Infrastructure Would Be Nice

Last night, in hono(u)r of the solstice, I made a pilgrimage to the Land of the Rising Maple Leaf for a bike ride to test out my new-to-me bike. While I have been riding a bike since around 1993, I have made a slow transition to Full Bike Geek over the couple of years, living in a bikeable, walkable neighborhood and increasingly hating driving my car (also increasingly recognizing how exorbitant driving is). Over this time frame, I’ve become more attuned to the importance of cycling infrastructure at a time when fiscal austerity is pitted against the divine automotive mandate.

Detroit and Windsor, realistically twin cities, have great automotive connectivity through the Ambassador Bridge and the Tunnel, but the only way to get across the border in something other than a car or a truck is to take the Tunnel Bus, which is unreliable, infrequent, and doesn’t allow bikes. Fortunately I have a cheap bike rack.

I can’t entirely tell why, but Windsor has a lousy reputation among Canadians– it’s “dirty,” it’s “gross,” whatever. Perhaps it’s a matter of being identified with the narrative of Detroit’s decline– the cities both have an automotive legacy, they share the historically important water route of the Detroit River, and they have both (in different formats) suffered from industrial decline. My memories of Windsor, on the other hand, are largely that it is a clean, functional, extraordinarily diverse, and vibrant city. It’s got a dense downtown, amazing food, great beer, great tattoo shops, and, notably, some world class infrastructure for cycling and walking.

Cycling infrastructure continues to be debated in the city by a council and mayor who are coasting on the presence of federal funding (something we are going to run out of in our country because we’re going to spend it all on smart bombs and faith-based healing in the new administration).

From CBC Windsor, a proposed route that would bypass the major east-west mixed-use corridor of Wyandotte Street by routing east-west traffic several blocks south in what has come to be known as the Zig Zag, contrary to any transit planning logic but expedient to city officials who don’t really know what they’re doing.

Or, a notable example of the political climate, when the city voted to boot a bunch of retail tenants out of a first floor space of the Pelissier St. parking garage because they needed to spend half a million dollars to add 51 more spaces.

Sun sets behind the Detroit skyline as viewed from Windsor’s pristine riverfront, west of both downtowns.

After riding west along the riverfront, we turned south, circling Malden Park in the west end of Windsor, which is bordered by a combination of comfortably isolated light industry and light residential neighbo(u)rhoods. The major north-south route we took was along the Right Honourable Herb Gray Parkway Slash Promenade (I just greatly enjoy these Anglo-Canadian honorifics– or, really, honourifics), a monumental highway improvement that improved not only a conventional roadway but also added– wait for it- a roughly 20-km separated trail for bikes and walkers. Designed for improved connectivity to the Ambassador Bridge and, maybe one day, the Gordie Howe Bridge, the Parkway features 11 km of highway and 20km of trails, surrounded by native grasses, plantings, and stormwater features.

From the Windsor Star: Handbuilt pal Oliver Swainson of Bike Windsor Essex tours the parkway.

The cost of about $127 million CAD per kilometer (that’s about $60 million USD per mile) seems negligibly higher than the average highway cost. Highway apologists and industry insiders will often claim that the cost of a highway is, oh, well, maybe $4-10 million per mile. That assumes zero land acquisition cost and a relatively cut-and-dried design and engineering process. But we look at the $1 billion price tag of the I-75 widening, which will add a lane to each side of I-75 ($56 million per mile), or a study that showed urban highway construction to have upper limits of $220 million to $1 billion per mile, and we are reminded that, well, cost is a complicated matter.

I’m almost done with The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, wherein Robert Caro observes that Moses in the 1950’s and 1960’s declined the opportunity to add at minimal cost a center lane for high-speed commuter transit or bus rapid transit to the Long Island Expressway, which resulted in an induced demand that filled up the highway to above capacity almost immediately while also 1) making addition of that transit system exorbitant within a few years, and 2) discouraging high-density transit-oriented development in largely undeveloped areas of Long Island in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

A map of the Right Honourable Herb Gray Parkway, which boasts separated cycling and walking paths that even have their own overpasses and underpasses.

Until we can adopt a policy– nationally, or in car-obsessed Michigan, which is already behind the times as far as transportation and energy are concerned- that encourages diverse modes of transportation (NB: “things other than cars and trucks”), I’ll just have to keep infrastructure improvements on my wish list and keep enjoying my periodic trips to Herb Gray.

In other news, the handmade, carbon fiber Aegis bike, which cost me, including a new handlebar stem, steerer tube adapter, and bar tape, equivalent to less than two months of car insurance for a car I rarely drive, performed wondrously.

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