My eye was immediately drawn to this article. It announced that 76 acres of Conrail’s property was being bought out by the city to transform it into a 7.5 mile greenway for bikes and pedestrians. This would create a massive Inner Circle Greenway, connecting both the Detroit Riverwalk as well as the Dequindre Cut. Although one may think that the priority of this initiative would be the needs of people downtown, instead it appears to be to facilitate the transit of those in the suburbs to the vibrant downtown area, from which they had become disconnected through the development of freeways.
Interning at MoGo and biking multiple times a day, I have become greatly aware of the need for more and safer bike infrastructure. With its relatively flat topography and large biking population, the city should definitely be prioritizing the development of more bike lanes, in particular to connect bikers in the suburbs to the great greenways that exist downtown.
This week has been filled with striking moments of humility for me, as well as a growing understanding of the tensions that exist between downtown and the suburbs. You cannot talk about bike lanes in Detroit without taking this divide into consideration. When I had my first call with one of my idols (featured in my favorite environmental documentary Demain/Tomorrow), the co-director of the urban farming organization, Keep Growing Detroit, the minute she realized that MoGo stations did not yet extend into the suburban neighborhoods, she became reluctant to develop a plan for partnering with MoGo. I had suddenly become a proponent of the “let’s make downtown beautiful, let’s take care of the suburbs later” mentality. Her vision of MoGo being a way for their farmers and gardeners from the suburban neighborhoods to get to the downtown Plum Street Market Garden dissolved. Although I persisted and we set up a plan for a July workshop at the MoGo station around the corner from the garden, I became aware of the fact that even though MoGo had a $5 annual access pass for people receiving state benefits, could it really be deemed accessible to all Detroiters, if there were no stations in the suburbs?
However, MoGo is working on an expansion plan. Although it has not yet been funded, it makes sense for it to be implemented in parallel with such an incredible greenway. From my still minimal understanding of Detroit, I believe that this greenway could go beyond enabling suburb-dwellers to access the riverfront, but become a way of breaking the ingrained stereotypes of bikers that persist in Detroit. I could imagine a shift in the demographics of bikers on the Dequindre Cut and the Riverwalk, from weekend downtown leisure riders to a mix of riders, from both Detroit and the suburbs. This could then discourage assumptions, such as a black biker from the suburbs being low-income and biking out of necessity, or a white biker making a choice to be healthier or more environmentally conscious. I definitely see a lot of power in this city-driven initiative to show that the priorities lie in reviving the suburbs and giving their inhabitants easy access to the downtown area. I fervently believe that it is crucial to keep encouraging biking throughout Detroit and its suburbs, as a promising way to bring about social change and equality. Making Detroit biker-friendly means building a future in which all Detroiters feel safe as they zip past on red MoGo or their own bikes, their hair in the wind and exchanging smiles with fellow bikers and pedestrians.
Photo: MoGo SouthWest Community Ride