New Fitzgerald greenway offers clues on what's next with Detroit's biking infrastructure

Residents of Northwest Detroit's Fitzgerald neighborhood will soon have a brand new greenway to complement Ella Fitzgerald Park, which was set up there last year. For Stephanie Harbin, President of the San Juan Block Club, the upcoming Ella Fitzgerald Greenway is a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

"It's a positive thing. It beautifies the neighborhood and is adding more to make the community more sociable," she says. "We're glad that they have completed the park, and we feel the new greenway will help will help increase community involvement."

Spanning about a half-mile in length, the new greenway will connect the local neighborhood with two local colleges, A bike repair station at Ella Fitzgerald Park.Marygrove and U-D Mercy. Designed with pedestrians and bicyclists in mind, the nonmotorized path will be located south of West McNichols Road along a route that stretches between Livernois to the east and Greenlawn to the west. It will feature both an on-street section along Grove street and an off-street portion crossing through an area that includes Ella Fitzgerald Park, a 2.5-acre community recreation area that opened last July. The construction phase of the greenway, which will cost an estimated $750,000, is set to kick off in May and should be completed this fall.

And yet, there's a whole lot more to the pathway than just where it sits on the map. The new greenway is part of a broader effort called the Fitzgerald Revitalization Project, one of 14 neighborhood framework planning efforts taking place citywide right now. Led by the City of Detroit with the support from the Kresge Foundation, the Fitz Forward development team, and a Reimagining the Civic Commons grant, the Fitzgerald Revitalization effort seeks to transform publicly owned vacant land and buildings in the area for the benefit of the surrounding community.

The origins of the greenway stretch back to 2015, when the City of Detroit first began its planning process for the Fitzgerald neighborhood. City planners conceived of the non-motorized pathway at the same time as Ella Fitzgerald Park. If you're curious why it's taken longer to implement the greenway, the answer comes down to financing. The city is using federal community development block grants to fund the non-motorized pathway, which can be an involved process, while the park has relied on foundation money.

Both projects are part of a strategy to repurpose unused publicly owned lots in Fitzgerald. Alexa Bush, an urban design Alexa Bush, City of Detroitdirector with Detroit’s Planning and Development Department, says the new greenway will solve a bunch of issues for local residents, including the straightforward task of navigating the neighborhood. The way the streets are laid out now, both Grove and Florence Streets dead end by Ella Fitzgerald Park, and further west the blocks stretch out a half mile each without any through streets. This creates major hassles for people who want to walk or bike the area.

"We were hearing because of that barrier sometimes people would drive around the block, just because it's so much further to walk around," says Bush. "So the idea of making better connections through the neighborhood started to make sense."

The city also hopes the new greenway will help improve safety in the neighborhood, both in the sense of having more people out and slowing down vehicles on local streets.

Designated Pathways

Greenways have become a prominent part of Detroit's landscape in recent years. This is in part due to the high-profile of the Dequindre Cut, a two-mile recreational path located along a former railroad track in the greater downtown area, that opened in 2009. And in the not-to-distant future, Detroiters will be able to experience the colossal Joe Louis Greenway, a 31.5 mile biking and walking route that's intended to connect the Detroit Riverfront to Highland Park, Dearborn, and Hamtramck. Construction on that isn't expected to start until next year.

In assessing the role of the Ella Fitzgerald Greenway, Jeff Klein, Deputy Chief of Landscape Architecture with Detroit's General Services Department, uses roadway metaphors. Rather than a highway like the Joe Louis Greenway or a major road like the Dequindre Cut, the Ella Fitzgerald is more like a collector road or a byway, so he classifies it as a community greenway.

"The Ella Fitzgerald Greenway is a connection piece, so it's really on more of a  community scale," he says. "We're still Jeff Klein, City of Detroitfleshing out all the greenways and how they're going to be classified, and that's what so exciting about all of this!"

When the community greenway is completed later this year, pedestrians and cyclists will be able to travel the area via their own designated pathway. 

