Making Progress: Designing Detroit for All Users

In May of 2010 the Detroit Department of Health and Wellness Promotion received a complete streets grant from the State of Michigan with three components to complete within one year.  The tasks were to 1) form a coalition; 2) educate the community on complete streets; and 3) pass a local ordinance. It seemed relatively simple at the time. The Active Living Work Group of Detroit Food & Fitness Collaborative was engaged to help complete the tasks; we had no idea that it would take so much more energy, time, and priority shifting.

Unlike other communities in Michigan that received the same grant, we had many other pressing concerns in the community, namely lighting and blight. Community residents rightfully educated us by stating: “What is the use of a bike lane or new sidewalk if the streetlights are not working?” or “I feel unsafe because of the abandoned building I have to pass.”

Though the city still faces many of those big challenges, we have made sure to be involved in advocacy efforts that are repairing our community, especially around safety and lighting. The work is progressing, and the city is moving forward.

While acknowledging those barriers and lending our voice to those causes, we have worked to involve complete streets into the framework for the city. We are not where we would like to be with that charge, but we are at the table! Many iterations of the ordinance have been developed over the years, and it is our hope that we are finally close to the finish line of an ordinance that intentionally plans for the incorporation of complete streets in future road projects.

As the ordinance inches its way through city government, the Detroit Complete Streets Coalition, the Active Living Work Group of Detroit Food & Fitness Collaborative, Detroit Greenways Coalition, and other individuals and groups have not stopped other activity that has made the city safer for pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers regardless of physical ability or age.

To date, the city has 158 miles of bike lanes, 35 miles of complete streets infrastructure, and 17 miles of greenways. Next year, those numbers will increase as plans are being funded for more work. In five years, we hope to see more miles of bike lanes, an expanding complete streets infrastructure, and more than double the miles of greenways.

Our progress in Detroit is gaining national attention. Recently, we were invited to the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting to present on how our work is improving the health and wellness of our residents. Apple filmed a commercial showing the Slow Roll bicycle rides taking over the City of Detroit.

While our movement is impressive, the work of Detroit is in large part contingent on what happens at the Federal level. Currently, we are operating under an eight-month extension that keeps the status quo for funding, including non-motorized funding.

But time is running out, the Federal Transportation Bill is once again set to expire on May 31, 2015. Then the funding will dry up. Our elected officials have a propensity for last-minute saves, the 2013 shutdown notwithstanding. The current bill being discussed will only cover roads, not include non-motorized financing, and will nix Safe Routes to School. This would be a big step backward for our work and progress.

As the new Congress takes office in 2015, we will see if our officials are committed to moving us forward toward safer throughways for pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers regardless of physical ability or age.

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