What, Me Block A Bike Lane? Trouble at Ford’s Ziggurat of Mobility

Intermittently, but for years, I’ve spent a lot of time walking between Southwest Detroit and Corktown along Bagley Street, living in one neighborhood and working in the other. It’s been fascinating to watch the transition. In 2016, I would walk to work at Southwest Solutions, and I remember more than once or twice cars slowing down as the drivers must have thought, “man, what is this very well-dressed vagrant doing walking down Bagley before the sun is even up!” It’s like the car billboard says: “Nobody walks!” Certainly, in the early hours of the morn, especially in winter, nobody walked along this street, in particular. Watching Ford’s transformation of Michigan Central and beyond has been fascinating— and invigorating, certainly, both as a neighborhood homeowner, resident, and worker. But recently, the Blue Oval has scored another big blue oval zero in the mobility department. It’s a product of a failure to actually operationalize the company’s stated commitment to New Mobility, Smart Cities, or whatever the hell you want to call it. They’re not interested.

As a proud resident of Southwest Detroit, I enjoy some of the best Mexican food in Michigan– whether the bumpin’ hot bar at Honey Bee La Colmena on Saturdays, a fresh torta from Taqueria El Caballo on Springwells, or an Italian-Mexican meal from La Noria on Michigan Avenue. I also enjoy living in one of the few neighborhoods of Detroit that has access to a large public park (Clark Park), that is close to downtown, and that has a diverse array of amenities ranging from supermarkets to trendy bars to neighborhood retail. Corktown is close for swankier amenities, and Michigan Avenue has exploded with real estate development following the lead on Ford’s train station project. That’s all great news, right?!

It’s less so when you feel like you’re a target as a pedestrian walking around your own neighborhood. I’m not talking about mugging or pickpocketing, though, I’m talking about huge trucks whose drivers plow through stop signs, refuse to use turn signals, and, of course, don’t observe the utterly basic rule of not parking in a bike lane. It’s even a kinda-protected bike lane, in some spots, which makes it all the more infuriating.

Tour of Ford’s Michigan Central Station Project

So, the neighborhood is great, overall. But less so when the neighborhood’s development paradigm is driven solely by suburbanites, who carelessly disrupt the diversity of transport modes– that’s urban planner for “blocking the damn bike lane”- because they don’t have to live here. Ford’s development project centers on Michigan Central Station, but, presumably to the ire of anyone who has to commute in from Auburn Freaking Hills to work here every day, many commuters are going to have to park their cars in a structure and walk a full two blocks to the train station itself. That structure is on Bagley St., and I call it the Ziggurat of Mobility. 

Ban Cars, Or Whatever, But Just Ban Them From The Bike Lane To Start

Overall, I think the Michigan Central project is pretty dope. Selfishly, of course, I want it to succeed because it’s going to make my home value increase. I would honestly love nothing more than to make hundreds of thousands of dollars of profit selling my house to a Ford executive whose own team turned me down for jobs ever so many times. It’s petty, yeah, but, thinking bigger picture and less selfishly, the project itself is a win for all of us. Would I love to see public transit being incorporated into the project? Yes. Has Ford made more than a vague mention of transit integration. No. Do I think Ford has had any conversations with DDOT, SMART, RTA, or Amtrak about integration with transit? Also no. Does Trevor Pawl care? You guessed it! Also a resounding “no.”

Apparently, though, such is also the case with Macomb-based Liberty Sheet Metal, installing cladding on the structure, and even our own Mannik Smith, whose cars were blocking the bike lane this morning. What’s a better approach than relying on the city’s anemic enforcement mechanisms, especially by cops who, like the folks I talked to the other day, were literally sitting in their car eating popcorn when they told me that no, they couldn’t ticket these guys? How about citizen enforcement? It’s a discussion in Ann Arbor! At the very least, these folks could try.

Neither Ford, nor Channel 9, responded to multiple requests for comment. Mannik Smith had not responded to an inquiry as of the time of publishing this post.

Nat M. Zorach

Nat M. Zorach, AICP, MBA, is a city planner and energy professional based in 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, the POCACITO transatlantic program, the SISE program at the University of Illinois Chicago, and he is also a StartingBloc Social Innovation Fellow. He enjoys long walks through historic, disinvested Rust Belt neighborhoods at sunset. (Nat's views and opinions are his own and do not represent those of his employer).

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