I had the pleasure of working with the 71X research team to visualize the data that they had collected on Detroit’s pedestrian (only) bridges. The student research team surveyed all 71 pedestrian bridges in Detroit.
From the 71X Team:
This is an independent study—an awareness-builder, too—introducing one side of a three-pronged problem in the City of Detroit. The intersection of accessibility, public health and safety. The team is comprised of Urban Studies’ students and community organizers working toward a more accessible Motor City. We study infrequent public transit and below standard “non-motorized” infrastructure with a commitment, again, to a prosperous Metro Area. From our vantage, Detroit is a big, three hundred and fifteen year old city severed into over a hundred neighborhoods. What is easily noticeable is its one-of-a-kind, sunken expressway network. It snakes through town, and detaches the city from itself. Interstates 75, 94, 96, and State Highways 8, 10 and 39 were carved out in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s by planners who we view, “misforecasted” the outcome of their design. (No, that’s not a word.) We feel planners, Big Auto, and regional leadership placed a low priority on a walkable city, safe for kids and accessible to elders and people with disabilities.
Today, low income residents traveling between neighborhoods—including those who cannot afford to lease (26%) or insure (approx. $5,000/yr.) a car—rely on public transport, six-to-eight-lane surface roads, and 71 pedestrian bridges to get where they need to be, on time. To the 5.3 million people of the country’s 11th largest Metro, the foot bridges we visited are an afterthought. There is no context for why bridges exist, where they do, and whether they are necessary (they are). We were curious to see how these points of connection, perform: what do residents have to say? Is each bridge equally maintained? What is the maintenance schedule?
- The structural integrity of 33 bridges, or 46%, is compromised. These structures are in operation yet each had observable issues ranging from crumbling and disintegrating concrete to significantly rusted support beams, down signage and missing fencing and railing.
- 36 of the 71 bridges, or 51%, are inaccessible. These structures do not have ADA-compliant curbs or cannot be climbed by people in wheelchairs.
- 14 bridges, or 20%, connect service drives where cars speed and pedestrians are met with dangerous sight lines.
- 46 bridges, or 65%, contain trash, glass, graphic imagery and gang-inspired graffiti.
- 64 bridges, or 90%, are part of a critical route for walking to a transit stop.
- 7 of the bridges, or 10%, are closed.
The study did not aim to count unique users or trips per bridge. It is clear to see Detroit residents do rely on pedestrian bridges year-round. We found that instead of a byway connecting separate, isolated districts as would be assumed by the conventional observer, due to state of varying disrepair and underlying economic realities of the city neighborhoods, these bridges serve as unpredictable barriers, and in some cases, islands for criminal behavior. Residents are wary of crossing bridges due to safety concerns. Bridges serve as unpredictable barriers, and in some cases, islands for drug trade. Teenagers hurl objects—bottles and rocks—onto fast-moving traffic below.
Our combined 335 hours in the field included meeting hard-working residents and block club organizers. The feedback we collected supports our claim that there is a dire need for a collaboration between government and community to ensure safe, welcoming pedestrian bridges are a high priority in Detroit. Our report communicates a need for regional leadership to declare safe, welcoming pedestrian bridges are a high priority in Detroit. As the lead agency shaping the future of our State’s transportation system, our report is a request to MDOT to let us help employ a whatever-it-takes approach to upgrading city pedestrian bridges. Let’s protect each law-abiding citizen the same.
Find your City Council district on this map (click here) and complete the form for your district!