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Culture as a barrier

"It's the Motor City"

Photo of Mikki Hendrix
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Michigan Central Station

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One of the barriers for mobility in Detroit is culture. The Idea that Detroit is the motor city often comes up when people promote other modes. The streets are wide and the city is designed for cars to move quickly, completely disregarding those without access to cars for whatever reason. It makes simple things like crossing streets difficult for anyone and much more difficult for seniors, kids, and people with disabilities. 

There's a lot of clear ignorance and inconsideration from drivers in the city and region to those who aren't in cars. 

When bike lanes were being implemented (even on Michigan Ave) the idea that cyclists had rights to the street was not well received by many. People are used to flying up and down these major roads and even on the highways traveling often times as much as 20 miles above the speed limit. This makes talking about things like biking walking and using transit seen as less desirable.

 People often talk like because of winters, Detroit can't and shouldn't invest in other modes whereas going to Toronto, New York City or DC, even with cold winters, people walk more, use transit more, and bike more. 

Same with the scooters. although they're getting usage, many people see them as a nuisance. When in reality, they're a step toward figuring out micro transit in a city, where many neighborhoods like population and have large stretches of vacant lots/buildings.   The idea that mobility is important for EVERYONE seems to be lost on people who have access to cars. 

The idea of public transit is seen as a tool only for the poor and seniors and high school students. It's seen as a last resort and people would rather drive illegally (not having car insurance or even a valid license)


Culture shift is needed for mobility to truly be easier for all Detroiters including those in neighborhoods like Southwest and North Corktown. 

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Photo of Peter Dudley

I saw a an interesting presentation by an urban expert from South America a few years ago.
He referred to Detroit's bike lanes as "kamikaze bike lanes" (at that time, they were usually-defined by little-more than white paint applied to the pavement).
He also mentioned that Detroit held the current world's record (among cities with populations under 1 million, I believe) in the "per-capita pedestrian death rate" - category.
The opening of the Dequindre Cut Greenway rail-trail is a hopeful step forward. I had hoped that the supposedly-"preserved" double-track "light-rail easement"running parallel with Phase 1 of the Greenway project would have led to creation of a non-stop rapid transit system, connecting New Center's Amtrak Station with Renaissance Center's Detroit People Mover (DPM) Station. The recent completion of the Orleans Landing residential development permanently blocked that idea.
Along Phase 3 of the Greenway (north of Gratiot Avenue), the new trail inexplicably switches sides -- I can't quite see railroad crossing gates and flashers along a trail.
About eight miles of former - Detroit Terminal Railroad right-of-way on Detroit's west side will also become a trail.
I like M-1 RAIL's QLINE Woodward Avenue streetcar, but more than a few cyclists landed in the hospital after their front tires came to a sudden-stop in the flange-grooves paralleling the streetcar rails (M-1 RAIL suggests that cyclists use Cass Avenue).
One concept I would like to see in the Detroit area is "trails-with-rails". Most active railroads around here include parallel, long-trackless swaths of former - right-of-way. Southeast of Michigan Central Station (MCS), two active tracks descend into the 1910 Detroit River Tunnel. Southeast of the tunnel portal, the completely-vacant, grade-separated trackless swath is up to 150 feet wide.
(more later)

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