Biking is the best way to explore Detroit. Well, any place really. If you want to experience the space around you–the sights, sounds and people–a bicycle is one of the best ways to cover ground while taking time to stop to take a good look at whatever catches your eye.
My husband and I frequently ride from our house, in Ferndale, close to Eight mile and Livernois, to downtown Detroit and the surrounding neighborhoods. Many friends and family members inquire about our bike route to downtown, so I thought a useful map and some photo highlights that shows the route would get them on their way to downtown. Of course, I’ve included my urban planning perspective for some of the photos.
Knowing the Way
Before I started cycling to downtown Detroit, I had no idea what was the best and safest path. Yes, I was a bit concerned about my personal safety because I didn’t know the way. I’m terrible with maps (Jim can confirm); I frequently get lost or turned the wrong way and I learn best by doing. Even though I explore every part of Detroit that I can from my car and foot, I was hesitant about biking down there because I was unsure of the safest path with limited auto traffic.
The guys at the Ferndale Downtown Bike Shop hosted group rides from Ferndale to Detroit. I was thankful for these adventurous tour guides who showed me the different options for riding down Second and Third streets instead of along Woodward Avenue (an unsafe road for even the most fearless riders, however they did teach me to ride on Woodward, building my confidence and sense of fearless biking.)
**Street scape improvements are coming to this intersection in 2014 on the Ferndale side. The City of Ferndale received a MDOT/SEMCOG grant to put Livernois on a street diet, add bike lanes and improve pedestrian crosswalks on going east/west on Livernois. The City will add bike sharrows going south from Ferndale into the 8 mile intersection, making drivers more aware that cyclists are crossing this busy corridor.
From Livernois Enter Green Acres Neighborhood at Chippeawa Ave.
Ponchatrain turns into Merrill Plaisance Street. Turn Right onto Third Steet.
This part of the neighborhood contains many old, historic apartment buildings which were neglected by their owners, eventually turning buildings into blighted eye-sores. But now, many of these former dwellings are receiving some redevelopment love, springing back to new life, like the Whitmore Plaza. Read more about the Steady Revival of the Palmer Park neighborhood here and here.
Enter City of Highlad Park at McNichols & Third Street
It’s a breeze down Third Street. Third Street is a bikers dream–limited traffic, a few stop signs, a flat road, interesting neighborhoods and folks sitting on their porches, always ready to return a friendly wave. Third Street will dump you right into New Center.
Third Street, once a bus route
A lonely old bus stop sign signals that this was a highly traveled road at some point. Our region loves small, lonely bus signs with inappropriate or no shelters (snark).
Not far down the street on the edge of the Bosto-Edison District back in Detroit, is the historic Duane Doty Elementary School, built in 1908. It’s now the Henry Ford Academy Elementary School. Looking good!
Old Gas Station & Car Wash
I stopped to take a photo for what I thought was recent building graffiti/art because I thought the color popped. By happenstance, a man exited his house (not pictured) to the right of the Hand Wash. We had a nice chat. He said the painting is over 20 years old; he’s tired of the blighted building and wish the owner would do something to tear down or clean up the property.
* Of course, I imagined the state of the underground storage tank (if it really was a gas station) lurking beneath the land.
Return Bike Route
Third and Second Street are one-way streets, which is why you bike Third down and Second on return. Second Street is a lovely route for your return. Mostly smooth streets, limited stop signs and interesting things to see.
Underground “Subway” Crosswalk in Highland Park
Built in the 1950’s these subway underground crosswalks helped school children cross the street safely from significant car traffic.
These underground “subway” crosswalks at Second and Pilgrim fascinate me. Why? The street width on Second is relatively small compared to major corridors like Jefferson, Woodward or 8 Mile, where you would suspect a subway like underground passage. But back in the day, early traffic management practices were designed to manage cars on the street, not people trying to cross. I suspect some pedestrian safety devices were not invented yet, therefore the creation of the underground passage. You’ll notice white crosswalk markings now and ADA ramps, obviously implemented more recently since these subways were closed a long time ago.
Along the route, you’ll see many homes in transition, either ready for demolition or some remodeling TLC. Many neighborhoods and streets in decline have turned up creative responses to bring awareness to the glut of vacant properties in Detroit and older Rust Belt communities. I had the chance to see Chris Toepher’s work in Cleveland, who painted fake windows on boarded up houses. This particular house on Second street drew my eye–the juxtaposition of the artistic windows, burned out house and pretty “field” (I’m sure once a house stood here). I see the beauty and potential for something new. Opportunity awaits impatiently.
Palmer Park Fountain
And you’re back to Palmer Park, the end of Second Street. You can either turn right at the fountain to hop on Woodward to take to 8 or 9 mile ,or go back the way you came through Green Acres. On Sunday’s Woodward is empty and a relatively a safe ride from cars.
You can learn more about historic Palmer Park at People for Palmer Park, a non-profit membership organization dedicated to preserve and enhance the park.
Biking from 8 Mile in Ferndale, through Highland Park to New Center in Detroit, is super easy, interesting and fun! I’ve only included a handful of photos to show what you’ll see along the way. If you are interested to learn what the future holds for these neighborhoods and the City, check out Detroit Future City.
If you want to bike more in Detroit, check out Detroit Bike City! Happy Riding!