Detroit may be the Motor City, but the cost of auto insurance forces many Detroiters into alternative modes of transportation. According to a 2017 University of Michigan study, about a third of Detroit residents don’t own a car. This means some Detroiters have to rely on public transportation, walking or biking to get around the city.
Since 2011, the City of Detroit has spent about $14 million on installing bike lanes, which includes about 50 miles of protected bike lanes and 210 miles of unprotected lanes. However, some of the bike lanes were installed as components of streetscape projects using private, state and federal money.
- Detroit plans 3 more streetscape projects for Corktown, West and East Warren
- Opinion: In Detroit, Black mobility matters
In a city with as many carless residents as Detroit, the installation of bike lanes should’ve been seen as a welcome improvement. However, at best, some residents call them a waste of taxpayer funds and say they aren’t safe or, at worst, that they are useless features to attract gentrifying Detroiters. Last year, residents in the Virginia Park neighborhood debated plans for a revamped neighborhood streetscape along Rosa Parks Boulevard. The proposed project included the installation of bike lanes. Some residents initially opposed the lanes, but the project was eventually approved in December.
Yet, officials say the bike lanes serve the city’s most vulnerable residents and help expand mobility options.
Bikes lanes have received mixed reviews, but that may have something to do with how they began.
In 2015, Maurice Cox, the then-director of the City’s Planning and Development Department, prioritized bike lanes as a strategy for increasing mobility options in the city. In a 2017 video, Cox said adding bike lanes would create a more affordable transportation method for Detroiters, however, the bike lanes weren’t added to neighborhoods that may have needed them most.
A Bridge Michigan analysis from the same year found the bike lanes were mostly being installed in more affluent areas of the city like Livernois Avenue, Midtown and Michigan Avenue in Corktown. The analysis also found that bike lanes cost about $300,000 for every 2.5 miles.
Detroit adopted a Community Engagement and Outreach Ordinance, which outlines how City departments gather resident input regarding proposed changes and investments in 2019. Cox’s tenure, and the bike lane installments, began before the ordinance was in place.
Dayo Akinyemi, deputy director of the Detroit Department of Public Works (DPW), said bike lanes are a worthwhile investment.
“The goal was to provide an additional mode of transportation in a safe manner, connecting the key destinations within the city,” Akinyemi said in a statement. “Offering safe transportation options for all users is very important for our most vulnerable citizens.”
Akinyemi said the City is seeing the bike lanes used more often as time goes on. According to an email DPW sent to BridgeDetroit, there’s been a 20% to 25% increase in the number of people using bike lanes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This could be due to people having more time at home, seeking recreational release, or finding a new found interest in exercise and personal health,” he said.
Georgette Johnson, a spokeswoman for DPW, said the data about increased ridership, which was pulled from more than 200 Miovision cameras across the city, is a sign that adding bike lanes is advancing the city’s goal of expanding mobility and transportation choices for Detroiters. Johnson also said the City currently gets resident feedback before moving forward with street design changes, which include bike lanes.
Bike lanes are still a contentious issue among Detroiters. Deonte Porteas, a Detroiter who frequently rides the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) buses, said he doesn’t believe the bike lanes are safe.
“If you look at the bike lanes downtown and in Midtown, and even some on East Jefferson, they have the little guard sticks,” Porteas said. “But not every bike lane has those, so it’s like some riders are protected and others aren’t.”
The guard sticks – or bollards – that Porteas is referring to are installed between bike and car lanes to keep cyclists safe from car traffic. Porteas said he doesn’t use his bike much in the city because he’s concerned about safety.
Shaun Reese, another Detroiter who rides the bus frequently, said he wishes there were more bike lanes and more emphasis on getting people to use them.
“Not everyone in this city can afford a car, not everyone even wants a car,” Reese said.
Reese said he “barely” rides his bike nowadays, as did Porteas. But Detroiter Donald Shell rides his bike “about 25 miles every day.”
Shell lives on the city’s northwest side in Rosedale Park, but sometimes rides his bike downtown and even to Belle Isle. Shell wants bigger lanes, more bollards and for motorists to be more aware of riders.
Shell said there are bike lanes that also end suddenly, which can be “kind of scary” for people who aren’t used to that.
Paul Jones III, a Detroiter who is a mobility advocate and master’s degree candidate in Urban & Regional Planning at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College, said bike lanes could be planned better and community engagement about their use and value improved. Like Shell, Jones feels that having bike lanes that suddenly end is a problem.
“Not only do we have so many different looking types of bike lanes, some are a single lane while others have two separate lanes, but we also have these bike lanes that don’t really go anywhere,” Jones said. “If they aren’t connecting people to anything, then what’s the point?”
Jones, who is also a board member of Transit Riders United, said the issue of safety will continue to factor into why more people don’t use the bike lanes that already exist.
“When you look at who is getting killed by drivers in this city, it’s usually Black people, and that’s because we haven’t prioritized creating an infrastructure that makes walking and biking in our own neighborhoods safer to do,” he said.
The Detroit Board of Police Commissioners looked at Southeast Michigan Council of Governments bicycle crash data from 2011 to 2015 and found that Detroit had the highest bicyclist mortality rate in the state in 2018.
Jones said a remedy for this, and many other issues associated with bike lanes, is more communication between the city’s Planning & Development Department and residents.
“I don’t think this is unique to bike lanes, but our city leaders need to take time to hear and really answer residents’ questions before moving forward with plans that might confuse or not make sense to us,” he said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Virginia Park residents “nixed” bike lane plans. Residents voted to adopt a plan that would add bike lanes to Rosa Parks in December.