It's one of those warmish spring days that are like crystal -- bright
and shiny with sprinkles of sparkle bobbing up from the Detroit River
-- and the pedestrian traffic milling on the RiverWalk
little patch of idyll on this completed stretch of the RiverWalk is
where Detroit resident and middle school teacher Khristina Scruggs, 25,
sits on a bench reading without sunglasses.
"I walk through
the Downtown, and of course the riverfront," she says, but she's quick
with a response to whether there are a lot of other areas in Detroit
that she fines walkable. "Not nearly enough," she says.
in Detroit comes in pockets -- often parts of the East Riverfront,
Midtown, Greektown, Southwest Detroit, Eastern Market, Hamtramck and
Downtown areas. But new efforts are in the works to expand those areas,
and link the pockets to create more safe, well-maintained places for
people to bike, walk, blade or board through town.Next big things
The next big thing is the Dequindre Cut
, a walking and biking path that dips below street level and lies on a stretch of abandoned rail
line. The path will link the Riverfront area, Layfayette Park and
Eastern Market. It officially opens May 14. (Model D will host its
speaker series that day, too, discussing bikes and trails in the city.
Check the next issue for details.)David Knapp
a Detroit resident and architect with Albert Kahn and Associates, says
that while projects like the Dequindre Cut are a good start, true
walkability in Detroit is a long way off. "I think it's one of worst
walkable cities," he says. "There are pockets, but these pockets are
A better public transit system would help, he
says. While he points to the East Riverfront area, Downtown, Southwest
Detroit and Hamtramck as having
nice walkability, without a mass transit system to help link it
together, a truly walkable city isn't likely. Even something as simple
as a shuttle linking downtown with Detroit Metro Airport would bring
more foot traffic to the city, he says.
For Knapp, good ideas
can't be the only ingredient in a pedestrian-friendly cocktail. You
need one part diversity, another part density, a splash of aesthetic
sensibility and a great big heap of public investment.
also would also put safety and appearance in that mix. She says if
people don't feel safe, they won't walk in many areas of Detroit. The
collection of abandoned factories and buildings -- relics of an era
built on a faded industrial dream -- that dot the city's landscape
don't help things, she adds. "You don't want to walk looking over your
But here is where the city runs into a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg situation:
Creating more walkable areas in Detroit might bring more people, but
it's the lack of people in some parts of the city that makes
walkability such a hard-to-reach goal.
"I think what we need in the city is more action," says Malik Goodwin, director of project management for the Detroit Economic Growth Corp.
"You need to have a reason for people to want to walk."
also needs to be more businesses and destination spots, like
restaurants and nightclubs within the walkable hubs, he says, which is
why business attraction and retention needs to be a top priority.
One respect in which the city is blessed, says Goodwin, is that its
infrastructure is sound and has a unique street design and a generous
mix of historic architecture for foot and bike travelers. "The street
grid radiates," he says. "It offers people a chance to discover areas
of the city they wouldn't see by automobile."
Sue Mosey, who heads Midtown's University Cultural Center Association,
agrees. "The basics are here," she says. "We have many urban parks --
many need to be reclaimed and improved -- and we also have Belle Isle
and now the RiverWalk. Other assets such as Eastern Market and the
cultural institutions cannot be replicated and can all be incorporated
into this type of system."
Mosey says streetscape improvements,
such as the major ones UCCA has been spearheading in Midtown, are vital
to creating a walking Detroit.
"You need density and an
attractive streetscape to make folks want to get out and walk," she
says. "Restoring the tree canopy in neighborhoods, adding, improving
and maintaining parks, building greenways, adding bike lanes, improving
sidewalks and lighting -- all are critical elements to making an area
She also says little things like community
gardens help, too, because they "encourage more neighborhood activity
and engagement." (For more on Midtown's newest community garden, click here
says the city is brimming with pedestrian potential. "Somebody once
characterized it as having good bones," he says. "We just need to build
And the city is building. In addition to the Dequindre Cut, walkability-minded projects in the works include:
Hey, it's the Ham Tram
- RiverWalk: About three miles of this pathway along the riverfront are complete, from Joe Louis to Gabriel Richard Park.
- Greenway bike paths: One of the more visible projects is the Midtown Loop, which aims to provide a path around the cultural chunk of Detroit, and will begin construction this summer. Another is the Corktown-Mexicantown Greenlink, which recently got City Council approval. Construction is planned to start in the fall.
- Woodward rail: A proposed 3.4-mile light rail system will run along Woodward from Hart Plaza to New Center.
architects of Detroit's pedestrian-friendly future also may want to
look at the City of Hamtramck, or as its Director of community and
Economic Development Jason Friedmann calls it, "another neighborhood in
In its 2.1-square-mile melange of cultures, business
and residents, Hamtramck has the whole pedestrian thing down pat. Its
30,000 residents can walk to bars, restaurants, stores and places of
"One of the things we have that's unique, along with
Southwest Detroit, is the density," says Friedmann. "When we have a new
store come in, we don't necessarily have to have more parking. Fifty
percent of the residents do not drive.
"I think because of that, we've been able to attract more younger folks and more artistic folks."
hopes a revived bus-shuttle system will help attract even more of
those types of folks. Though Friedmann is calling it the "Ham Tram,"
the project doesn't have an official name yet.
Two buses will
loop Hamtramck, then make stops along Woodward, near the New Center
area, and along points near Wayne State University. The plan is being
funded by the city of Hamtramck, and Friedmann hopes it will attract
more students to live there. The aim is to make the bus shuttles free
or as close to free as possible. The shuttles are expected to start
service in August, in time for Wayne State's fall semester, he says.Suburbs to urban living
Walkability is important because it is part of what attracts people to a city.
Being in walking and People Mover distance from so many things to do
was part of the draw for Glenn Pulice and his wife. The couple recently
from Bloomfield Township recently left 1.4 acres of suburban affluence,
shed a large chunk of their belongings (and Pulice calls that
"liberating") and settled into a 1,700-square-foot loft near the Fox
"We found ourselves downtown all the time, so we figured why not just move downtown?" he says. "There's so much going on."
He believes that with better public transit, more suburban dwellers will venture downtown -- some to live but more to play.
me, walkability is access to the entire locale of the city," he says.
Look at cities like New York and Paris, he adds. They wouldn't be as
walkable without the Metro or subway. "All those people are healthier,"
he says. "Even though they take the Metro, they take the Metro to walk."
Mosey, meanwhile, thinks the next decade will be crucial to whether Detroit becomes a pedestrian-friendly city or not.
make Detroit a more walkable city will require a substantial investment
in more infrastructure, housing and commercial services and goods," she
says. "It will be a work in progress for the next decade and with the
right type of targeted investments, it will work here as it has worked
in many other downtown areas across the country."
Megan Pennefather is a local freelance writer and contributor to Model D. Send feedback here
On the Riverwalk, Detroit resident Kristine Scruggs
A couple on a morning ride under the Jefferson over pass on the Dequindre Cut
On Monroe St. in Greektown
Hamtramck Welcome sign
Bars, restaurants and retail stores along Joseph Campau in HamtramckAll photographs by Detroit Photographer Marvin Shaouni Marvin Shaouni is the Managing Photographer for Metromode & Model D.