Morning Coffee, Detroit Traffic: The Post-COVID Craze Is About To Be Wild

A traffic jam engulfed downtown Detroit along Jefferson Avenue yesterday. Except it wasn’t a traffic jam, it was more of an impromptu parade. But rather than colorful floats, the parade comprised all manner of revving, LED-illumed, and even ordinary motor vehicles. Circling, racing, or just cruising. Running over pedestrians. Indeed, Detroiters love their cars, and it’s one of the cultural underpinnings of our terrible infrastructure (if the connection isn’t apparent, I’m sure I’ve written about it in the past). Not one particular event, but rather the bat signal of good weather, calling out any and all car owners to congregate in their 4,000 lb. steel deck chairs on the main drag downtown. Detroit cops directed traffic. It’s not unlikely that this is the crest of the wave of The New Normal as COVID numbers subside.

Becoming An Advocate For Infrastructure, And Then Some

Ironically following a recording session of our second SISE podcast– in which DDOT’s Mikki Taylor-Hendrix and I discussed how becoming a user of underdeveloped infrastructure actually turns you into an advocate for better infrastructure- I hopped on my bike and promptly got a flat on my way to the Riverfront. Later, on the way across town in a car, we were pulled over for an expired registration sticker. We spotted no fewer than two cops on Gratiot on our way back, several on Jefferson across a few miles, and six police cars by the West Riverfront Park (Grand and Jefferson) later. Is this what we have to look forward to all summer?

Apparently it is required to be an asshole to drive most Dodge cars, something I’ve noticed variously with the Charger, the Challenger, and the Durango. Apologies to my dearest cousin Katie, who drives a Challenger, and who is not an asshole.
Detroit’s Car Culture

To be clear, Detroit’s car culture isn’t just something to be derided as, oh, you cagers, yadda yadda. It’s an important part of a legacy of a city that values its heritage. People take pride in their cars, and while it may have spiraled well the hell out of control– and strayed far from its origins- the Detroit affinity for cars specifically comes from a pride in the city’s industrial heritage. That’s kind of neat. Or, at least, it used to be. I certainly enjoy the spectacle of beautifully restored, classic, and lifted sedans of yesteryear, with preposterously large and shiny rims and a certainly-aftermarket sound system.

While the term “donk” specifically is meant for the Impala, whose animule hood ornament of the same name was said to resemble a donkey, the hi-riser can come in ever so many flavors. It’s a fun thing. Let people have fun. But I mean, within reason. And while the historic hi-riser is a rare element, it’s probably the only remaining vestige of historical affinity in the car obsession that dominated yesterday’s traffic fest. Is there a reason why a fleet of LED-illumed jeeps with human limbs dangling out of every opening absolutely have to race in a circle around the median, endlessly and without destination? Do you need to rev your stupid Dodge Charger (see above meme– apparently)? Every time? I don’t know. Maybe there’s something I’m missing.

Where I become all, “Sir! This is a library!” Yea, I may well become That White Guy on this topic– the “get off my lawn,” HOA type, mayhap- when fleets of teenagers on minibikes speed through the neighborhood’s stop signs, the earsplitting two-strokes ‘neath a dozen riled youth echoing off apartment buildings, single-family homes, liquor stores, churches, and schools. No one is wearing a helmet, of course. I don’t mind this in general, except that it often happens in the wee small hours. I mean, i’s bad enough with the jake brakes resounding from the ramps of the Ambassador Bridge about a half mile away.

And, Back To Street Design

A longtime resident we spoke with on the walk back from the riverfront park said that, while he remembers drag racing back in the days when this section of West Grand Boulevard had four lanes (!) instead of two (plus bike lanes and parking), he doesn’t remember drivers specifically being this crazy. WDIV just had a piece about a speeding SUV that full-on crashed into a home in Inkster. Indeed, in the past week alone, two vehicles have flipped in the quarter-mile stretch between Fort St. to the south and Porter St. to the north– one on Grand Boulevard and one on the access drive to the Ambassador Bridge and customs plaza. More policing certainly isn’t the answer. Isn’t it possible that maybe we could maybe figure out some design solutions for the street?

Disirregardless, as my much appreciated, top-tier-contributor J-Butta used to say– summer is about to be wild. Americans are getting vaccinated, slowly, but surely. And while we’re not out of the woods yet— certainly with regard to the catastrophic state of the pandemic in India- a year plus of pent-up, homeboundness, is going to come out as the weather gets warmer in the northern states. Be vigilant, remember to bring an extra tube and a pair of tire levers, and please, for the love of all that is mobile, use your damn turn signals.

The Detroit Police Department had not responded to a request for a comment about traffic goings-on yesterday as of this morning.

Another kind of wheeled traffic on the Detroit Riverfront was at the Riverfront Skate Park. A usually quite well-attended venue, it draws a diverse spectrum of skateboarders, rollerskaters, rollerbladers, and, apparently other small, wheeled vehicles as well: note the kid (center left) in the Power Wheels, availing herself of the best of both worlds.

Nat M. Zorach

Nat M. Zorach, AICP, MBA, is a city planner, journalist, and social entrepreneur based in the border town of Detroit, where he writes about infrastructure, sustainability, tech, and more. A native of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he attended Grinnell College in Iowa, the Kogod School of Business at American University. He enjoys long walks through historic, disinvested Rust Belt neighborhoods at sunset.

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