Paul Jones
Paul Jones III is a native Detroiter, a master’s degree candidate in Urban & Regional Planning at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College, and a board member of Transit Riders United. Jones wants Detroiters to be able to safely ride bikes around the city and have bike lanes that are a connected network.

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.

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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. 

Donald Shell is a native Detroiter who regularly rides his bike long distances from his home in Rosedale Park on the city’s northwest side. Shell said bike lanes help him feel safer than riding in the street with cars, but they could be even safer.

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.  

Bryce Huffman is a reporter for BridgeDetroit. He was formerly a reporter for Michigan Radio, and host of the podcast, Same Same Different.

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24 Comments

  1. I ride for exercise all over parts of the city and YES, there is a hodgepodge of bike lanes, some better than others. One just has to know what they can tolerate. Most dedicated riders are used to riding thru rough areas. Families and kids is a different matter: I’d stick with Belle Isle. It’s getting better. And I ride Rosa Parks and 14th frequently. Frankly, there is so LITTLE traffic going north and south, it seems moot to consider bike lanes thru Virginia Park, esp. with parking on both sides.

  2. Bike lanes and parking off the curbs from days of old are only meant to further gentrify are city. Majority of people residents don’t ride in groups except the good old white folk that has come back to the this city!! The money this crap was used for could and should’ve been used to fix the fucking streets in the neighborhoods along with money for all these dumb ass speed bumps yall installed in the neighborhoods instead of actually fixing the damn roads!! The most taxed city and state and the only thing that’s being fixed is y’all pockets!!

  3. Detroit could have spent the money on improvement to bus service, helping a lot more people. Bike lanes don’t work for older residents, and our winter weather makes then semi useless for several months each year. Listen to your citizens, Detroit!

    1. 1st let me say Thank you, for bringing up the point that to me should be the main reason to considered before putting in bike lanes on our major streets, which is how often would bikers be out utilize them and how would they affect the flow of motorized vehicles(cars, trucks & buses). The weather in Detroit, MI alone should have been a major factor to consider when deciding about installing bike lanes. Actually how many and often would bike riders be out in our cold weather especially when it snows and other factors like how would the protected lanes even get cleared due to those barriers being in the way. For approximately 6 months of the year these lanes would be used very little or not at all. It seems we are spending a lot of money to change the streetscape of Detroit (in more ways than just the bike lanes) for so few people. This makes it so much harder for the majority, those in motorized vehicles to get around the city because of fewer lanes and bad traffic light timing it takes more driving time and burns more gas. I am a City of Detroit retired Senior resident and I am so glad I no longer have to drive to work downtown. It’s a real challenge driving any where in Detroit with these new changes to the streets especially on East Warren & Livernois! Traffic in the suburbs flows much better.

      1. I bike year round. Saves me a great deal of money. What would cause me to bike more or less isn’t the weather. The weather just tells me how to dress. It is the lack of safe places to bike on and places to go which causes me to bike less. Plow size makes a difference in snow clearance. Same with city making it a priority. Other snowy places have managed to maintain their streets in snow events.

    2. 1st let me say Thank you, for bringing up the point that to me should be the main reason to considered before putting in bike lanes on our major streets, which is how often would bikers be out utilize them and how would they affect the flow of motorized vehicles(cars, trucks & buses). The weather in Detroit, MI alone should have been a major factor to consider when deciding about installing bike lanes. Actually how many and often would bike riders be out in our cold weather especially when it snows and other factors like how would the protected lanes even get cleared due to those barriers being in the way. For approximately 6 months of the year these lanes would be used very little or not at all. It seems we are spending a lot of money to change the streetscape of Detroit (in more ways than just the bike lanes) for so few people. This makes it so much harder for the majority, those in motorized vehicles to get around the city because of fewer lanes and bad traffic light timing it takes more driving time and burns more gas.

  4. Many Detroiters I know do not like the bike lanes. The Mayor placed them in the wrong neighborhoods!!! We want the bike lanes removed. Bike lanes do not belong in a big city, put in the suburbs or in country living.

    1. bike lanes don’t belong in a resident area. i’am a disable vet and these bike lanes causes problem for me.

  5. I am not a fan of the bike lanes. I get it that people want to be safe but why take away an entire lane of traffic for parking, busses and bike lanes. It is so frustrating to have speed limit 30 mph and people driving under the speed limit. Especially in the winter. People will pass you on the right and you don’t see them until they are flying past you. E Warren is the worst. It could have been designed much better. To be honest, I live in the west village as soon as I saw the first bike lane I knew the gentrification was not far behind. It happened and is still happening. Love it here (18 yrs). It definitely not the same. But don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to remain here.

  6. Detroit as a urban city with drivers that have no comprehension the rights of bike riders (Yes, there many bikers who also don’t know the rules) Bike lanes can only make biking a more positive experience in this wonderful city.

  7. I feel these bike lanes, as they are, were added without much feed back from the residents. I attended two meetings after they were installed and citizens began to complain quite clearly that the lanes were not meant for us, but for the‘new residents’ being courted to come into Detroit. Pre-installation there was minimal citizen consultation & citizen input fell on deaf-ears. The decision makers had already decided. On Jefferson we lost two driving lanes, one on each side of the street to install the current underutilized bike lanes. Jefferson is a major street for driving. It is not safe for bikers. It is the only primary east-west street going all the way downtown. The bike lanes should have been put on the secondary streets only. It would have been safer for the car drivers and the bikers. So many decisions affecting our lives are made without consulting us, the residents/taxpayers. This is an example.