The off-street portion of the greenway will consist of a ten-foot-wide asphalt trail stretching east to west across the park and continuing through a series of vacant lots west to Marygrove. It will also feature seating and solar-powered lighting that matches the benches and lights in the park right now. As for the on-street section, it'll also be ten-feet wide and paved, and will feature bike lane markers to separate greenway users from motorists. 

"It will have speed tables and greenway signage for added safety," says Klein, "and, for the on-street portion, the white and green delineators that you're seeing on the bike lanes throughout the city."

Residents of the area can also look forward to new streetscaping on both the Livernois and McNichols corridors funded by $125 million in  funding  from a 2017 road bond. 

Running from Livernois Avenue to Wyoming Street, the McNichols project will feature a two-way cycle track on the north side of the street, designated on-street parking, enhanced bus shelters, new pedestrian crossings, new sidewalks, street and pedestrian lighting, street trees, and benches.

The Livernois streetscaping will focus on a section of the avenue between Margareta Street and 8 Mile Road. The work there will involve eliminating a road median, expanding sidewalks, and adding new parking lanes and sidewalk-level bike lanes.

Construction on the streetscapes is expected to begin this month and be completed by next spring.

Community Connections

As fate would have it, the Ella Fitzgerald Greenway will pass right by the Livernois Bike Shop. Located across from U-D Mercy in a gray building with a blue awning at the corner of Livernois Avenue and Grove Street, it's Detroit's oldest bike shop, a staple of the neighborhood since 1938. Asked about the new greenway, co-owner Sam Awada responds with an easy-going enthusiasm.Sam Awada

"I think it would be a great idea. We need something like that," he says. "It would be safer for all the people walking back and forth, and it might bring people to the neighborhood and to all the shops in the area." 

The new nonmotorized route is also a source of interest for folks involved with nearby Palmer Park. Located north of McNichols and east of Livernois, Palmer Park is a 296-acre wooded recreation area that features over ten miles of trails. It's also a meetup point for local cyclists who host weekly rides from there.

Henry Ford II,  who coordinates the bikes rides for the citizen's group People for Palmer Park, thinks the new Ella Fitzgerald Greenway is a step in the right direction.

"I think it's long overdue," he says. "It would give an alternative to using buses and the traffic that tends to accumulate around schools. And I think it also offers a selling point for the schools."

Ford, 48, grew up in the area and now works as a master builder with Detroit Bikes, a local bicycle manufacturer. While he's happy the new greenway is coming, he doesn't feel it offers a whole lot for longer distance riders in its current state.

"It is rather short, so that would take some effort in accommodating a route," says Ford.

Rochelle Lento, President of People for Palmer Park, is also excited about the new greenway, but, like Ford, she's eager to see it become part of something bigger.

"From my perspective, this is certainly a positive thing for the Fitzgerald neighborhood," she says. "But we do want it to connect ultimately to Palmer Park."

Lento, who served on the city advisory committee for the Joe Louis Greenway, is hopeful that the city will link the planned mega-greenway with neighborhood biking infrastructure like the Ella Fitzgerald Greenway and Palmer Park's trails.

She may get her wish. Although nothing has been finalized yet, city planners have been exploring neighborhood-scale Henry Ford IIgreenways in several parts of Detroit, not just in Fitzgerald, but also areas like Russell Woods and Banglatown. And linking these areas up with the Joe Louis Greenway is also being discussed.

"As the Joe Louis Greenway planning moves forward, you might start to see more of these neighborhood connectors, so that it's easier, especially for families and kids, to get safely from their homes to the broader network," says Bush. "I don't think any of them are set in stone, but they're in the conversation we're having especially about [the Ella Fitzgerald Greenway] planning."

The Reimagining the Civic Commons grant is funded by the JPB, Knight, Kresge, and Rockefeller Foundations.

This article is part of a series where we revisit stories from our On the Ground installment and explore new ones in the Live6 area. It is supported by the Kresge Foundation.

Photos by Steve Koss, except where otherwise noted. 

Read more articles by David Sands.

David Sands is a Detroit-based freelance writer. He's covered the news for Huffington Post Detroit as an assistant editor and worked as a staff writer for the transportation news site Mode Shift. Follow him on Twitter @dsandsdetroit.
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