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A pedestrian bridge spanning M-10 from Spruce Street in Detroit was photographed on Wednesday, May 25, 2022, after being closed to foot traffic in Detroit, Mich. (BridgeDetroit photo by Malachi Barrett)

The Michigan Department of Transportation is inspecting the safety of 69 pedestrian bridges in Detroit after a man fell through the deteriorating Spruce Street bridge over the Lodge Freeway. 

The May 9 bridge collapse left the man covered in bruises and sparked concerns over the condition of the aging bridges that residents use to cross Detroit’s high-speed roadways.

Christal Larkins, bridge management engineer for MDOT’s Metro Region, said officials are taking a precautionary review of all bridges in the city and it’s scheduled to finish on Friday. 

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“We’re doing a hands-on inspection to see if there’s any areas that we call delaminated, where they’re starting to deteriorate,” Larkins said. “Anything that even slightly resembles the Spruce Street bridge we are working on getting at least the underside shored up if we can’t immediately fix it.” 

MDOT spokesperson Diane Cross said the Spruce Street bridge failure came just weeks before it was scheduled to be inspected. It remained closed as of Wednesday. 

State transportation officials did not immediately provide a timeline for repairs to the pedestrian bridges or an estimate on the associated costs.

MDOT has identified nine bridges that are in “poor” condition and two that are in “serious” condition and were closed to pedestrian traffic. A bridge on Vassar Avenue over M-39, which was built in 1963, was shut down, as is the Gilroy Street pedestrian bridge over I-75, according to MDOT’s bridge condition map.

Another 30 bridges are rated in “fair” condition. Bridges rated in “poor” condition, according to the MDOT map, include:

  • Sawyer Avenue over M-39, built in 1961
  • Ferdinand Avenue over I-75, built in 1967
  • Hubbard Street over I-75, built in 1970
  • Clarendon Avenue over I-96, built in 1972
  • Ivanhoe Avenue over I-96, built in 1972
  • Merrick Avenue over M-10, built in 1953
  • Canfield Avenue over M-10, built in 1953
  • Brooklyn Avenue over I-94, built in 1955
  • Seminole Avenue over I-94, built in 1957
  • Charest Avenue over M-8, built in 1971

MDOT also published inspection reports online. 

Todd Scott, executive director of the Detroit Greenways Coalition, said the pedestrian bridges have long been a concern for advocates pushing Detroit to develop better non-motorized transportation networks. Scott was encouraged to see MDOT release public information about bridge safety online. 

“It’s very important because when you put a freeway in it divides the community,” Scott said. “People still need to get across these roads, so these pedestrian bridges fill a very important need to make these connections across the freeway.” 

A 2015 study by Wayne State University students found the structural integrity of 33 pedestrian bridges in Detroit are compromised. The study also found 36 bridges in the city do not have ADA-compliant curbs or are too steep to be climbed by people in wheelchairs. Wayne State students also noted trash and broken glass are commonly found across the bridges.

MDOT is not responsible for keeping bridges free of debris or plowing snow in the winter, Cross said. The state agency is only responsible for maintaining the structure of pedestrian bridges. Cross said Detroiters should immediately call 911 if they see a hazard.

The City Council is considering a resolution introduced by District 6 Council Member Gabriela Santiago-Romero that would urge MDOT to maintain pedestrian bridges and refrain from removing bridges as a means of reducing maintenance costs. The draft resolution states bridges provide “critical connections across freeways that otherwise divide Detroit communities” and notes community concerns about the lack of maintenance, ADA compliance and bridge closures. 

Santiago-Romero said Tuesday that her resolution is in response to the incident at the Spruce Street bridge, and asked the council to push for more investment in pedestrian safety. 

“We have too many freeways in the city,” Santiago-Romero said. “We need people to be able to move from one place to the next, and these pedestrian bridges help maintain that mobility.”

State data shows 145 crashes involving pedestrians on Detroit interstates occurred from 2010 to 2020. Thirty-six crashes resulted in a fatality. Another 131 crashes occurred on US routes in Detroit, 15 of which were fatal, and 1,047 crashes involving pedestrians happened on Michigan trunkline highways, of which, 107 were fatal.

The council is also considering a resolution authored by District 4 Council Member Latisha Johnson to adopt an action plan to reduce traffic fatalities in the next 10 years through better engineering, education and enforcement. 

“I think it ties together this whole discussion going on in the neighborhoods about cars speeding and (installing) speed humps,” Scott said. “I’m optimistic this will be another thing that moves us forward to making safer streets.”

MDOT is required to inspect pedestrian bridges every two years. Larkins said bridges that are rated in “poor” condition are inspected more frequently. Only four of Detroit’s pedestrian bridges were built after the year 2000. Twenty-four bridges had their deck surface – the portion of the bridge pedestrians walk on – replaced in the last two decades. 

Repairs of 15 pedestrian bridges are scheduled between now and 2028, according to MDOT. Four others will be replaced as part of the $3 billion I-94 modernization project

“When it comes to any bridge closure, sometimes it’s based on the overall condition but all we have to know is that there is a hazard,” Larkins said. “So if there is a hole in the fence that someone could somehow fall through, if it’s not something we can fix immediately, we may close the bridge until it’s fixed. If there’s an issue with the piers where it looks like one of the supports are undermined or could potentially slip off, we will close the bridge.”

Cross said MDOT deals with problems that arise when a vehicle strikes a pedestrian bridge, like in 2014 when a commercial waste disposal truck hit a pedestrian bridge at Cathedral Street. The crash killed the driver, collapsed the structure and trapped then-Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford on the Southfield Freeway.

“You would not believe the number of bridge hits we have,” Cross said.

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