Detroit-LID-Existing-Conditions-2Our most recent contest, Highways for Habitats, harnessed the creativity and bright ideas of our citizens to explore how to make roads that must serve the purpose of moving people and goods through communities simultaneously work better for the communities they bisect.  Often times, finding the right, balanced solution for our roads and cityscapes is challenging, and we asked you to get innovative and attempt a design that equally serves all road users.  The contest winner, livingLAB, with its design The Detroit Lid!, created a design that would strengthen Detroit’s core, enhance alternative transportation and pedestrian options, and reconnect areas of the city that had been isolated for decades.

As a primer for the contest, we ran a blog series that shared 30 case studies from around the world where creative transportation solutions truly harnessed the power of transportation to support healthier communities.

First, we would like to say that all of the entries were spectacular and exceeded our expectations.  Not only did each project demonstrate creative thinking and in-depth problem solving, we were impressed by the well-thought out ideas and unique touch each project had.  The winners were selected from both a public vote and a judges’ vote, weighted equally.  We also appreciated the range of projects we saw, from ambitious schemes to practical opportunities for improvement.  And now for the winners…

Our Highways for Habitats Contest Winner: The Detroit Lid! from livingLAB!

The Detroit LID! Project demonstrates forward thinking at its best.  livingLAB combined knowledge of the current conditions of the area with potential deriving from major projects on the horizon, and identified a great opportunity for improvement.  As is the case in many cities across the U.S., Detroit’s major highways were built right into our city centers, in most cases causing a great divide.  As Detroit continues its resurgence, closing the gap in its urban core via a “lid” over I-75 that separates two vital neighborhoods is a potentially transformative step.  Their design found a way to balance the need to continue moving traffic through with providing a seamless transition for walkers and bikers above.  Their innovative solution to stitch back together the city’s fabric would enhance the area and provide for its residents, with potential to draw in new faces to help it grow.  Well done, livingLAB!  We appreciate your bold thinking!

Congratulations to livingLAB for winning a new Detroit Bikes bicycle! Happy riding!

Runner Up: M-5 (Grand River Ave) at MLK Design from Jimmy McBroom!

The M-5 project took into account the context and its many variables, and we appreciate that while Jimmy chose an intersection to enhance with non-automobile related elements, he first tackled the intersection’s designed purpose – moving cars through safely (he got the highest score for “balance”).  As Jimmy said in his submission, his design addresses current problematic traffic patterns and confusion for drivers, as well as increasing safety for non-motorists and creating redevelopment opportunities at the meeting place of several neighborhoods.  Jimmy’s design maintains the main thoroughfare, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.  Jimmy then added components for more complete streets and multi-modal use, like protected cycletracks, road diets, and transit facilities.  We love how Jimmy took into account the intersection’s location within the city, and gave aim for it to serve as a link to Detroit’s west side.  He saw the potential the site has to truly become a “place” and the impact better, safer streets can have on the community, and he showed this in his design through considerations for the surrounding land.

We would like to give big thanks everyone who participated in the contest – the entrants, the voters, our judges, and our readers.  The goal of this contest is to show all of you that you have great ideas and bring an understanding of your hometown to the table, and that you should get involved in the decisions that shape your community’s future.

Detroit Bikes is awesome – this we know.  Detroit Bikes donated a brand new bicycle for the grand prize in our Highways for Habitats Contest, which was a big indicator of awesomeness.  But our conversation with owner Zak Pashak revealed even more about this still-new company and what they’re doing in Detroit.  As an entrepreneur and business owner in Detroit, as well as transportation advocate, we were curious about Zak’s thoughts on cycling, Detroit, cycling in Detroit, and transportation.

Zak was born in Calgary, Alberta, and after a visit to Detroit that drew him in, he moved to the Motor City in 2011.  Zak is interested in both policy and transportation, and their intersection; he believes that transportation policy is in some ways the cornerstone of urban planning, and therefore is vital to a city.  “We tend to build our cities around how we get around them. We create our system of roadways, parking lots, trails, etc., and everything branches out from there.”

Zak was inspired by Detroit’s vibrancy – the interesting shops, businesses, and creative ideas – and wanted to be a part of it.  After hearing the refrain, “Detroit needs more jobs,” he explored business ideas to bring to the city.  He considered Detroit’s history, what the city made and why, as a place to start.  He says there is a reason we’re a good manufacturing state: “Michigan is full of talented people, we have access to leftover manufacturing facilities and equipment, and people trust products that come out of here – they know it is built well.”  He paired this with his interest in transportation policy and the shift in mobility trends, and decided cycling was a great opportunity.

