Detroit road obesity makes for easy cycling

Detroit’s loss of population is well documented. No matter where the recent census counts fall, the reality is Detroit has a million fewer residents since the 1950s.

And since the 1950s, Detroit lost its streetcar network while gaining one of America’s most extensive urban expressway networks.

This has resulted in roads like Forest just east of Dequindre. Five lanes one-way with limited hours of parking.

Despite its one-way design, the road’s recent repaving and lack of traffic makes this ideal for biking.

And from 2004 to 2009, there are no reported motor vehicle crashes involving bicyclists or pedestrians on this segment of Forest from Dequindre to Gratiot.

Marked in Red

However, the MDOT and SEMCOG bicycle maps say otherwise. Both bicycle maps show this road in red, which means it’s generally unfavorable for bicycling due to the heavy traffic.


We looked at the SEMCOG traffic counts and did not find any relevant traffic counts near this section of Forest. There was one count from June 2006 taken on Forest west of Dequindre however Forest is now closed at Dequindre. Even still, that traffic count was only 6,823 vehicles during a 24-hour period. The MDOT map says over 15,000 cars a day use this section of Forest.  SEMCOG map says there are over 10,000 vehicles per day.

Unfortunately it appears Forest is not the exception on these maps. There are other super wide, one way Detroit roads with little to no traffic that are shown in red, including Rosa Parks and 14th from Warren to I-75. Second Avenue from Forest to Temple is red on SEMCOG’s map despite its lack of traffic.

This really just reinforces the idea that Detroit needs a good bike map that is designed for cyclists and provides recommended routes — like Forest.

Road Diet?

Does road dieting a road without cars make it more bike friendly? Is a road with so few cars a Complete Street? These are questions that don’t get asked in most cities but are very relevant in Detroit.

Perhaps it makes more sense to approach this with a financial perspective. Could a road diet reduce the road maintenance costs and storm water runoff? Could we convert those outside travel lanes to half bike lane, half pervious surface. The pervious surface (perhaps as bio swales) would provide some separation between the parking/vehicle travel lanes and the bike lane while also absorbing the road’s storm water runoff. Could the city maintain (e.g. sweep) a physically-separated cycle track?

Eliminating vehicle lanes on Federal aid roads (such as Forest) affects Michigan’s federal transportation funding formulas. The state would get the same amount of funding, but less would be distributed to counties and cities like Detroit. There is a financial incentive for not losing vehicle lanes on federal aid roads, but is it enough to justify the added cost?

Hopefully the answer to these questions will emerge over time from the Detroit Works Project and more analysis.

But until then, go bike on E. Forest and enjoy the wide open road.

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8 Responses to “Detroit road obesity makes for easy cycling”

  1. Scott Says:

    Cycling in Detroit. Sounds like a cyclist would be an easy target for criminals.

    Cycling in Metro-Detroit is safer from a crime standpoint, but far more congested.

    The majority of motorists are so ignorant of the law concerning cyclists they might stop and get out of their cars to tell you to get on the sidewalk. They might even try and fight you.

    Why just the otherday a man decided that 20 mph was just too slow in a residential area. So he decided to pass by me going about 35mph, with an inch or two of clearance. I was almost sucked into his car as he passed.

    Cycling in Michigan is dangerous. There are no bike lanes. Motorists are hostile and ignorant.

    We need clear laws to allow cyclists to better defend themselves from a legal stand point. We need dedicated bike paths, and clearly marked bike lanes. We need to make examples of motorists who endanger and assault cyclists.

    I was hit by an old woman a few years ago. She was at fault. I was unable to walk for a few weeks. Unfortunately, Michigan Law is so terrible, I could not even sue this woman.

    The people that left Michigan are the people that are searching for a more livable, tolerable, safe place to live.

  2. Chris Says:

    Scott – Very sorry to hear you were hit and that the system failed. Every time a cyclist is hit by a motorist it is one time too many.

    However, I encourage you to come ride in Detroit. As M-Bike continues to report, the drop in population and development of freeways has made many secondary roads quite bike-friendly. You are more likely to encounter the congested and hostile conditions and drivers you describe in the outer suburbs where subdivisions and cul-de-sacs force all traffic (bike and car) onto mile roads. In the city, there is plenty of room for everyone. Yes, Michigan drivers have a lot to learn about sharing the road, but a prepared and alert cyclist can avoid most problems.

    There is an ever-growing community of cyclists who live in or near and ride in the city, and a variety of group rides year-round (also well-documented on M-Bike.) Also, let’s put to rest the myth that “a cyclist would be an easy target for criminals.” What does a cyclist have that a criminal wants? No car to steal, not much stuff of value. And cyclists are on the move and generally unattractive as potential targets. That doesn’t mean one shouldn’t take proper precautions and avoid potentially bad situations, but the vast majority of the city is amenable to cycling. Bike lanes and paths are nice and there is certainly plenty of opportunity to add more dedicated facilities especially for beginners, but a wide shoulder and low traffic is all many cyclists need.

    You do raise an excellent point that many of the people who leave Michigan do so because other states reinvest more equitably in their infrastructure and Quality of Life including transit, greenways, parks and recreation, and non-motorized facilities. But for those of who stay and live in the city, there are many opportunities to take advantage of while we work on getting those vital services restored.

  3. Don Jones Says:

    So let’s create the map we need.

  4. Eric Says:

    Putting this underutilized road on a diet DOES NOT make more sense from a financial perspective. Do you realize how expensive bio swales and pervious pavement are? There is no financial benefit to reducing stormwater runoff. The only benefit would be a marginal maintenance benefit, but that would pale in comparison to the capital improvement costs you’d like to see. The only improvement that should be made should be strictly related to biking: striping or bollards for a cycle track. Any other large investments should go towards projects like the Dequindre Cut or the river front. Be realistic with your expectations.

  5. Todd Scott Says:

    Great point, Eric. Any plan would need to be realistic given the city’s limited resources. Adding bioswales may not make sense here, however I can think of one foundation that would likely take an interest in piloting such a road configuration. And, this section of road may become part of the Dequindre Cut, which opens many additional non-city funding sources.

    One other factor is the city may have long term plans to convert this road back to two-way, as they do for Second, Third, Brush, and John R.

  6. Andrew Mutch Says:

    “There is no financial benefit to reducing stormwater runoff.”

    Really? Detroit Water and Sewer is looking at solutions like bioswales to reduce run off from Detroit streets in order to allow it to scale back the size of planned stormwater retention basins it’s required to build. Bioswales are a lot cheaper than building massive underground retention basins for stormwater run-off.

  7. Todd Scott Says:


    I’ve been working on the beginnings of a map. Everett Keyser has as well. On-line mapping technology is growing so rapidly that it provides more options than it did just a couple years ago.

  8. Todd Scott Says:

    I thought this article from Philly might was quite relevant to this discussion. They are looking at stormwater reduction that includes repaving some streets.

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