find in Detroit is the presence of a great bike culture. This is surprising for two main reasons:

  1. Detroit is the Motor City: a major part of your associations with Detroit deal with the auto industry here, and the impacts of the industry’s elite on transportation and infrastructure in the city; streets in Detroit are built for a single use – travel by automobile, right?

  2. Detroit is an extremely poor city, so poor the State of Michigan has placed it under Emergency Financial Management; Detroit can’t possibly be investing in bicycling infrastructure, right?

Wrong on both counts (sorry)! First off, the Motor City is slowly transitioning to be the Motorless City. While the automobile industry dominated the outward growth of the city in the early 20th century, driving a car is becoming increasingly less popular in the sprawling city. While it would be difficult to traverse all of Detroit’s 139 square miles on a bike, residents not so keen on buying gas and paying for auto insurance are tuning up their bikes. This, along with abundant vacant land through which to build bike trails, sets up the perfect opportunity for the Motor City to rebrand itself. A new set of Detroiters with a sustainable mentality are moving in, bringing with them a penchant for artsy brews of coffee and bicycling.

Green Infrastructure in Detroit Future City Plan

Detroiters maintain that this new bike culture is good for neighborhoods and economic growth. Bike tour agencies are cropping up around the city allowing residents and tourist alike to discover neighborhoods and architecture they would otherwise drive right past. Not only is bike transportation replacing automobile travel, visiting bicycling enthusiasts are impressed by Detroit’s investment in bike infrastructure. The Dequindre Cut project, which links downtown with the Eastern Market district with separate lanes for cyclists and pedestrians, has gained notoriety recently as an example of superb bicycling infrastructure. The Detroit Future City plan, released this year, notably includes increased “green” infrastructure, including parks and bike lanes. With such notable improvements and continued goals, Detroit is on track to become another Portland, Oregon or Davis, California.

What do you think is key in a city’s attempts to become more bike-friendly?

Credits: Data and images linked to sources.

Meg Mulhall

Meg Mulhall is an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan. She calls Kalamazoo, Michigan her hometown but is currently exploring community organizing and urban planning efforts in Ann Arbor and Detroit, Michigan. Planning to pursue a degree in either public policy or political science, Meg is interested in the relationship between government and non-governmental organizations and how those relationships can help remedy the lack of responsible and smart planning-related policies.

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This entry was posted on Friday, May 10th, 2013 at 9:49 am and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Environment, Government/Politics, Infrastructure, Land Use, Transportation, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


2 Responses to “Biking in the Motor City: How Detroit, Michigan is Returning to Its Roots”

  1. Mike Frederick Says:

    Great article! I used this for my latest blog! Thanks!

  2. Meg Mulhall Says:

    I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, Mike! Check back for more updates on Detroit.

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