Detroit Bikes opened 2011, and provides a “transportation tool with a lot of potential.”  Not only is the bike manufactured in Detroit, it is well made and designed for its purpose.  As a very sturdy, functional one-size fits all ride, a Detroit Bike is made to suit all types of commuters: active committed riders will be amazed by the Chromoly hand-welded frame and other features, while newer cyclists will find it compelling because it looks good with an attractive price point, and they will be able to invest in their new tool with peace of mind about its durability.

Zak and Detroit Bikes are capitalizing on the current shift towards more multi-modal forms of transportation happening throughout our hometowns.  “Consumers are understanding that transportation is a big part of the general direction they are going – wanting local, healthy alternatives, ways to live longer and feel happier in everyday life.”  He says that while some changes, like switching from a car to a bike, might seem like a big sacrifice at first, ultimately people that make that leap into cycling feel really rewarded.

Zak was willing to support the Highways for Habitats Contest because he believes that any way to get people thinking and opening their minds, which motivates citizens to get creative and proactive, is beneficial, especially for those communities making changes.  His goal is to remain a public policy advocate to help build stronger communities, and to use Detroit Bikes to do it too.

As Detroit Bikes looks to extend its reach, we hope you find ways to extend yours.  While the city of Detroit may have a ways to go, it does offer activities – like neighborhood rides and the Tour de Troit – and quality bicycle manufacturers to help you take that leap.  “The mindset in many Detroiters is a great mindset to push things forward,” Zak reminds us.  Onward, friends!

Twice a year, Transportation for Michigan organizes Advocacy Day at the Capitol to educate legislators on key policy issues related to transportation.  The day brings together State Representatives, Senators, advocates, and people who feel passionately about transportation’s ability to have more positive effects on our lives, to discuss the future of Michigan’s transportation system.  The agenda seeks to encourage our legislators to embrace transportation alternatives and support a comprehensive, multi-modal transit system that works for everyone.  Transportation decisions affect every Michigander’s life, and it is important for us to get involved in opportunities to advocate with one, strong voice.

Head to Trans4M’s website to see their Top 10 Reasons to Attend Advocacy Day.

The event is free and open to anyone – bring your friends and fellow advocates!

More on Advocacy Day from Trans4M’s Website:

Trans4Mers will educate legislators on key policy issues that facilitate a 21st century transportation network.  Whether you enjoy biking or walking on Michigan’s trail network, cruising along on Amtrak passenger trains, riding your local public transit system, or dream of the day you can travel using high-speed rail, bus rapid transit, or streetcars – Trans4M Advocacy Day is for you!

This is our opportunity to speak with one voice to help advance Michigan’s transportation infrastructure. We hope you will join us in bringing our important message to the Michigan Legislature. Our host location for the day will be at the Michigan Municipal League (208 N. Capitol Ave, Lansing, MI).

This year’s advocacy agenda includes:

Vulnerable User Safety Legislation: Trans4M requests that the Governor and Michigan Legislature establish vulnerable roadway user protections through adopting standards that create enhanced penalties for drivers who injure or kill bicyclists, pedestrians, and wheelchair users.

Performance Measures for Transportation Funding: Trans4M requests that the Governor and Michigan Legislature support merit-based transportation infrastructure through support of a bill to create performance measures to be used when prioritizing and funding transportation projects.

This year’s policy priorities are:

Metro Detroit Regional Transit
Michigan by Rail
Land Use and Transportation Planning
Performance Measures for Transportation Funding
Shared MI Roads

If you have never communicated with policy makers before, don’t worry. No prior experience is needed to participate in Advocacy Day. We’ll make sure that you are comfortable with the issue priorities and that you get up to speed quickly. Take some time to read over our Advocacy Day Primer.  We will also provide you additional guidance and walk you through the “asks” on the day of the event.

Join Trans4M for a preview conference call to learn more about the issues and prepare, scheduled for Monday, Nov.11 from 6-7PM at (517)999-0409 code 497786#.

Please register ASAP so we have ample time to pre-arrange meetings with both your State Representative and Senator. There is no cost to attend this event.

Transportation for Michigan is a statewide coalition working to create a stronger Michigan through transportation policy reform that will revitalize Michigan’s cities and towns, reconnect its people to opportunity, and spark a healthier economy.  Following Trans4M is a great way to keep up to date on current transportation issues and find opportunities to get involved.

Looking Forward!

