Detroit’s urban biking: Attracting young professionals

It’s often a challenge for the city of Detroit to compete with its suburbs in terms of schools, taxes, and city services. But there’s one feature most of the suburbs — especially the exurbs — can’t compete with Detroit: walkability and bikeability.

And this is critical as Gen Yers are less in love with cars and McMansions. They are shunning car dependence and showing a preference for more dense urban areas. And place matters.

So it’s not a surprise that Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is picking up on this.

Attracting young professionals to Detroit is a key piece to revitalizing the city and improving the economy, Mayor Dave Bing said Friday during his annual address to the business community.

Even as the city continues to lose residents, Bing said, young people are moving in and bringing creative ideas, fresh energy and investments with them.

That’s why Bing said he plans to make Midtown, a popular spot for young professionals and artists, an important component of his ambitious plan to reshape the city by creating denser neighborhoods with better services.

But Midtown has something most areas don’t — colleges, art galleries, bike paths, theaters, condos, boutiques and an eclectic assortment of bars and restaurants, all within walking distance of each other.

Okay, the bike paths aren’t in Midtown yet, but some are under construction and many more are planned.

While Bing appears to get it, we’re not sure other Metro communities do. But they should.

Theater of the Absurd

And if they don’t, they need to read this email from Andrew Basile, Jr., a patent attorney with Young Basile. It’s a must read.

If you don’t have the time, here are some highlights (emphasis ours).

We’d like to stay in Michigan, but we have a problem… Our problem is access to talent…  Most qualified candidates live out of state and simply will not move here, even though they are willing to relocate to other cities. Our recruiters are very blunt.  They say it is almost impossible to recruit to Michigan without paying big premiums above competitive salaries on the coasts.

Having moved here from California five years ago, I will testify that Metro Detroit is a very hard place to live.  Ask any former Detroiter in California, and you will hear a consistent recital of the flaws that make Metro Detroit so unattractive.  Things are spread too far apart.  You have to drive everywhere.  There’s no mass transit.  There are no viable cities.  Lots of it is really ugly, especially the mile after mile of sterile and often dingy suburban strip shopping and utility wires that line our dilapidated roads (note above). There’s no nearby open space for most people  (living in Birmingham, it’s 45 minutes in traffic to places like Proud Lake or Kensington).  It’s impossible to get around by bike without taking your life in your hands. Most people lead sedentary lifestyles. There’s a grating “car culture” that is really off-putting to many people from outside of Michigan.  I heard these same complaints when I left 25 years ago.  In a quarter century, things have only gotten considerably worse.

It truly is a great letter that shows how this area for the most part is not investing in place, nor walkability or bikability. And not doing a good job attracting young professionals, much less retaining those that are already here.

But if the Mayor has his way, Midtown will be an exception.

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13 Responses to “Detroit’s urban biking: Attracting young professionals”

  1. Dave Says:

    “Many young people care more about buying the latest smartphone … than getting their driver’s license,” said Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales. “That’s seriously awesome, I must confess.”

    I corrected it for him (Jim).

    Also, from who/where did that letter ultimately come onto your computer, Todd?. It seems more like a stakeholder–> city letter, though it’s simply addressed to “All.”

    I couldn’t agree more with the letter. I’m not sure what the real reasons are for leaders not “getting it”–is a significant portion of the “leaders” being exposed to little outside of Michigan and/or is it a generational disconnect? Are they still trying to maintain a heavy tilt towards automobile use in the local area?

    I have little interest in living in the suburbs of Detroit when I’m done with my undergrad, if metro Detroit at all, in relation to the reasons he mentions he’s having trouble attracting potential employees to his firm, in the letter. I appreciate the visuals, too. Nice touch. I have a suspicion that a more cohesive and collective voice that echoes this (and I’m guessing there are plenty of others) would be more effective than just one firm or employer.

  2. Henry Says:

    You should switch the parked cars with the bike lane!! Its much better for cyclists! 🙂

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  4. James Says:

    Important to note that the area of Metro Detroit Mr. Basile refers to, Birmingham and Oakland County, is completely different than the Midtown neighborhood the Mayor talks about. I wouldn’t want to be caught dead on a bike in Birmingham/Oakland traffic, mostly because a lot of people who live there are militant SUV drivers who don’t believe in sharing the road. Midtown, and the rest of Detroit, on the other hand, is basically bikers paradise. I cannot recall ever having the share a lane while biking in the city.

  5. James Says:

    Ha, for some reason I thought I was posting to streetsblog and not m-bike, where everyone is obviously familar with the difference. Sorry!

  6. Todd Scott Says:

    @Dave: I’m not sure how the letter ended up on the Michigan Municipal League web site.

    @Henry: Separated bike lanes or cycle tracks are the current buzz, but there are more design, costs, and parking losses associated with them. I’m not sure we’re there yet for the roads in Midtown, but there are a couple conversations about them on some other major Detroit roads.

  7. Joel Batterman Says:

    Basile also has a website at

  8. Steven Vance Says:

    Those bike lanes should be at least 6 inches wider…Take it from the car lane. A semi-truck is barely 7 feet wide.

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