DETROIT FREE PRESS: Open Streets Detroit aims for fun, new uses for roads

 

BY MATT HELMS VIA DETROIT FREE PRESS

On two consecutive Sundays, stretches of roads from downtown Detroit to the southwest will close — not for construction, but for the inaugural Open Streets Detroit project that organizers hope will connect neighborhoods, provide fun and recreation and get people to think about how the city uses its road system.

Open Streets will feature activities along nearly four miles of roads between Campus Martius Park downtown through southwest Detroit. Organizers said Tuesday that activities will include bands and DJs, art activities and displays, bicycling, yoga, dance workshops, children's activities, dog-training classes, street hockey, and soccer clinics led by the Detroit City Football Club.

The event, noon-5 p.m. Sept. 25 and Oct. 2, will transform sections of two major Detroit streets — Michigan Avenue and Vernor Highway — into car-free safe places for the public to ride bikes, run, shop and play, with an emphasis on bringing together neighborhoods and showcasing local businesses, from restaurants, bars and coffee shops to retailers.

"Open Streets Detroit is part of an international  movement to re-imagine our public spaces by temporarily closing our streets to car traffic and opening them up for people to participate in healthy physical activities and building a community," said Lisa Nuszkowski, executive director of Detroit Bike Share and a lead organizer of the event.

Nuszkowski said the goal is to make Open Streets a regular event along streets in neighborhoods across the city.

So far, organizers have lined up 75 partners who will provide the recreation and entertainment options for free to the public. But no outside food or beverage vendors will be on hand, in a move to encourage visitors to patronize the restaurants and stores along the route. The event will run along Michigan, through Roosevelt Park in Corktown, and continue through southwest Detroit past Clark Park and ending at Boyer Playfield at Vernor and Livernois.

The Downtown Detroit Partnership said the event is funded chiefly by the DTE Energy Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, with support from the city and community organizations.

In addition to the activities, "we're going to have lots of opportunities for people to duck in to merchants in a way you can't do when traffic is speeding by on these roads," DDP CEO Eric Larson said. "It is also I think very important to understand the significance of this as we step towards a really much more expanded view of alternative mobility."

The event comes as Detroit awaits the completion of the QLINE, the city's first street rail in decades, and as the region prepares for a vote on the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan's proposal for greatly enhanced public transportation, highlighted by bus rapid transit connecting downtown to the suburbs along routes including Michigan, Woodward and Gratiot.

Dai Hughes, owner of Astro Coffee on Michigan Avenue, said the road presents challenges to redevelopment of the Corktown area because it's so wide and not as safe to walk as downtown streets.

"There's been a lot of effort to make it more walkable and safer, and Open Streets presents an incredible opportunity to do so, and to showcase what something like that might look like, an example for the city to see in real time," Hughes said. "It's really important in this rapidly changing city that we consider public space."

Nuszkowski said the event will provide plenty of fun, but also time for people to think about the use of roads, a significant public space in cities like Detroit.

"Detroit was built to accommodate a city of 2 million people, and we now have less than half of that," she said. "Our infrastructure was built to support the same. So are there ways we can re-imagine that space to share it with everyone?"

She added: "This isn't about cars against people against bikes. It's about how do we accommodate not only cars, but public transportation and cyclists and create safe areas for people to walk. I think we can accomplish that in Detroit."

Contact Matt Helms: 313-222-1450 or mhelms@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthelms.

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