Tag Archives: sidewalks

Where the sidewalk doesn’t end

July 22, 2014

Surprisingly good sidewalk news from the 7.2 and beyond:

    • No crosswalks have materialized on the recently bi-directional Second Avenue in Midtown, but crews are replacing disturbed sections of sidewalk.
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      One worker, looking zen as all get out as he smoothed the new patch with a cement-leveling tool, said, “We just fix what DTE breaks!” No response regarding the absence of crosswalks has been received following an email dated July 14 to the office of Jereen Rice, Midtown Detroit Inc.’s “Greenway & Non-Motorized Planner/Engineer.” Meanwhile, pedestrians still cannot get to the Bronx and back without undue risk.
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    • M-1 rail is breaking ground next week, which means it will be construction season on Woodward until 2016. While pedestrians know that this usually entails a wild goose chase of detours, M-1 rail planners are promising to keep sidewalks open, as Craig Fahle noted while skimming through publicity documents. “You’re going to make sure sidewalks are maintained; everything’s ADA compliant throughout the entire construction project. That’s not always the case in a project like this,” he said in an interview with chief operating officer Paul Childs.
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    • As the grand plan for the future Ilitch sports arena was announced this week, it brought some unexpected positive news for current Detroit pedestrians. Cass Park will still be a park, and a nicer one at that. As Curbed reported, “Most of the immediate construction in places like Cass Park Plaza will be in the form of new infrastructure (streets, sidewalks, etc) and landscaping to lure outside developers.” As Chris Ilitch told Crain’s, fixing streetlights and landscaping will “free the city up to spend its resources on other priorities.” How generous. Then, in a bizarre choice of words to describe a place where people actually live, Ilitch said, “This is an investor’s playground.” At least sidewalks are usually a priority near playgrounds.
    • Elsehere, sidewalks have bifurcated and grown lanes. In a “behavioral science experiment,” crews from a new National Geographic TV show have painted lanes on a Washington, D.C. sidewalk, splitting pedestrians into phone-using and non-phone-using groups.
      Photo by Cliff Owen for the Associated Press

      Photo by Cliff Owen for the Associated Press


      It went about as successfully as would be expected for a TV crew masquerading as behavioral scientists. Pedestrians either ignored it or posted pictures of it on social media. Can’t wait until this episode airs.
  • A second look both ways

    July 3, 2014

    A cardinal rule of walking in cities that everyone learns when they’re knee-high and first able to comprehend quantifiers such as ‘both’ is, “Look both ways.” In Detroit, it’s long been the case that one-way designations have been perceived only as an emphatic and occasionally policeable suggestion. Looking both ways is automatic, but with recent road construction in Midtown, it’s a great time, as rambler Michaela would put it, for a reminder from your local mom: Look both ways before crossing the street!

    Like the sign says, Second is going through some ups and downs.

    Like the sign says, Second is going through some ups and downs.

    This particular street is Second Avenue. Last week, road crews were out making good on an old plan to restore Second to something like its historic proportions, and as Curbed contends, “ending its reign as the neighborhood’s most illogical thoroughfare,” at least since Third underwent its conversion last year, I guess.

    The gesture, with planning provided by Midtown Detroit, Inc., was well-received, with media making a big deal about the “cushy” buffered bike lanes, but it seems that certain populations have been left out of the plan. You can mumbo-jumbo your way through all the ‘complete streets’ buzzwords you want, but without facilities for all road and sidewalk users these streets are incomplete.

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    After a week of bidirectionality and new bike lanes, things weren’t looking any better for pedestrians. No crosswalks have been installed; not a single line demarcating a street crossing has been laid. Pedestrians can cross safely at Selden and at Forest, but in the intervening “walkable” blocks no provision has been offered. Thinking that the oversight must be temporary, I waited, then asked questions. As of Tuesday, everyone who knows anything about sidewalks in the Department of Public Works or at Midtown Detroit, Inc., was on vacation.

    At least there's no parking in the crosswalk.

    At least there’s no parking in the crosswalk.

    Deviating slightly from my usual commute, I walked north on Second and asked other pedestrians as we crossed paths how they were doing and what they thought of the new paint job. (Not including people wearing earbuds, which may have skewed results). They were all fine, thanks, but the exchange got uglier as the subject turned impersonal. I’m not a fan of the change, but I was anticipating that at least someone would like it. No one did. “Let me tell you, I hate it, man. It’s a thoroughfare. It used to be a neighborhood, and now it’s a thoroughfare. And it sucks,” ranted one woman impassionedly. “I don’t like it,” said the next man who passed. “I liked it better when it was one way. Now there’s a lot more traffic. I’m used to looking both ways, but… I’m still getting used to it.” He looked down Second and concluded, “I like the bike lanes, though!”

    This pedestrian made it across safely, but will you?

    This pedestrian made it across safely, but will you?

