Detroit Riverfront Conservancy

The Motor City’s Fresh Take on the Urban Bikeway

Editor's note: This post was originally published in DC.Streetsblog.org and has been republished with permission.

By Angie Schmitt

In central Detroit, on the site of a former railroad, there’s a place just for bikes and pedestrians. In many ways, the Dequindre Cut is a cyclist’s (or a jogger’s) dream: a separated, below-grade bike path that at no point intersects with car traffic. It’s wide enough for a two-way cycle track plus a path for pedestrians off to the side, so bicyclists and joggers don’t have to compete for space. It goes right through the heart of the city, serving as a passage between two of Detroit’s biggest attractions — the Riverfront and the Eastern Market.

This could be one of the coolest active transportation projects in the country, and the fact that it’s happening in the Motor City makes it that much more awesome. The only downside is that right now the Dequindre Cut (pronounced “duh-QUIN-der”) is just less than a mile and a half long. But philanthropic groups are looking ahead to phase two: a half-mile extension that will take the path out past Gratiot Road to the Eastern Market. Eventually, the plan is to connect the cut with greenways running through Hamtramck all the way to inner-ring suburb Royal Oak, and destinations throughout the city.

The Detroit City Council just gave the nod to the half-mile extension a few weeks ago. The Detroit Free Press reports the Cut’s expansion will be paid for with TIGER funds, private money, and some state natural resources dollars.

Early in the project’s history, planners made a decision that would end up paying dividends. The abandoned rail line had become a popular spot for local graffiti artists, and project planners chose to leave that artwork intact. In addition, the team commissioned some of the city’s more prominent graffiti artists to paint larger murals.

“Once we got down there and started to look around, some of this urban art is actually really, really good,” said Marc Pasco, a spokesperson for the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, which helped spearhead the project. “People said, ‘You know what? We have some artists here that are doing this. Why can’t we pay them to do a really nice mural that would add to the public enjoyment of this place?’”

As part of an informal code observed by street artists, none of the commissioned murals have been painted over or tagged, Pasco said.

In addition, that artwork has really added to the mystique surrounding the Dequindre Cut, which opened in 2009 and quickly became an important recreational and tourism destination for the city, as well as a transportation corridor for downtown’s growing young professional population. Trail users call it the “most interesting mile in the state.” The Free Press reports that people have started taking wedding pictures down in the Cut.

“There’s a lot of people who are really intrigued by the graffiti art,” Pasco said. “People seemed to be really kind of intrigued by the mixture of what was old and what was kept.”

Last week, the path got a visit from Governor Rick Snyder, who took a spin down the path on a bicycle as part of a kickoff event for the rehabilitation of a nearby building. Snyder took the opportunity to congratulate the city of Detroit on the revitalization of its riverfront — and press for more.

“We’ve got the Dequindre Cut, we’ve got Eastern Market, what great progress. Now let’s just go faster,” he said, according to the Free Press.

Angie Schmitt is a newspaper reporter-turned planner/advocate who manages the Streetsblog Network from glamorous Cleveland, Ohio. She also writes about urban issues particular to the industrial Midwest at Rustwire.com.

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