The Divide: What Pedals and Walks in Detroit, Stays in Detroit

The city-suburb divide is more than metaphorical for anyone on foot or pedaling a bicycle: it’s downright dangerous.

On the busiest roadways that border and traverse the city– 8 Mile Road, Michigan Avenue, Moross Road, for example – safe crossings and routes for non-motorized transportation -- including pedestrians and wheelchair users -- are nearly non-existent.

That’s a pattern that carries over into the suburbs, which have been much slower than Detroit to embrace biking and walking pathways and other infrastructure. Ask anyone strolling or jogging on downtown’s RiverWalk or any cyclist in the newly marked bike lanes throughout the city and they’re likely to agree: one of Detroit’s current success stories is its embracing of greenways.

Defined as marked routes for non-motorized transportation that may be either a separate pathway or a shared roadway, the city’s greenways include the downtown RiverWalk that connects to the Dequindre Cut and the sunken former railway that architects envision eventually running to Hamtramck.

The RiverWalk’s eastern end at Mount Elliot will soon continue to Belle Isle, while its western end is getting closer to the Corktown-Mexicantown route connecting southwest Detroit attractions, businesses, restaurants and neighborhoods.

On Detroit’s far east side, the Conner Creek Greenway links Maheras Gentry Park on the Detroit River to 8 Mile Road, at least in theory, as planners have routed it for future construction as funding becomes available. 

During the last few years the route has been defined with bike lanes striped on St. Jean and Conner street, wide sidewalks near City Airport and an off-road site near Van Dyke Street and Outer Drive. Later this year it will be built between McNichols Road and 8 Mile if all goes as planned.

The greenways allow cyclists, walker, skaters and people using electric wheelchairs, for example, to travel the city more easily, safely and healthily.
“It’s one example of what a city can do to try to promote or create policy which seeks to promote a healthier lifestyle,” says Detroit City Council Member Ken Cockrel, Jr.

The word “city” in that sentence is the key. Few suburban efforts are coming close to matching what’s happened inside Detroit’s borders with greenway construction, the striping of bike lanes and support for a non-motorized transportation infrastructure in general.

A few places offer hope: Ferndale is working on connecting its existing bike lanes to Livernois and Woodward avenues, says Todd Scott, Detroit coordinator for the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance. 

Officials there are also looking at how residents can cross 8 Mile Road to reach the planned shopping development on Woodward near the State Fairgrounds.
In Dearborn and southwest Detroit, a greenway is planned as a 10-foot-wide path to connect the city’s and suburb’s Patton and Lapeer parks respectively. 

Ultimately, planners hope to somehow route the greenway to a connection with Fort Wayne, Clark Park and the RiverWalk.

With links coming soon between the existing greenways and bike lanes and the planned Midtown Loop around Wayne State University and the cultural district, the city’s top destinations will be linked and connected by a non-motorized network.

Too bad we can’t say the same for the city and its neighboring suburbs.

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