    This is hardly about which format is better — it’s about disregard for pedestrians, no matter what the roadway itself holds. Nobody really knows whether the purported benefits of two-way streets actually pan out. Two-wayification is a traffic calming strategy intended to reducing vehicle speed, miles travelled, and pollution emitted, while hopefully increasing pedestrian safety and walkability. Studies have shown evidence for both outcomes — safer for pedestrians, not safer for pedestrians, and so forth — so like many cities following the trend, Detroit is another willing to pay a good deal of money to do an experiment on which it isn’t even collecting data.

    In my experience, none of the planner’s promises have materialized following the Third Street conversion. Crossing has been at best a nuisance. Avoiding speeding cars coming from both sides, poorly timed so as to require waiting longer to find a suitable gap, has been an issue both as a pedestrian and a cyclist. Even if the change had caused traffic speeds to drop, slower traffic often equates to more fumes and road noise — not the types of amenities Midtown aims to offer its residents and guests. After recently establishing that the dominant scent of the Midtown Loop is exhaust, creating more smelly “walkable” areas is an odd priority. Leaving Second alone and putting bike lanes on Cass, the adjacent more heavily-travelled existing two-way, could have been a consideration, though it’s a tight fit as it is.

    This transition could be done well, making life better for both pedestrians and cyclists — it just hasn’t been yet. Perhaps it wasn’t a slip of the tongue when the Free Press quoted DPW director Ron Brundidge saying, “Whenever we have an opportunity to promote more non-motorized transportation use, whether it’s bicycle paths or making it more pedestrian friendly, we definitely want to employ that as part of the principles of design” (emphasis mine). This isn’t an either-or proposition. It’s a rare opportunity where everybody can easily be safer and happier.

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    Like city employees and Midtown Inc. planners, I’m going on vacation. Perhaps when I return from walking around where there is no concrete to bicker over lining with crosswalks (North Country Trail!), the city will yield great surprises. Could it be a fleet of yield signs for crosswalks, like at Hancock and Cass (where I always resist the zealous impulse to walk though the intersection just for fun)? Maybe DTE’s gas line dig sites at Canfield will lay foundations for a pedestrian bridge or lead to a subterranean crossing, like the vestiges of one further north on Second. Just kidding; a concrete hole in the ground probably doesn’t count as a greenway.

    The Detroit Area Rambling Network is all about making the most of pedestrian opportunities in the city — we already live in some permutation of a walkable city, so let’s use it. Some lines on the ground probably aren’t going to save my life, but crosswalks at least promote awareness that hey, people actually walk around here. It’s a sad day when an area like Midtown becomes less safely walkable, even if within the context of greater progress.

    Little lost

    March 1, 2014

    Sorry, Detroit, but New York’s walking culture is always on its toes. Perhaps that’s what happens, among other things, when you cram 8 million people into a space just a bit over half of Detroit’s footprint. One of these eight million is Yoonjin Lee, or Zoonzin, a student at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. Recently Zoonzin became what the Atlantic Cities referred to as the “unofficial curator of lost stuff” when she started a project addressing the sad plight of our most useful quotidian paraphernalia, such as the ubiquitous lost glove. Lighters, lip balm, candy, metro cards, hair ties, and even a sunny yellow paperclip are among her other subjects.

    Photos by Yoonjin Lee.

    Photos by Yoonjin Lee.

    After locating a forlorn item hanging out alone in a public space, she creates a small note and affixes it to the object, leaving the tiny thing suddenly noticeable to passersby. Her messages are sometimes poignant, others, petulant, and the whole project is tremendously candid — how admirable it is that she’s not deterred by having kind of gnarly handwriting and only rough scraps of cardboard at her disposal. One can only cringe imagining how sad the lost stuff is as snow starts to fall and their weepy black magic marker voice spirals toward the dank oblivion of storm drains.

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    As Zoonzin said in an email interview with the Atlantic Cities, “I wanted to humanize everyday objects that we do not think much of and leave them on the streets. When people lose their favorite lip balm, it really annoys them but it does not ruin their life. If you change the perspective, falling out of someone’s pocket and being left useless on the street is life-changing.”

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    Zoonzin’s kind of empathy, curiosity, and whimsy should be among the essentials we pack with us on any outing, among other more tangible trappings. It’s a wonderful world in which someone else cares enough about the possibilities, the varied life stories of these mundane little objects, to document them in such a small and transient way. It’s like craigslist missed connections, but without all the blundering “m4f hot waitress at Applebee’s” and dismal misspellings. (She does have the caps lock on pretty hard, though).

    Where would these things be now, if they hadn’t fatefully plummeted to the sidewalk? We’ll never know, but Zoonzin isn’t hesitating to make it up. See more of her humorous assertions on the Little Lost Project website, facebook, or tumblr.

