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Q&A: Todd Scott on the link between Detroit's greenways and green infrastructure

Todd Scott. Photo by Marvin Shaouni.

Todd Scott is the executive director of the Detroit Greenways Coalition. One of his big projects is to complete the Inner Circle Greenway, a 26-mile series of bike lanes and greenways that will connect the cities of Detroit, Hamtramck, Highland Park, and Dearborn. We asked him a few questions about green infrastructure and the Inner Circle Greenway.

Model D: How does non-motorized transportation, and perhaps transportation itself, benefit from green infrastructure?

Todd Scott: Both complement each other. Trees, plantings, bioswales and the like provide the shade and aesthetics that makes biking or walking more pleasant and more enticing. Off-road paths, wider sidewalks, and even on-road protected bike lanes provide more opportunity to introduce green infrastructure into the urban environment. It makes sense that both are considered together as a package.

Model D: What's the state of green infrastructure within the Inner Circle Greenway today?

Scott: The built portions of the Inner Circle Greenway include the Detroit RiverWalk and Dequindre Cut. Both are fairly green, and of course, there's the natural stormwater filtration system at Milliken State Park. The on-road bike lane portions along W. Vernor (SW Detroit) and St. Aubin (Eastern Market to Hamtramck) could certainly benefit from additional green infrastructure, but especially street trees. There have been some informal discussions on how those bike lanes could be improved. That would be a good opportunity to address green infrastructure as well.

Model D: What sort of green infrastructure projects can benefit the Inner Circle Greenway? Any planned?

Scott: The largest unbuilt portion of the Inner Circle Greenway is the abandoned Conrail railroad corridor that runs from Warren near Lonyo to Jos Campau near McNichols. Nature hasn't taken back much of the corridor. Still, there are significant opportunities to further green this corridor and process stormwater from adjacent roads and other impervious surfaces. Portions of the rail line were built on former drains which remain wet to this day. Not only can the greenway process this stormwater; it can tell the history of how we've dealt with it.

There's increased discussion about the proposed May Creek Greenway between the West RiverWalk and Corktown. Being that it is a former creek bed, there is a significant opportunity for green infrastructure here as well. Obviously, its connection to the Detroit River is much more direct at this location. We can tell the story of Detroit's former creeks and how they were transformed into stormwater drains.

Model D: What are the plans for next year for the Inner Circle Greenway? Anything as it relates to green infrastructure?

Scott: The City of Detroit is still negotiating the purchase of the Conrail property, so nothing can move forward until that is complete. We're also looking to confirm city ownership of the abandoned rail corridor for May Creek.

Once the land is secured, additional environmental testing will be necessary. We're hopeful that large scale soil remediation (i.e. removing contaminated soil) will not be necessary. That would add delay and cost to the eventual development of these trail corridors.

The City was not awarded a federal TIGER grant to construct the greenway this year. Our fingers are crossed that this program will continue with the next administration.

Model D:  What would you like to see happen with green infrastructure in Detroit?

Scott: We're interested in using greenways not only for trails but to manage stormwater from adjacent properties. We've participated in the Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DWSD) conversations about offsite stormwater management and drainage credits. We may be able to monetize those credits to help offset greenway operational costs.

We'd also like to see both non-motorized and green infrastructure projects implemented together as a standard practice within the city. Detroit has significant open space whether it's vacant parcels, abandoned rail corridors, or extra wide roads. We can use these to create safe and convenient non-motorized transportation options and green infrastructure in a way that most other cities can't. It's an exciting opportunity to build a better city.

This story is part of a series on measuring on the role of green infrastructure projects in Detroit's redevelopment. Support for this series is provided by the Erb Family Foundation to Greening of Detroit, Model  D, and The Nature Conservancy. Read more articles from the series here.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Read more articles by MJ Galbraith.

MJ Galbraith is Model D's development news editor. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.
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