The city has launched a two-year planning study in six neighborhoods surrounding the Joe Louis Greenway amid its ongoing efforts to gather resident input on the 27.5 mile biking and walking trail that will connect Detroit’s riverfront to Hamtramck, Highland Park, and Dearborn.
The planning study, which began Sept. 19, will include sections of each City Council district, apart from Districts 1 and 4, to build upon feedback Detroit has received from neighborhood framework planning across the city in recent years.
“But this plan will be a little bit different,” said Michele Flournoy, lead planner of greenways and open spaces for Detroit’s Planning and Development Department, “because we’re looking at the impact of the greenway and how that might affect the markets, the economic opportunity, and also what policies could actually go alongside the greenway that might be different than other places in the city.”
Flournoy, greenway project managers and representatives from Detroit’s General Services Department, made the remarks last week as she gave a group of about 30 residents on the city’s east side an overview of the planning process, biking infrastructure related to the $200 million project as well as a planned neighborhood signage program starting on Detroit’s west side.
In 2019, the city began talking with residents living near the proposed greenway about the idea of connecting neighborhoods to the riverfront. Flournoy said that the new planning study is all about making sure there are opportunities for the surrounding neighborhoods.
“The planning process alongside that will help make sure that the (greenway) vision comes about in a way that residents in the adjacent neighborhoods and stakeholders really want to see,” Flournoy said.
Officials said the planning study, paid for with $1 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding, will look at the areas surrounding the Dequindre Cut extension, Northeast Greenway, Northwest Greenway, Westside Greenway, Southwest Connection and Vernor-Hubbard Corktown area. Detroit City Council in July approved the contract for the project which will be led by consultants from Interface Studio LLC.
Citt officials said they want to use the study to better understand the potential economic impacts of the greenway, recommend future land use along the greenway as well as design and policy guidelines to support future development and to beautify existing properties along the route.
At the same time, the city is continuing to engage residents to get feedback on all aspects of the greenway plan. The city’s greenway implementation plan calls for continued community input and potential refinement of the route through 2024. Input on the plan design is slated to run through 2025, and construction of the greenway, through 2028, according to the city’s engagement plan.
Sharlene Burris, a Detroiter who lives on St. Aubin near Mack Avenue, said during last week’s meeting at Detroit Edison Public School Academy that she is in favor of all the proposed plans for the Greenway so far.
“Anything that will help beautify our city, I’m with it,” Burris told BridgeDetroit. “Then the greenway will be safe and make it easier to bike from place to place, I really like that.”
Burris is a member of the Kenyatta Block Club, which is focused on people who live and work in Detroit’s 48207 ZIP code – an area that’s being impacted by the Joe Louis Greenway planned Dequindre Cut extension. Project managers of the greenway have proposed removing existing bike lanes on Burris’ street.
“As for the bike lanes, if removing them will cause more traffic (on St. Aubin), then I’d like them to stay because that street already has a ton of cars and trucks driving on it all the time,” she said.
Charlotte Blackwell, a Detroiter who lives on the city’s westside in the Littlefield neighborhood, also attended the meeting, even though it was held on the other side of the city. Blackwell said she was a part of the initial resident outreach process in 2019, but said she wanted to see how far the plans had come.
“I love the fact that they’re actually bringing the community out and taking their suggestions to heart to help to understand the design process of the plan,” said Blackwell, who called the greenway project “ambitious and impressive.”
“The idea of connecting Detroit, Hamtramck, Highland Park and Dearborn together in a way that is bikeable and walkable is just really cool and unique,” she added. That level of interconnectedness is something that has the potential to change the way people think about cities like Detroit.”
But not everyone has viewed the greenway engagement process as positive. Some residents near the planned expansion of the Dequindre Cut have argued in recent weeks that the city hasn’t done enough to include them and that they worry there won’t have a true say in the project.
Detroit officials have countered that community engagement has and will be a “staple” in the greenway. The past few years have included dozens of public meetings and events, signage and flyers.
The city last week also talked with residents about a neighborhood signage program that will help cyclists identify and understand the history of neighborhoods they are riding through.
Christina Peltier, a greenway project manager with GSD, said residents have suggested signage that includes historical information about different neighborhoods and quick facts about people who have contributed to the culture of those neighborhoods.
“Residents told us it is really important for people to ride through these neighborhoods and understand where they are, and really celebrate the communities that the users are going through,” Peltier said during the meeting.
The signage program also will include memorials to honor neighborhood association leaders, well-known figures like artist Jason Phillips – a Black Detroit painter and tattoo artist – as well as murals exploring the diversity of the community.
The project, which kicked off earlier this month, will begin with the installation of at least 12 signs in the Midwest neighborhood on the west side between Warren and Joy Road.
Peltier said the city hopes to bring a similar concept to neighborhoods on the east side, but there’s no timeline for that yet.
Construction on the Dequindre Cut extension is expected to begin in 2023. The cut, a former Grand Trunk Railroad line, first opened to the public in May 2009. It is managed by the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy and was expanded by about half a mile from Gratiot Avenue to Mack in 2016.
The city’s Department of Neighborhoods is hosting a virtual meeting at 5 p.m. Sept. 19 to provide information and gather more feedback on biking infrastructure near the Joe Louis Greenway, design plans, the neighborhood planning study and signage program plans.
More details about the greenway and upcoming meetings are available on the Joe Louis Greenway website.