    Curb cuts

    December 28, 2013

    Looking back at 2013’s top news, Motor City Muckraker reminds us of their survey two years after the city’s installation of curb cuts allowing pedestrians with disabilities access to some of the infamous “sidewalks to nowhere” that truncate abruptly in weeds, unkempt trees, garbage, and rubble.

    This is especially interesting in retrospect given the ongoing struggle over curb cuts, which included a wheelchair protest last month on the west side, where crucial intersections are lacking any kind of ramp for sidewalk access.

    Photo by Steve Neavling for Motor City Muckraker

    Photo by Steve Neavling for Motor City Muckraker

    The curb cuts in question are the result of a 2005 lawsuit against the city by an Ann Arbor lawyer on behalf of Michigan Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Center for Community Access, the settlement of which stipulated that Detroit revamp its ramps. Detroit installed many curb cuts in the 1980s, before new Americans with Disabilities Act requirements were established in 1991. Specifically, the nubbly “detectable warning” surfaces on modern ramps are made of reddish rubber, while old ones sport concrete nubs or smooth surfaces making wheelchair traction a challenge. Never mind that the rubber ones tend to shear off and can sometimes be found decorating the gutters like cheerful Heidelberg dots.

    In his article, Steve Neavling makes no mention of where the tax dollars came from, intimating that Detroiters should take umbrage at this, as if it were exclusively city money that financed these measures of questionable necessity. The headline alone, “Detroit spent $45 million on sidewalk ramps to nowhere while sinking into debt,” implies that Detroit had the option of spending the ADA sidewalk compliance funds on other city services, like streetlights, firefighters, or police, when this was not the case. While revenue from Detroit’s gas tax funded some of the ramps, the federal dollars that covered the rest of the bill were specifically earmarked for this purpose. Whatever the source, noncompliance with the court order is likely to have a higher price tag, both financially and socially.

    “The law is clear as a bell that curb ramps have to be installed at every intersection,” attorney Mark Finnegan told the Free Press. This includes the mostly abandoned areas to which Neavling takes exception, failing to note that it’s often these places where higher concentrations of elderly people and people with disabilities live, those who are less upwardly mobile and unlikely find themselves using the ADA-approved ramps downtown. As one commenter put it, “They’re not going to write in the law… ‘Every city must comply, except Detroit, which is a lost cause.'”

    The problem with Detroit’s ADA compliance is less that it is doing it citywide, but that it is doing it with no discernible order. Areas that receive a lot of traffic and might be prioritized, like Eastern Market, are still missing appropriate curb cuts in unexpected places. It seems that merely keeping track of which curbs have already been addressed would be a bigger job than it’s worth. The oversight feels spiteful. In explanation, Detroit Department of Public Works director Al Jordan told the Free Press in 2010 that installing curb cuts on main roads where pedestrian crossings are absent might communicate that it’s safe to cross the street at any point where there are ramps, assigning the blame to larger infrastructure issues.

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    Neavling, responding to a comment, said that “[s]ome dense neighborhoods received [no curb cuts] while many desolate areas, some with no houses on a block, received installations.” No area is immune to this illogic, however. In some of Detroit’s higher-density, more walkable neighborhoods, curb cuts have been replaced as nonsensically as anywhere else. Creating ramps where there are no sidewalks in populous areas is as wasteful there as it is where sidewalks terminate in wilderness a few paces from the intersection, but hardly makes for a sensational headline.

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    A block away from this corner, curb cuts have not been replaced despite being on a reasonably well-trafficked sidewalk running along a main road.

    For once, Detroit isn’t alone in its dysfunctionality with regards to this issue. It’s happened everywhere there are attorneys trying to pay back their law school debt and everywhere stimulus plan dollars can stretch, like a small town in Oklahoma, where residents bemoaned a $90,000 sidewalk leading to a ditch that was replaced three times in a five-year period before finally arriving at ADA compliance. At least these curb cuts have only been replaced once that we know of.

    And who’s to say that these curb cuts in largely vacant spaces such as the Packard Plant lead to nowhere — maybe the arrival of new neighbors will lead to development in these unlikely areas. This sidewalk will be perfect for Fernando Palazuelo’s morning stroll.

    Photo by Steve Neavling for Motor City Muckraker

    Photo by Steve Neavling for Motor City Muckraker

    For a project already of such boggling duration, it seems a darn shame that such muckraking is still needed, and that we will likely be hearing lots more about Detroit’s sidewalk woes in 2014.

    Solstice

    December 21, 2013

    It’s the shortest day of the year; the longest, darkest night. The winter solstice is traditionally a time of turning inward to reflect on the cycles of nature. It’s an auspicious opportunity to take old familiar paths, pondering changes in the self and its environment. There have been many such changes.