Transportation planning is tough.  Roads have to serve a number of (sometimes competing) purposes.  Roads whose primary purpose is moving people and goods quickly through a community often have a detrimental effect on the communities they bisect (see: the history of freeways in Detroit).  Take state trunk lines for example, which you can recognize because they’re usually twice as wide to cross as the other roads in a neighborhood, and, of course, highways and interstates.  We’re currently running a series of posts featuring creative solutions from around the globe to make these roads – roads that must run through communities – also work to serve those communities.  Check out more about our inspiration here.

As our inspiration post notes, Michigan is currently in the midst of a major highway debate, and we are not alone.  In other towns and cities across the country and world, similar conversations are taking place about the future of our road systems and our neighborhoods.

The Claiborne Expressway was constructed in the 1960s through New Orleans’s Treme neighborhood, America’s oldest black neighborhood, and the historically predominantly Afro-Creole community the Seventh Ward.  These were vibrant and diverse commercial districts, and Claiborne Avenue was one of the NOLA African-American community’s most important streetsMany credit the Claiborne Expressway’s construction with damaging the area’s integrity, and leading to overall decline of the neighborhoods.

The elevated Claiborne Expressway runs directly above Claiborne Avenue for 2.2 miles, and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina the redevelopment of the area has been a hot topic; the city of New Orleans is currently exploring its options.

The city, with the help of a Federal TIGER grant, recently completed a nearly year-long Livable Claiborne Communities study.  The study focused on community revitalization and economic development, and was created with the help of extensive community and stakeholder outreach.  It explored the role of Claiborne Avenue as a regional connector, and the opportunities it provides to catalyze revitalization of the area.  Through traffic modeling, economic development potential analysis, and considerations for planned projects like the Rampart Streetcar line, scheduled to open in 2015, the study determined the possibilities for the area.

Just this month, the city’s planners unveiled to the public options for the future of Claiborne Expressway and Avenue.  The study identified four scenarios, which include keeping or removing the elevated portion, and eliminating some or all of the exit ramps to re-link neighborhoods divided by the overpass.  The study also claims that a teardown would free up 50 acres of land for development.

The next step will be submitting the scenarios to the U.S. Department of Transportation for analysis.  If all goes as planned, this would be followed by a National Environmental Policy Act study, obtaining funding, and final designs.

Many people have come out in support of removal of the Claiborne Expressway.  Like we’ve seen with other elevated expressways, it is viewed by some as an eyesore in the neighborhood, an obstruction.  Some say it keeps home and property values in the area low, and hurts small business.  The Livable Claiborne Communities study found that 40% of the area’s housing is blighted and vacant, and that the area as a whole would benefit greatly from a redevelopment strategy; many believe revitalization will not be possible while the freeway remains.

A report to the Claiborne Corridor Improvement Coalition and the Congress for the New Urbanism, prepared by Smart Mobility Inc. and Waggonner & Ball Architects, “concludes that removal of the freeway would bring important benefits for surrounding neighborhoods and New Orleans as a whole.”  They maintain that the removal would reconnect city streets, and improve travel routes and times for New Orleans residents.

On the other side of the fence – or highway – some fear a frequent outcome of development: discplacement.  As land opens up, gets developed, and property values rise, residents and business owners worry they will be priced out of their homes and livelihoods.  Others express concerns regarding truck traffic: increased travel times and costs, and increased congestion on remaining routes.

Naturally, the removal of a highway means travelers would need to find alternate routes.  Some in New Orleans say that the teardown of Claiborne Expressway would weaken access of some neighborhoods – like for residents of New Orleans East – to downtown, where many work; they maintain that the expressway is vital to many peoples’ livelihoods.

But is it?  This dependence on the expressway raises the question: aren’t there (better) alternatives?  Are cars and clogged arterials the best mobility we get?  What about bus rapid transit, a comprehensive rail system, or the opportunities to live where you work?  Would the recovery of all that land and space, coupled with the expressways removal, spark a shifts towards more multi-modal transportation options, and bring about bicycle routes, public transit infrastructure and public spaces for residents, strengthening quality of life for New Orleanians?

The debate over the Claiborne Expressway reminds us why we started this Highways for Habitats Series. In the middle of the 20th Century the car was king, but times have changed, and the singular focus on our car-culture and highways has left us with divided neighborhoods, and many would have you believe there are no other options.  Let’s Save Michigan would like you to remember that with strategic planning and context sensitivity, more sustainable transportation options are the right choice.  And maybe – just maybe – our lives will be better off without a highway running through our neighborhoods.


Photo from Congress for the New Urbanism report Restoring Claiborne Avenue: Alternatives for the Future of Claiborne Avenue.