Detroit’s Joe Louis Greenway is set to begin construction sometime in the coming months, beginning what could be viewed as an interesting sector coming to mobility to the city and region as a whole. Greenways are one systematic approach Detroit is looking to offer ways of getting around that negate the need to use a car. They are a green solution, they promote the growth of wildlife and native fauna and they also present a unique tourist opportunity for trail and hiking aficionados. They also connect the city.
Hoping to link up with the larger Iron Belle Trail project, the end goal of the Joe Louis Greenway would not only connect the city of Detroit to the rest of the state through a system of walking trails, but it would also link with Windsor and Essex County in Ontario, allowing pedestrians the opportunity to walk or bike into Canda via the future Gordie Howe Bridge. The future scenario would see Detroit as one of the few cities in the nation with such an opportunity and is one of the larger ways Greenways will revolutionize the region.
Experts on matters related to trails, greenways, and transportation matters, the Detroit Greenway Coalition has been heavily involved in planning and promoting the Joe Louis project. Speaking with Detroitisit, Todd Scott, Executive Director of the coalition, talks about the future of Greenways in Detroit.
THE ROLE GREENWAYS CAN PLAY IN DETROIT
Detroit is an interesting city when it comes to transportation and mobility, heavily car-dependent, hence the name “Motor City,” not owning a vehicle can really hamper someone’s ability to get around. In Detroit, a 2016 study found that 24.7 percent of all households in the city did not have access to a vehicle, making the need for alternate methods of getting around all the more necessary.
When speaking with Scott about where greenways fall into the broader picture of mobility, he emphasized the role that trails and greenways can play in a community like Detroit.
I think a lot of folks outside Detroit think of greenways and trails more as a recreational asset. In Detroit, I think transportation should be prioritized on these greenways. And so that means you don’t just think about people driving to a trail and riding on it, you think about how people who don’t have access to a vehicle or rely on public transit, how can this trail and Greenway improve their mobility,” added Scott. “Maybe that’s, connecting between bus lines maybe that’s getting to a school that’s near the trail. So, we’re working with the city on that and emphasizing the transportation aspects of greenways because that does play a major role.
When defining a “greenway,” things get a little tricky, especially when factoring in something like a roadside bike lane system. For the Detroit Greenways Coalition, Greenways are basically defined as a green method of transportation.
“Our definition of Greenway is very broad. So, it can be thought of as a green mode of transportation,” stated Scott.
“Sometimes the Greenway might be just bike lanes on the road. Sometimes it’s bike lanes on the road with the long term goal being to improve them and make them a little bit more safe or comfortable or separated from the road,” he added. “So, it really depends on the context. And sometimes, it’s like the Joe Lewis Greenway where you have a really wide public right of way and you could do a dual path with connections to the neighborhood, which is more of a traditional definition of greenways, like what the Joe Louis is.”
THE FUTURE OF THE JOE LOUIS GREENWAY
The future of Greenways in Detroit is an exciting thing to think about, especially considering the Joe Louis Greenway Project’s scope and size. Linking most of the city together under a system of walking trails and paths, the Iron Belle Trail connection, as well as the linking to Windsor, make the proposed system a wonder to behold.
While construction on Phase 1 of Joe Louis is expected to begin once the weather warms up in the spring, there are already sections in place, mainly the Dequindre Cut and the completed sections of the Detroit RiverWalk project.
With estimated total completion in ten years’ time, the most exciting aspect of the Joe Louis project is the planned connection with a route along the future Gordie Howe Bridge. This would allow pedestrians or cyclists the ability to walk through customs across the border into Canada.
“When the Gordie Howe Bridge was initially announced, we got very involved in that discussion to make sure that the bridge would have allowed bikes and pedestrians,” shared Scott.
“It’s a separate trail along the side of the bridge and Canada has decided that there will be no tolls for people who walk or bike over the bridge. They’re designing the plazas on both sides to accommodate bikes and pedestrians because you still have to go through customs like motorists,” he further added. “Initially, we were planning somehow there was going to be another route that we would make between the Joe Luis Greenway and the bridge, but the city of Detroit wisely changed the Joe Louis layout to go right along the bridge.”
The ability to walk across the bridge to Canada would be a new factor for Detroiters, presenting an opportunity only seen in a few cities like Buffalo and Sault St Marie. Given that the project will also link with the system of trails in Essex County, one completed, the Joe Louis project would benefit the growing bike tourism sector that has already shown itself in Detroit.
With bike tourism and community groups already cemented in Detroit, the coming years will be an interesting time for bikers, runners, and the like. In ten years’ time, the Joe Lois Greenway could have the possibility to attract tourists from around the globe, bringing new opportunities to Detroit and the rest of the newly connected region.