Its 5 a.m. and I'm dragging myself out of bed to get ready for work. It's cold and dark. I finish the ritual of the morning and start the other ritual. I get dressed and throw on my reflective leg strap, helmet, gloves and lock. I hit the streets. Most people might not look forward to riding a bike at this hour, but I know the streets are empty. I take off, turn right onto Trumbull and immediately hit the bike lane. Now what's crazy is that I've become accustomed to having a bike lane. You see, until a couple of years ago we didn't even have bike lanes. Now when I ride, I don't even pay attention to the fact that in the last two years, bike lanes have grown. Detroit's offerings have expanded to a total of 55 miles since the city started to install paths in 2008.
You see, bikes are becoming more and more a part of everyday life in the Motor City. On that very same 5 a.m. ride to work, I'll pass five cyclists and maybe one car. I don't know if it's the fact that I ride all the time that I notice bicyclists more often, but the fact of the matter is that the bicycle community has grown.
"Detroit is developing into a very bicycle-friendly city," says Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance coordinator Todd Scott. "Some of that is a result of major infrastructure investments in bike lanes and trails. Equally important, a bike-friendly culture is organically developing within various Detroit communities." So while Todd's role as advocate is to help get the infrastructure on the ground, there are a lot of other groups that are taking on the task of making Detroit a bike-friendly city.
Groups of people who have a specific interest in returning Detroit to its golden era of manufacturing have begun to do so–not by building cars, but by building bicycles. Detroit Bicycle Co., Detroit Bikes and 313 Bicycle Works are three manufacturers in the business of hand-built custom frames. Detroit Bikes is aiming for a launch in spring 2013, making moderately-priced commuter-style bikes at a pricepoint of less than $500. 313 Bicycle Works–owned by Detroit firefighter and lifelong Detroit resident MIke Sheppard–is a company that builds its bikes in Detroit. "I feel that Detroit is part of what makes me who I am," Sheppard says. "I was born and raised here. Thirty-nine years later, I still live and work here. I want Detroit to succeed. When I do something, like start a business and build frames, Detroit is a part of it because it's part of who I am."
It's the energy of people like this, and the commercial success of major bicycling events happening in Detroit, that keep moving the culture into larger spotlights. Detroit Bike City, Detroit's bicycle show, brought out 1,500+ spectators and vendors to Cobo Center this spring in its inaugural year.
"As a first-time event, it was a great success," says Thom Connors, regional vice president and general manager of Cobo Center. "The crowd reflected a demographic cross-section of the city's residents – young and old, newcomers as well as long-time residents. It was entertaining, educational and enterprising."
Tour de Troit will, I'm sure, break its own yearly record as usual. Riding around town with 4,000+ of your closest friends on a police-escorted tour is about as good as it can get.
Bicycling is also providing Detroit with well-needed publicity in the neighborhoods. Tours provided by places like the Wheelhouse Detroit give people the opportunity to see neighborhoods up close and personal.
"Riders are exposed to new areas and architecture they may not normally see, if they typically ride around in the downtown area only," says North Rosedale Park resident Eliza Sorise-Sawyers.
When you talk about the state of bicycling in Detroit, you can't help but talk about growth. More bikes have been sold in the last 12 months due to ever-unpopular gas and insurance prices–not to mention how trendy it is to be on a bike. Another new cycling-related project in Detroit is called the bike share program. Bicycles are made available to "share" for people who do not own them. The concept is to add affordable transportation around cities. Many feel that this could help fill some of the transportation gaps being created by a lack of public services.
"Wayne State is convening a group of stakeholders in Midtown and greater downtown to examine the feasibility of implementing a bike sharing system in Detroit," says Lisa Nuszkowski, senior project administrator of economic development for Wayne State University. "With plans moving forward for both bus rapid transit and light rail on Woodward, along with infrastructure upgrades such as bike lanes and greenways popping up around the city, we think that bike sharing will provide another great transportation alternative for connecting people with restaurants, shops, entertainment venues, and other amenities around town."
Needless to say, the momentum that bicycling is generating isn't slowing down. Expect to see more bike lanes and more events than ever. Welcome to Detroit Bike City. | RDW