Visions of Greenways: Eastside coalition wants to connect Detroit's neighborhoods

DETROIT —  A comprehensive greenways plan throughout Detroit’s lower eastside could essentially connect Grosse Pointe to Midtown with stops downtown and in Eastern Market.

Between August and September 2010, Detroit’s GREEN Task Force surveyed more than 400 eastside residents about their transportation and recreation habits and drafted the Vision of Greenways action plan. The plan advises the construction of 10 new greenways for Detroit’s lower east side, as well as improvements for four existing bicycle routes.

The Greater Riverfront East Environment Network, GREEN, represents a coalition of neighborhoods and residents on Detroit’s east side and is different from Detroit Councilmember Kenneth Cockrel’s Green Task Force. Member organizations include Detroit Eastside Community Collaborative, Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, Villages CDC and the Mt. Elliott Business Persons Association.

Visions of Greenways incorporates existing paved trails like the Riverwalk and Dequindre Cut into its plan, and GREEN has deemed six of the 10 planned routes high priority.

“It’s evident things like greenways and bike lanes are good for community development,” Hurttienne says. “Otherwise we wouldn’t spend the money we do.”

Bound by St. Aubin Rd. on the west and Alter Rd. on the east, Detroit River to the south and Mack to the north, Visions of Greenways outlines 16 miles of new bike paths for the area, as well as a few non-motorized route improvements.

The Network says the main objective is to establish connectivity and turn derelict eastside properties into assets as opposed to liabilities.

Through the input of nearby residents, GREEN says Visions of Greenways is tailored to meet the community’s needs. All of the proposed greenways are unique in their own right, but all are designed to improve safety and transportation options. GREEN says providing well-lit paths and trails in an artful and useful manner is the way to do it.

Brian Hurttienne, executive director for Villages CDC and a member of the task force, disclosed that the 2.3-mile Kercheval Greenway could cost as much as $3 million to construct. Hurttienne says, however, he wants residents to focus on the benefits of the greenways as opposed to its price tag.

Price aside, as an investment, the targeted neighborhoods stand to gain improvements in what Hurttienne calls the “triple bottom line”: Economic development, environmental stewardship and social justice. According to the Network’s press release, it’s the most advanced plan for building greenways on the lower east side and will become a means to spark economic development, community connectedness and a way to define a new future for Detroit’s east riverfront.

“It’s evident things like greenways and bike lanes are good for community development,” Hurttienne says. “Otherwise we wouldn’t spend the money we do.”

“Greenways provide much more than ways to get somewhere without a car,” says Maggie DeSantis, chair of the GREEN Task Force and board member of the Detroit Eastside Community Collaborative. “Greenways improve health and safety by creating recreational venues, beautifying neighborhoods, creating nodes of economic development, and by connecting neighborhoods and residents to each other, and to the broader city.”

However promising the plan, it has been presented at a time when funding for such endeavors is harder to attain than ever. As Congress negotiates through new versions and amendments of the Federal Transportation Bill, the current Senate version called MAP-21, it looks as though funding for biking and walking projects may be eliminated all together. The Cardin-Cochran amendment, in a show of bipartisan support for biking and pedestrian projects, is being threatened by the U.S. House version of the bill, which wants to give states the option to "opt-out" of the funding pool for such projects.

But, Hurttienne says, the show must go on. GREEN is working hard on developing funding and advocacy strategies and the Master Plan is being printed.

Stay tuned for updates.

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