Chicago Advocates, DNR Funding, and more

The recent reduction in posts to m-bike is largely due to the past eight days being absolutely packed with bicycle advocacy work in Detroit, Royal Oak, and across Michigan. Below is brief chronology for two of those days.

October 22nd: Royal Oak, Governor Milliken, the DNR and Detroit

Meeting with Senator Patty BirkholzThe Active Transportation Alliance (ATA) was in town. The city of Royal Oak is contracting with them to develop a non-motorized master plan. I joined them in a morning meeting for a very early discussion on this future planning process. The city is expecting their grant money, which is funding this effort, will be available very early next year. When that occurs, the planning will begin.

After lunch, I dragged our ATA consultants down to the Detroit RiverWalk. As mentioned earlier, Tri-Centennial State Park has been renamed to honor former Governor William G. Milliken. I took advantage of many opportunities to share our Detroit Greenways Network brochure with those attending the renaming ceremony.

Among those attending was Senator Patty Birkholz. The Senator is leading efforts to create a sustainable funding source for our state parks. She gave me a quick update on the Recreation Passport legislation she’d introduced earlier this year. Among other things, this legislation would add an optional $10 fee when registering vehicles. In return, there would be no fees to enter state parks. Senator Birkholz says she doesn’t expect any progress until A.B. (“after budget”.)

That evening we pulled together a small group for dinner for a discussion on bicycling in Detroit and how we can vastly improve it. The meeting was graciously hosted by John and Vivian Stroh. Vivian’s two younger brothers started a little cycling company called SRAM. The meeting was filled with great information and energy. It was a big help have both Carolyn Helmke, the ATA’s senior planner, and Randy Neufeld, the former ATA executive director and now manager of the SRAM Cycling Fund and president of America Bikes. They brought both a Chicago and a national perspective to the meeting.

But for me, one local perspective was my biggest takeaway. Tawanna Simpson from Detroit Bike Riders United told the story of her running for the Detroit School Board. She rode her bike to a nearby forum. Some voters said they wouldn’t vote for her because she rode her bike to the event and that wasn’t normal. This really highlighted the community outreach we need to do in Detroit and beyond. Biking shouldn’t be viewed as a last choice for transportation. It should be better than normal. The fact that Tawanna is a positive role model for kids riding their bikes to school should gain her votes, not lose them.

October 23rd: The Chicago experience and WDET

The morning was filled with a monthly meeting of the Detroit Greenways Coalition. Carolyn and Randy were able to join us and give a brief overview of their Chicago bicycling efforts with an emphasis on programming. It seems we have a good understanding of how to build proper and safe bicycling and walking facilities in Detroit, but we come up short in programming. How do we overcome the barriers to people bicycling more in the city? Chicago has a long track record of success, some of which we may try duplicating in Motown.

Another key takeaway? Chicago relies heavily on Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) federal funding. Much of the Metro Detroit CMAQ funding is allocated by SEMCOG and their prioritization formula makes bicycle projects not competitive. Nationwide, 13% of CMAQ projects are biking and walking related, while 0% are in Metro Detroit. We need to change that.

Later that afternoon, Randy and I were guests near the tail end of the Detroit Today program on WDET. A podcast of that radio interview is on their web site. Detroit Today’s host, Craig Fahle is a former bike mechanic from Alfred E. Bikes in Kalamazoo.

The day’s heavy downpour led us to cancel plans for a Detroit bicycle tour. Still, I managed to drive our Chicago guests around Detroit, Highland Park, and Hamtramck to give them a quick overview of our cycling landscape. They gave some great cycling facility ideas along the way and were simply overwhelmed with the excessively wide and overbuilt roads.

Detroit is fortunate having another Midwestern city nearby that has invested so heavily in bicycling and walking. And while Randy mentioned how our situation is special and unique, there is still much opportunity to learn and apply what Chicago has done.

There really is no need to rebuild the bike wheel.

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