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    Last year, the warmth of good intent cut through the cold. Someone was tending a fire in a barrel in Redmond Plaza, a welcoming flame inviting anyone who walked through to linger and warm themselves. Today the park is empty, but not on account of the cold or precipitation. It was fenced off months ago, the shiny metal barrier enforcing its vacancy for no discernible reason. The park’s visibility and the absence of any construction make its inaccessibility infuriating. On a few rare occasions the gates have been unlocked and people will amble beyond them, but it’s unclear why they open these times and not others.

    The concrete seal, an empty chair.

    Snowy day with the concrete seal and an empty chair.

    The weekend community barbeques that have been happening here for years are still scheduled to occur. A few folks gather around the perimeter, maybe in anticipation of this, sitting on the two chairs at the corner and perching on the concrete ledge. One of the only people I see often at the park these days is the guy who dances wildly in the crosswalk on Second, wearing headphones. He’s often preoccupied, but sometimes he notices me and militantly barks a greeting.

    This is his corner.

    This is his corner.

    The lot belongs to the city recreation department, but it’s slated for redevelopment by Midtown, Inc. in the coming year. Next door we’ll get a new restaurant, but what good will come for the people who previously spent time in the park? I doubt I’ll be getting catcalled much anymore while travelling through that intersection, but who will be there to wish me a good morning with such exuberance? Neither is the domain of the hipster or young professional, the kind of “Detroit by Detroiters” for whom this development is taking place.

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    It’s also one of my favorite corners for pigeons in the city, probably as many as at Rosa Parks Transit Center, but with fewer comings and goings, disruptions. They’re used to the presence of humans, seem to have a symbiosis with the people who hang out here. They’re not afraid of anything. If I stand there for a moment, sometimes they’ll all flutter down at once, landing close and inspecting my boots, maybe mistaking them for one of their own kind.

    When, like Third last year, Second gets its makeover into a two-way street with fancy bike lanes, where will the pigeons go? Nobody really cares about pigeons (though you can usually find a good spread of birdseed nearby at Third and Alexandrine), but a place too busy for birds impacts foot traffic, too. Will we have to contend with cars coming fast from both directions? For all its increased bikeability, the revisions to Third fail when considering the lack of safe crosswalks for pedestrians.

    Change afoot.

    Change is afoot.

    What will this intersection look like in a year? In ten? What will it look like then in our memories?

    UPDATE:

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    A week later, volunteers are setting up for the community barbeque, positioned in a line along the sidewalk. As others dither over whether to put the fruit next to the desserts, one man tending some coals tells me that they tried to get permission to continue using the park, but were turned down. “I don’t know why they don’t want us in there,” he says sadly. “We’re just out here having some fun, feeding people, doing God’s work.”

    Snowy day

    December 15, 2013
    from The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

    from ‘The Snowy Day’ by Ezra Jack Keats

    Saturday’s commute isn’t quite as fantastic as Ezra Jack Keats’ famous treatise on the merits of snow days, but it’s close.

    Snow is hitting me in the face. People come bundled in pairs, shuffling along. It’s hard not to think of duos boarding the biblical ark before the flood. In questionable logic, pedestrians take to the streets as cars grapple for traction.

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    A pair of pedestrians walking down Woodward.

    A pair of medics are out in front of an apartment building, waiting agitatedly. As I hike closer to them, one yells, “Hey, are you the patient?”
    “The patient? No,” I holler back, laughing. How, in this moment, hale and red-cheeked, might I look as though I require medical assistance? Maybe these perambulations are an outsider’s preoccupation.
    They shrug, frustrated, and climb back in the ambulance. When I catch up with them a minute later, they roll down the window. “How far are you going? Do you need a ride?”
    “No, I’m fine,” I say, all instinct, “Just to the library,” abbreviate my course for their benefit. The streets aren’t empty; the buzz is that the library is closing early. Hastening is absurd. There’s still time. The snow slows everybody’s footsteps, covers their tracks.

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    Darkness takes longer than usual to show up this evening. When it does, the snows reflects light, giving the sky has that comforting wintery pallor. It brings about memories of being small and warm, someone making hot chocolate with marshmallows, the lofty roof of a blanket fort overhead. Brushing off my coat and hat, I take the long route home, searching for snowmen other than myself. There aren’t any yet. No snow angels either, but residents are out with shovels and brooms in a seemingly futile effort to keep the still-falling snow. Someone walks with a dog up past its elbows in fluff.

    Snowfall gauge.

    Snowfall gauge?

    All in all, it was hardly a snowpocalypse. The National Weather Service claims just six inches of snow in Detroit, but as the blustery flakes fell into windswept dune-like formations, it seemed like more. Of course, winter is yet to come.

    The season

    October 21, 2013

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    It seemed like maybe a homeless person resting in this improbable spot of sun-soaked fabric. Who sets up a nametag on the sidewalk while they sleep? Inspecting closer, more likely a bake sale gone under. Spilled words, small crumbs.