    1. 1st let me say Thank you, for bringing up the point that to me should be the main reason to considered before putting in bike lanes on our major streets, which is how often would bikers be out utilize them and how would they affect the flow of motorized vehicles(cars, trucks & buses). The weather in Detroit, MI alone should have been a major factor to consider when deciding about installing bike lanes. Actually how many and often would bike riders be out in our cold weather especially when it snows and other factors like how would the protected lanes even get cleared due to those barriers being in the way. For approximately 6 months of the year these lanes would be used very little or not at all. It seems we are spending a lot of money to change the streetscape of Detroit (in more ways than just the bike lanes) for so few people. This makes it so much harder for the majority, those in motorized vehicles to get around the city because of fewer lanes and bad traffic light timing it takes more driving time and burns more gas. I am a City of Detroit retired Senior resident and I am so glad I no longer have to drive to work downtown. It’s a real challenge driving any where in Detroit with these new changes to the streets especially on East Warren & Livernois! Traffic in the suburbs flows much better.

  8. Bike lanes are necessary to increase bicycle usage and cut down motor vehicle traffic. Motor vehicles are very dangerous and alienate people from one another. We must start to humanize the cityscape.

  9. I need, want, and use the bike lanes. I am a 65 year old woman, and a resident of Detroit since the 1980’s. I bike for transportation, exercise, and recreation. Before the bike lanes, Detroit was terrifying biking. Jefferson Ave. bike lanes make it possible to bike to Belle Isle without endangering your life.
    I think the protected bike lanes, such as there are now or Kercheval are the best solution: safe and efficient for bikers, manageable for drivers.

    The worst are lines painted on the streets. Drivers completely ignore them. There should at least be bollards. There also needs to be education about the bike lanes. Quite often, on Michigan Ave for instance, cars park in the bike lane instead of the parking lane, which means bikes must swerve out into traffic, where drivers are not used to watching for bikes.

    Finally, bikes must be accepted as a form of transportation. With climate change, and the tens of thousands of dollars required to own and operate cars, bicycles are necessary to move about this big, sprawling city. With more and more people, especially my age, getting e-bikes, bike lanes myst be part of the transportation solution.

    Shaun Nethercott

  10. These bike lanes are a death trap in areas such as east 7 mile, bike riders are not using them. They put them on every street in midtown for 2 or 3 people to use them the while day vs no parking for car traffic. They should have came up with a bike route rather than messing up parking. It was a waste of money and the roads are still horrible and the city needs to clean the roads of debri and glass.

  11. The bike lanes were once again a WASTE of tax payers money , we have dealt with a faulty sewage systems, extremely life threathning DTE issues. If the wind blows to hard the heart of the city is in the dark for God only knows how long (at the end of the day DTE and the gas company should be (2) separate entities) Detroit puts ALL it’s taxpayers lives at risk by wasteful spending and not spending monies where needed. Before they went out spending on bike lanes ,
    1.fix sewage system, so when it rains we don’t have to worry about our basements flooding ,
    2. These old transformer boxes in our communities that when the weather is bad we have power outages that keep us in the dark and the cold with our ( childrens, disabled,elders, etc)
    3.cut the pay of local officials
    4. more checks and balances done on our city council and their job performances.
    5. find out more on who run these corner organization set up in our communities to help but not helping
    6. Instead of giving these outside developers all these tax breaks , hold them accountable for their actions (blight tickets, building permits, etc)
    I can say so much more about how this city is so poorly ran at the expense of our tax dollars.

    1. I’m surprised to see so much angst show up in the comments against the bike lanes when the reasons why we can’t afford the things we want and need (better roads, fixed water and sewer lines, affordable housing, etc etc.) is not because we spent a few million dollars on installing bike lanes or trying to make streets a bit safer. It is because we’ve poured billions upon billions of dollars and implemented policy after policy into a system that dedicated 90% of our space for personal car use. If we actually wanted a fix, we should look towards what sucks the most of our resources and it isn’t a measly bike lane in a disconnected network of them. It is the obsession with putting cars first regardless for how much it costs, how many lives it takes, how pollutive it is, how economically destructive it is.

  12. I’m from the east side of Detroit, Gratiot and Conner area near the City Airport, I’ve never seen a bike rider nor pedestrian in a bike lane, I’ve read the article and I’m sympathetic to those who don’t have cars. But I’ve never seen a bike rider in bike lane. I was unaware that there were so many bike riders. And even once during a bike rider gathering at Belle Isle, I still didn’t see one person using bike lane.

  13. I have lived in the same home in NW Detroit for 38 years. The bike lanes have destroyed parking on Grand River west of the Southfield fwy! I’m handicapped and now have to travel almost a block from where I’m forced to park to get to the business or dentist I need to access. It makes me hesitant to patronize them or get my checkups. Thanks for ruining my city experience, for so very few bikers!

  14. I hate them we have plenty of parks and place to ride bikes than to have put these bike lanes all over the city. We don’t even have a half year of warmth to ride bikes, Its cold more than it is nice. Then there’s those obnoxious island that there putting in the middle of some of the streets an near the curb. Its more cars than it is bikes. I just recently got into an accident on Grand River because I had no where to dodge the other car due to the bike lanes/islands in the street. Who ever is making these ideas up is not thinking it through. These type of changes are for the south where it warm or hot majority of the time. On top of that we have to make sure we don’t slide into these island and pole in the middle of the street. #VERYANGRYLONGTIMECITIZEN

  15. So who need help riding a bike without a bike lane? Seriously, we’ve just been doing it for centuries.

    1. THIS NEW AGE PEOPLE ARE SORRY, NOW THEY CAN’T RIDE A BIKE WITHOUT A LANE, SOMETHING WE OLDER PEOPLE HAVE BEEN DOING FOR DECADES’

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