Looking at the future of cross-border biking in Detroit

With the emergence of growing networks of greenways and bicycle lanes in both Detroit and Windsor, local bicycle enthusiasts are now starting to pine for better options to bike across the border.

Right now, a bicyclist has to use a motor vehicle to transport their bike over the Ambassador Bridge or through the Windsor Detroit tunnel, or carry their two-wheeler disassembled in a bike bag on the tunnel bus.

Proposals for bicycle lanes on the planned Gordie Howe International Bridge and a bike ferry that would transport riders across the Detroit River have gotten people's hopes up, but the process of getting the projects approved has been complicated, and we have yet to hear a definitive word on either one.

Hoping to spur the development of these new connections, a coalition* of groups from both sides of the river recently created a map they hope will help foster greater public understanding of the biking and walking possibilities that await people in Detroit, Windsor and beyond.

greenways.map.iconThe partnership released their new visual guide, the United States-Canada Greenways Vision Map, in April. It charts out safe and convenient routes for bicyclists and pedestrians interested in traversing the two countries using Detroit or Windsor as starting points.

Todd Scott, Executive Director of the Detroit Greenways Coalition, hopes the map will help people realize how much opportunity there is on both sides of the river to bike and walk and underscore the need to link up the two cities' trail networks.

As for the two proposed border crossing projects, Scott feels they'd be very different in nature.

"The bridge is going to be much higher to the sky, and it's going to take a bit of effort to get up there," he says. "So it's not going to be for cyclists who are less experienced, but the views would be phenomenal."

Scott also foresees some commuters using a hypothetical bridge lane, as well as long distance riders interested in traveling the Underground Railroad Bicycle Route, the U.S. bike route system or the Iron Belle trail.

In regards to the bike ferry, he sees it getting more usage in the summer months, especially during festivals and sporting events.

So what's the status on these two proposed projects?

Mark Butler, a spokesperson for the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority (WDBA) told us his organization has "made provisions in the conceptual bridge design to allow for cyclists and/or pedestrians on the bridge," but couldn't confirm that they would be part of the final plan.

"We are currently in the procurement process to select the private-sector partner, and, as such, it would be inappropriate to discuss specific details of the bridge," he told Mode Shift in an email.

Safety, security and operational considerations are still being discussed with partners on both sides of the border.

Once completed the Gordie Howe bridge and its approaches will be roughly two miles in length, making it one of the five longest bridges in North America.

Construction of the structure and its inspection plazas will take four or five years to complete. Before that can commence, though, WDBA still needs to wrap up site preparation, property acquisition, utility relocation and advance design work.

The Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority's executive director, John Loftus, gave us a little more to go on with the bike ferry.

He's interested in doing a bike ferry demonstration this summer, possibly in conjunction with a local festival. Although nothing is set in stone yet, the plan is to use an existing cruise boat to test its potential market and work out operational issues.

Loftus says a hypothetical service could handle anywhere between 50 to 150 people and their bikes. He estimates the cost of a round trip costing somewhere between $5 and $10.

The port authority will use the demonstration to assess whether a ferry service is worth the effort and investment needed to get it off the ground.

"The cross river ferry is one of those things that we are really into seeing happen, but...we've got to get by both U.S. and Canadian customs," says Loftus. "Let's see if we can make this thing happen and build up some support for this."

*Note: A robust coalition is behind the United States-Canada Greenways Vision Map. Members include: Bike Friendly Windsor Essex, Canadian Consulate General, City of Detroit, City of Windsor, Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, Detroit Greenways Coalition, Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority, Downtown Detroit Partnership, Essex County, Essex Region Conservation Authority, National Park Service, Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wheelhouse Detroit and Windsor Bicycling Committee.

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