Woodbridge Mural

Walkable Woodbridge: Detroit neighborhood residents gather to support open access

Editor's Note: This piece was originally published on thehubdetroit.com and is reposted with permission.

Daily bike rides to work and strolls to children’s events in Detroit’s Cultural Center are the norm for Joel Howrani Heeres’ family.

The Woodbridge community residents wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Ana will walk with our son Theo to the library for story time, or they’ll walk or bike to a nearby restaurant, and go to the Friday series at the DIA,” says Heeres, president of Woodbridge Citizens District Council.

Although the Woodbridge neighborhood, west of Wayne State University’s campus, is a stone’s throw from book stores, art galleries, and coffee shops stretching into downtown the community is more isolated than some prefer. Woodbridge Citizens District Council and Woodbridge Neighborhood Development Corp. have collaborated to launch the “Walkable Woodbridge” initiative to create easier commuting and promote healthier lifestyles.

“I think if the neighborhood were a little more walkable, more people would do it,” Heeres says.

Supported by a Kresge Innovative Projects Detroit (KIP:D) planning grant, Walkable Woodbridge began as a study early this year, led by Living Lab. In early fall findings of the research were presented. The partnering organizations plan to seek funding to put their ideas in place, using a KIP:D implementation grant, once Kresge Foundation applications open this month. Recommendations include:

  • creating two-way traffic to increase circulation on Warren and Forest Avenues
  • installing a cycle track on Forest from Trumbull to Woodward Avenues, and past the Chrysler Freeway
  • improving Lodge Freeway pedestrian crosswalks and their ramps for the disabled
  • installing traffic islands in intersections
  • building a community center, playground, and baseball field as walking and biking destinations

Bicycle access is a project theme that comes with safety recommendations, as with the proposed cycle track.

“We’re proposing that it be protected, which would mean it would have a curb or a bollard protecting the bikers, a structure that would prevent the cars from going into the bike lane,” says Heeres. “That’s best practice, in encouraging parents and children to really use the space.”

With funding in place, the vision could be complete in two to four years, adds Heeres. Along with increasing access to areas outside Woodbridge, the plan would establish programs specifically tailored to residents of the community, such as a Boy Scouts troop, exercise clubs, designated cleanup days, and adaptation of the Safe Routes To School program, which encourages family participation in student commutes to class.

“Woodbridge is in an interesting place because we’re kind of on the western edge of Midtown and we’re not really included in a lot of the main programs,” says Heeres. “We get some of the spillover, but, even though it’s close, there’s not very good connectivity.”

With an estimated 3,000 residents, Woodbridge is “kind of an island” surrounded by freeways, says Heeres.

He lived in Hubbard Farms for about nine years, but chose Woodbridge to expand his household, the kind of growth and personal investment city leaders have increasingly promoted.

“I was a single person and I was a renter,” says Heeres. “The family changes everything.”

Collaborations and approvals from Michigan Department of Transportation, the City of Detroit, and Wayne State University would all be necessary to complete “Walkable Woodbridge,” but Heeres and his neighbor colleagues are hopeful.

Walkable Woodbridge was one of about 200 proposals, 40 of which Kresge funded through KIP:D in its first two rounds, says Neesha Modi, Foundation program officer.

“KIP:D grants provide support to neighborhood-based groups – such as Woodbridge – for planning and implementation projects that address neighborhood needs with verve and imagination,” Modi says. “Through Nov. 21 we’re calling again for applications for implementation grants in the third round of Kresge Innovative Projects: Detroit. We’re hoping for a strong pool of competitive proposals including what Woodbridge Neighborhood Development Corp. puts forward to realize their vision of a walkable, bike-able community for Woodbridge and surrounding communities.”

For Heeres and his family, the project is an investment in the future.

“We love the community here and we have a lot of friends,” he says. “We definitely plan on staying.”

Image credit: Curbed Detroit

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