Rolling Slow on Bike Lanes

In a recent meeting with a City staffer about planning activities on the east side, I was informed that there were going to be more bike lanes on Kercheval Avenue.

“Can we talk about that some?  Because the way bike lanes are set up now, we have some issues,” I interjected, as this staffer tried to move along to the next topic.

“Well, maybe we can discuss it offline, because we have a lot to cover…” this well-intentioned and clearly overburdened planner started, before I launched in on my spiel.

“The City has serious problems with the way bike lanes are set up currently, and I’m afraid that someone’s going to get killed if you expand that network without addressing those issues.”  The conversation around the table stopped.  Well.  That got their attention.  Classic Mac.  Start ‘subtle’ then proceed onto dead cyclists.  Bam.  I then proceeded to outline my concerns:

1. Project completion.  For any of you that spend any time on the east side, I submit to you as Exhibit A the current configuration of East Jefferson Avenue.  Last fall, the City went ahead and began grinding off the street striping and began reconfiguring it.  The bike lanes were against the curb, the parking spaces were next to that, and then the traffic lanes were next to that (moving from the curb to the center of the street).  The problem was, they didn’t actually finish it.  They didn’t bolt in the bollards that would have formed protective bike lanes, like this picture.

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What’s more, the City began restriping the road when it was getting cool out in November, which means that the paint didn’t cure properly, and it’s now wearing off.  All in all, the East Jefferson Avenue project has simultaneously ended up reducing street parking, while somehow managing to make it less safe for cyclists.  It is quite literally the worst of both worlds.

2.  From all accounts, it appears that there’s no real enforcement underway for the Municipal Parking Department to begin ticketing and towing cars that are parking improperly (read: parking in the bike lanes themselves).  In order for cyclists to make these lanes successful, they have to be free of parked cars.

3.  In asking the local precinct commander from the Detroit Police Department on the east side if there was any directive to have any patrols to enforce traffic regulations as it relates to the bike lanes, I was informed that there was not.  It’s needed, as there’s a fair amount of traffic in both the bike lanes and the parking spaces on East Jefferson.

4.   Ahab had his white whale.  I have storm drains.  The storm drains along East Jefferson, in many locations, don’t work.  Which means, that every time it rains, water pools along the side of the road.  Which is where the bike lanes are.  As with parked cars, ponds in the middle of bike lanes make it less likely that they’ll actually work.

5.  Bike lanes need a bureaucratic home.  Meaning, from what I can tell, bike lanes were pushed for by one department, and the back end build out, implementation and execution on them were either missing entirely (as in the preceding four items), or the department where it should be housed, the Department of Public Works, wasn’t adequately consulted.  Word on the street has it that the City is going to be hiring a complete streets staffer, hopefully that point person that will begin to help knit all of these items together, but in the meantime, we need to push the City to make changes to the way that bike lanes in general, with an emphasis on East Jefferson Avenue in particular, are built out and supported.

I say all of this because I think bike lanes are great.  I want to see them succeed.  And I want to see more of them, but I want to see them done right.  And right now, expanding that network before we adequately address the underlying issues that are preventing them from being as successful as they could be is a bad idea.

I asked some other folks to help me out on this.  Todd Scott of the Detroit Greenways Coalition, and Wally Gilbert from Church of the Messiah agreed to help.  For those of you that are enjoy biking in Detroit and want to see bike lanes built better, drop me a line.  I’d welcome both your feedback, and support.  I hope that we can get the City to commit to making needed improvements over the next few weeks in order to making bike lanes better, not just on East Jefferson, but across Detroit.  Cyclists of Detroit, unite!

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