MDOT adds buffered bike lanes to Northwestern Highway

MDOT was resurfacing Northwestern Highway this year and did something quite unexpected. They converted the road’s 12 foot paved shoulders to buffered bike lanes.

Originally this road from Inkster to 14 Mile had a 12 foot asphalt shoulder. That shoulder is now a 7 foot bike lanes with a 5 foot painted buffer. Is it ideal for families? Of course not, but many cyclists will find it a comfortable and safe place to ride in spite of the road’s 50 MPH speed limit.

We’ve encouraged MDOT to pursue similar designs on other state roads, but especially in Detroit where there are lower vehicle traffic and under-utilized vehicle travel lanes.

Also, we submitted the new bike lane information to Google Maps for approval.

Why Northwestern Highway?

As we see it, these bike lanes came about for three reasons.

First, the state’s Complete Streets policy encourages MDOT to add biking facilities to its roads.

Second, area cyclists were riding this road segments and had written to MDOT asking for an improved signs to better accommodate cycling. Well, MDOT did better than that. The key was letting MDOT know cyclists were already using Northwestern Highway. This provided documented justification for making the improvement.

Third, there was already a wide, paved shoulder. That made this retrofit very cost effective. The total cost was $21,855 on what was likely a million-some dollar project.

News Coverage

MyFoxDetroit covered this story as part of a segment on bicycling safety. Their story includes a video showing the new lanes.

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6 Responses to “MDOT adds buffered bike lanes to Northwestern Highway”

  1. T.R. Morris Says:

    I appreciate the bike lanes. However, the treatment of the right-turn lanes is questionable. When the bike lane encounters a right – turn lane, the striping directs cyclists away from the curb and next to the right motor lane. I am not comfortable leaving the curb to be right up against the 50 MPH motor lane (and sandwiched between them and the right-turners). The configuration chosen by MDOT is fine for use during a traffic jam, but I would prefer to stop and allow a right-turning car to pass me on the left than to go into the sandwiched bike lane on the left. Because traffic usually travels at 50 MPH + when I am cycling, I was better off at intersections without these new lanes. But, overall, I support the complete streets principle.

  2. Rob Says:

    Have to agree — strongly — with T.R. Morris. Those right turn lanes are SCARY and DANGEROUS. You see the same treatment on Okeechobee Blvd near I-95 in West Palm Beach, Florida, and nobody except the most hardcore cyclist rides on it. Everyone else is on the sidewalk, where one exists.

    That said, at least they’re trying!

  3. Dave Says:

    I too appreciate the effort. I think it will probably be at least a couple of more years before any type of bike lane is seen anywhere near my residence in the southern suburbs/downriver. I’m curious what the projected usage of this is over the next five to ten years by those who planned and implemented this. I am open to different routes, but I typically stay to one main route when cycling for recreation/fitness because of the speed limits and lower traffic (and fewer lights/stop signs), but I might be hesitant to use this route if an adequate alternative were available (don’t know the area and have yet to survey the area on Google maps).

    For me, the physical condition and amount of space and surface condition (debris, glass, etc.) are more important than paint on a road—which I think is especially true in Detroit proper. The lane on Michigan Avenue for example, seems to serve as the edge of a road, where debris presumably gets pushed off by cars—but instead ends up in the lane.
    I would say the treatment of the right turn lane and yielding the right of way to cyclists the way people drive. It seems to come in spurts for me, but it seems there are some who can’t even take an extra few seconds out of their day to pass you up without feeling like they’ve been so inconvenienced and feel the need to yell at you to get on the sidewalk, yet accept living in a nation and metropolitan area where they spend how many hours of their week on a consistent basis, in a car. Seriously?

    It’s not at all a productive activity in itself, but then there is another issue of people talking on the phone, which I suppose can be for some people which I don’t understand why it is legal to do so while driving except for likely lobbying from telecom providers, but that’s another issue.

  4. Joel Batterman Says:

    Is that an intermittent green bike lane in the right-turn conflict area? If so, I’m pretty sure it’s the first of its kind in the state. Should help a little with visibility – though on a 50 mph highway, there’s only so much you can do.

  5. Todd Scott Says:

    @T.R. Morris: I understand your concerns. When traffic moves at high speed, there are limited design options. That said, you are not obligated to ride in the bike lane. If you feel more comfortable riding how you did before, I don’t see why you can’t.

    @Joel Batterman: You may be right. The reason they didn’t go with solid green is cost and they thought it might be too much and end up confusing drivers. I think it’s a good compromise and it should alert drivers that they need to be careful.

  6. TRM Says:

    The solution for the right-turn lanes I would propose on a high-speed road like Northwestern is to keep the bike lane on the right and add to the “Right Turn Only” signs a footnote that says: “Except for Bicycles”.

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