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Visits to Belle Isle have been rising as has traffic and parking challenges on the 982-acre island park. State officials have partnered with the Belle Isle Conservancy on a study to assess ways to make the island safer and more convenient to travel. (BridgeDetroit photo by Malachi Barrett)

Belle Isle is flush with visitors and the state is looking for advice on safer and more convenient ways to navigate the island.

The state Department of Natural Resources launched a public input survey this week to gather feedback as part of an ongoing mobility study. The survey, available in English, Spanish and Arabic, is open until Feb. 19, inviting park visitors to share observations and suggestions tied to traffic, parking and traveling through the 982-acre island park. To obtain a paper copy of the survey or to participate by phone, call (313) 261-5050.

Belle Isle’s Multimodal Mobility Study is an 18-month effort to come up with a plan to better manage the parking, wayfinding and circulation of traffic on the island. The state’s parks and transportation departments and Belle Isle Conservancy are partners in the endeavor that aims to reduce traffic congestion and ease travel for all park users and all modes of transportation. Consultants with Detroit-based Wade Trim hope to complete the study by the end of 2023. 

David Alexander sat on a bench teaching his four-year-old son to fish at Belle Isle. (BridgeDetroit file photo by Cybelle Codish) 

Last year, Belle Isle saw more than five million visitors – nearly doubling its annual visits since 2014. 

“With a rising number of visitors accessing the park, getting onto and around the island can come with challenges during certain times of the year,” said Amanda Treadwell, urban field planner for the DNR Parks and Recreation Division. “Hearing from park users about their experiences – what works well for them, what changes could make their visits more enjoyable – will help us develop mobility solutions that work for everyone.”

Detroit residents and park visitors have complained about speeding, distracted driving and crashes on Belle Isle, including a fatal hit-and-run crash that killed a young beachgoer last summer. Transportation advocates have decried fatal crashes and frequent accidents resulting from what they contend is unsafe infrastructure that has prioritized vehicles over pedestrians and bicyclists. Some have called for vehicles to be banned from the park.

The DNR has noted that the study is one of multiple efforts to improve mobility and safety on the island known as a cruising destination. One major goal is to ensure that the island is more accessible for emergency vehicles that can get choked in traffic at the MacArthur Bridge entrance.

Since July, Wade Trim has collected data on modes of transportation at 60 intersections and through an aerial traffic inventory study as well as in-person observations of how visitors use and move around the park, and on-site surveys with more than 400 visitors, the DNR noted in a Thursday news release. 

The consultants also held discussions with the City of Detroit, vendors and tenants on the island, community groups and others. Conversations remain ongoing with park users and residents of Detroit and the region. 

Besides traffic, the study is looking at ways to improve or create trails for walking and biking between the island destinations, public transit, a ferry or shuttle service and ride-share options like MoGo bikes, scooters or access for personal watercraft.

Belle Isle has been operating as a state park since February 2014 under a 30-year lease agreement reached during the city’s bankruptcy. 

For more information about the study, contact Amanda Treadwell.

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2 Comments

  1. Haven’t been to Belle Isle in years because it is incredibly unsafe to bike onto the island. I’d rather not become a traffic death statistic because the State refuses to understand that an itty bit of paint isn’t going to protect me from being struck by a driver operating a multi-ton vehicle. Until they fix that, the island will be only for those elite that can recreationally drive a motor vehicle to an island.

  2. It’s been nearly a decade since the DNR took over Belle Isle, yet in all that time the DNR has done nothing to improve the nasty ladies room at the Belle Isle Bathhouse. Why is that?

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