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!

Under the I-40

Under the I-40

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 debate surrounding the I-40 Crosstown Expressway in Oklahoma City has been playing out for years.  In 1998, Oklahoma City announced intentions to tear down the I-40 Crosstown Expressway.  The Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) devised plans for the expressway’s demolition and replacement with a boulevard, and in 2012 – with demolition underway – the future plans were revealed for the first time to the city.  ODOT had devised a partially elevated six-lane road – what many see as essentially replacing the elevated highway with the same: another (partially) elevated highway.  Since the plan’s release, many residents and the city council have come together to prevent the plan from moving forward as designed.

I-40 runs between Oklahoma’s downtown and the Oklahoma River, through what is now the Core to Shore neighborhood.  In 2006 the city began a planning process to revitalize the area, which had been economically depressed for decades; some point to the previous blighted status as due to the construction of I-40 decades before.  Opponents of the partially elevated boulevard say the structure preserves the visual and physical disconnects of area.  Businesses that have moved into the area have also voiced opposition, feeling that their livelihood could benefit greatly if the highway becomes an attractive boulevard.

The issue led to a group of people forming Friends of a Better Boulevard (FBB) to proactively stand against the elevated road.  FBB proposes an at-grade boulevard and the reinstatement of the original street grid.  They believe an at-grade boulevard benefits alternative transit options, creating easier pedestrian and bicycle accessibility.  They have enlisted the help of professionals – urban planners and road engineers – and composed alternate proposal materials.  While FBB acknowledges that highway engineers’ main focus is moving people quickly and efficiently through a space, they advocate for a road that serves both automobiles and the surrounding communities.  As an ally to the city, they have made some progress.

First, they challenged the environmental analysis done by ODOT, which included all 3 components of plan – the I-40 teardown, partially elevated boulevard, and replacement highway nearby – and ODOT was required to do another study of only the proposed elevated boulevard option.  The aim is that the second study would be more comprehensive.

Then, in June 2013, due to efforts of FBB, the Federal Highway Administration ordered ODOT to add the street grid reconstruction alternative to the mix of solutions being considered to be analyzed.

Most recently, Oklahoma City told ODOT to go back to the drawing board.  The city and ODOT have agreed to hire a private consultant to draw up alternatives that will make the road more bike- and pedestrian-friendly.

Naturally, not everyone opposes the raised option. Supporters of the raised option believe that the at-grade boulevard option would create an excess of intersections and stoplights, causing delays.  In response, Friends of a Better Boulevard proposed roundabouts, which can keep traffic moving faster.  (You can read more about the benefits of roundabouts in one of our earlier posts about the roundabout capital of the U.S. )

One criticism of ODOT’s process is that their planning process was devoid of any public input.  Some believe that if they had engaged the affected communities, thereby understanding their hopes for the area, they would have avoided this issue completely.

 

Photo from Andy Callahan at ferret111 on flickr.com

Photo of the depressed I-70 between downtown and the Gateway Arch.

Photo of the depressed I-70 between downtown and the Gateway Arch.

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.

St. Louis has received notoriety for its urban renewal projects over the past few decades.  One such project – the Park Over the Highway – broke ground just last week.  On Friday August 2nd, the park construction over Interstate 70 began, on schedule, in an effort to overcome half a century of poor planning in the downtown area.

St. Louis reached its peak population in 1950, and suburbanization over the following forty years decreased the population by more than 50%.  Coupled with construction of I-70 along the riverfront, the downtown became a fragmented and disconnected urban core.  For years, city officials, planners, and residents have been debating the future of I-70 in the midst of plans to invigorate the area through reconnecting the downtown to the riverfront and the Gateway Arch.  Today, approaching the river and Arch – the tallest man-made landmark in the country, a global icon and symbol for St. Louis – from downtown requires crossing over multiple lanes of noisy freeway.

The Park Over the Highway Project, which should be completed in 2015, consists of a bridge over I-70 and a beautifully landscaped public park with walkways on top.  The park will connect the Arch and the Mississippi to the city center and substantially improve the connective fabric of the city center, which is dotted with cultural institutions, attractions and landmarks like the Old Courthouse grounds.  The project is intended to improve pedestrian traffic flow between the downtown and the riverfront.

While the project has received widespread support for its beautification and connectivity enhancements, there are some who believe the park is not the right solution.  These people want I-70 removed completely, and this fight has been growing for years.  Though direct access to the arch and river is an end goal, removal advocates believe that simply capping the Interstate does not address the underlying issue: the needs of urban highway infrastructure have changed and the highway no longer belongs.

Instead, advocates believe a boulevard option would serve alternative transportation options more fully.  Boulevard proponents say that a boulevard would give drivers more options, dispersing and easing traffic, thereby creating new links and access points between destinations.  They also think a boulevard would fit better into the framework of the area, opening up views, and drawing investment and new development for the waterfront area.  Versus a highway cap – which only affects three blocks – a twenty block boulevard would enhance and connect a much larger area, and could potentially become a destination it itself.

The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) is aware of the efforts to remove the highway but believes it is the wrong choice for today.  They say the boulevard option would not solve the purpose of ease of pedestrian flow to the river, as crossing a “four to six lane boulevard would restrict pedestrian and bike access, not make it better.”  MoDOT also notes traffic patterns as problematic: that 60,000 cars per day would still need a road to travel on, and trucks on the boulevard would not be ideal for pedestrian crossing.  MoDOT does understand that times change, however, and states that building the park does not mean the highway cannot be removed sometime in the future.

 

Photo from tracktwentynine on flickr.com

 

East blvd charlotte

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.

East Boulevard travels through a historic district and connects areas of retail, housing, a regional park, and more.  Serving around 20,000 cars daily, it functions mostly as a commuter route.  In 2002 a Neighborhood Plan suggested the transformation of the corridor from a commuter route to a main street.  The Charlotte Department of Transportation (CDOT) conducted surveys and public meetings to gather input from stakeholders, and found strong support for downsizing East Boulevard.

Residents in the East Boulevard neighborhoods wanted many improvements.  To reduce pedestrian and bicycle accidents, improved biking conditions and pedestrian infrastructure were desired.  Reduced travel speeds were necessary to diminish the higher number of rear-end and left-turn collisions and enhance safety.  Creating a more pleasant experience for outdoor activities and in nearby outdoor restaurants was also a goal.

CDOT planned the project in phases, which were all completed in 2011.  The roads were downsized from four or five lanes to three: one lane in each direction and a center turn lane.  This reduces both accidents during turns and crossing distance for pedestrians.  Refuges with reflector markers were constructed in the median of some crosswalks to further enhance crossing safety.  Bicycle lanes were included in the designs.  Continual landscaping of trees and grass in the median and along the curbs beautify the area for all that travel to and through.  Pedestrian access to alternative transportation options – like bus routes and the light rail – was enhanced.

After two sections of the road were renovated, 77% of residents that participated in a survey appreciated the increased safety and wanted to see the implementation of the third and final phase of the project, which connected the sections completed in phases one and two.

Overall, community members consider the resulting streetscape project a success.  While automobile volume remained about the same, the average speed dropped a few miles per hour, and injuries were reduced by 68%.  With only one lane to travel in, unsafe and aggressive vehicle driving methods, like “lane jockeying,” are no longer options.  Outdoor dining has significantly increased, and pedestrian volume and sidewalk activity has become more prominent.  The healthier balance between people and cars is proving a better option for everyone.

 

Photo from Complete Streets on flickr.com