Detroit and the Slow Roll (Part 1)

I love Detroit. It’s my hometown. Sort of. I grew up in an east side suburb of Detroit. Moved to NYC 25 years ago but Detroit has never left my heart.

The city has been through some hard knocks for a long time. Detroit isn’t all bankruptcy and crime. There’s a lot of good happening in Detroit. You just don’t hear about it in the media (as much), but it’s there.

I was back home recently for a family reunion and in planning my visit, I made sure to include a Monday night. I wanted to Slow Roll.

Slow Roll is a weekly family friendly social ride that takes place every Monday night in Detroit (and occasionally Thursday and Saturday nights). It was started about two or three years ago by two people who also love Detroit- Jason Hall and Mike MacKool.

In the beginning, maybe ten or maybe forty people would show up. Over time, it slowly began to build. Then last summer it exploded, attracting around 1500 riders some weeks. It was no longer just a bike ride- it was a movement.

The day of Slow Roll was the only day I could grab to actually ride around Detroit, so I made sure to set out an hour earlier than needed to get to the meet up point so I could meander and explore on my own. Pedaling through the Grosse Pointes, the most exciting thing I came across was this guy.

Dog Walking. Grosse Pointe

As I took his picture, he apologized for ‘breaking all the rules” because he was riding with his dog alongside on a leash. I just laughed and told him to keep doing what he was doing. Yes, it’d be better if he were in the street and in a bike lane- but there isn’t a bike lane yet on Kercheval and there are hardly any pedestrians on the sidewalk, ever. I’ll give this guy a pass.

Continuing downtown, I rode Jefferson for a stretch. It’s the simplest route from GP to Downtown Detroit. Not exactly an inviting route or exciting in terms of seeing people on bicycles the Monday I rode it (though it will take you past several Detroit landmarks such as Belle Isle and Pewabic Pottery). If alternative transportation advocates succeed, the first protected bike lane implemented in Detroit will be on Jefferson Avenue.

Detroit

The photo above of Jefferson Avenue is from my 2011 visit to Detroit. Though the urban landscape does shift as you travel along Jefferson, the nature of the road doesn’t. It’s an extremely wide boulevard and even when I rode at the onset of the evening rush hour this summer- motor vehicle traffic is deeply under capacity. Hoping next time I visit it will have undergone a significant road diet. As for my journey this year, I was more interested in the tiny moments of artistic expression on building storefronts…

Detroit Jazz All-Stars.

… and avoiding the never ending detritus of broken glass and other tire puncturing litter that seems to be the bane of Jefferson Ave. So when I came across a sign indicating that I was near Indian Village, I detoured inward.

Indian Village is a unique historic district of Detroit. It’s an enclave of beautiful homes (many are mansions) that exists like an island amidst one of the most poverty stricken areas of Detroit. You could be on one side of the street on the edges of Indian Village and standing next to a majestic english tudor while across the street is a burnt out house/crack den next to an urban field.

Indian VillageI encountered very few people as I rode along. When I spotted this gentleman on a bicycle headed in the direction of downtown, I asked if he was headed to Slow Roll (hoping to meet new people and gather some company for my journey). “Nah” he replied, “I’m too old. I’m tired”. “You’re never too old. Join us next time” I responded, and wished him a lovely ride home.

Urban Farm. East Detroit

A little deeper in, Indian Village became East Detroit and I came across this lovely urban farm.

I mostly had the streets to myself, occasionally encountering other people. Preference given to those on two wheels.

East Detroit
East Detroit

 I made a point of finding Earthworks Urban Farm, which helps support the Capuchin Soup Kitchen and Gleaners Food Bank. This was a personal nod to the memory of Charity Hicks, a Detroit activist who fought for food justice (among other things). In May, Charity was struck by an automobile in NYC while waiting on the sidewalk for a bus. The day I landed in Detroit, she died of her injuries. I am a member and organizer with of Right of Way, a direct action street justice group. We had wanted to try to organize something in honor of Charity’s life while I was in Detroit, but sadly even with the help of local area friends- time was too short and a quiet, private remembrance was the extent of what we could accomplish.

Earthworks Urban Farm. Detroit.Continuing downtown, I passed over my favorite piece of Detroit’s cycling/walk infrastructure, the Dequindre Cut.

Dequindre Cut

 The photo above doesn’t do justice to the fantastic job Detroit area planners did in designing the route (which connects from the Eastern Market to the Riverwalk) so here are two more photos from my 2011 visit.

Detroit

Nice wide travel lanes and beautiful landscaping.

Detroit

And a collection of some of the best graffiti art in Detroit. The art was intentionally left in place when the Dequindre Cut was built. The city even encourages new works to be installed as long as they are not obscene or offensive and “as long as they pick up their aerosol cans after themselves.

Lafeyette Park. Mies Van De Rohe Designed Continuing on, I passed another Detroit gem: the Mies Van Der Rohe designed apartments of Lafayette Park.

Campus Martius Beach

Arriving downtown, I came across the fabulous public beach of Campus Martius Park.

Zagster Bike Share

Spotted a Zagster bike share station.

Bicycle ParkingNoticed some nicely filled bicycle parking racks.

Play and Place
Contemplation

Observed residents at play in public spaces designed to encourage interaction.

New Tires. Kept the Old Set

This gentleman was on his way home from the Hub of Detroit bicycle store. He had just gotten a new set of tires but kept his old set because he didn’t want them to go to waste. We ended up having a nice chat about Detroit, touching on the myriad of positive developments and even how the city could be doing a better job on some things.

Detroit Coney Island

At an intersection across the street from one more Detroit icon -American Coney Island, I noticed a group of riders with some cool custom bikes. I had a hunch we were headed to the same place. So I took that as my cue to head on over to the Old Shillelagh and finally meet Slow Roll in person.

To be continued…

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Relaxed Attitudes

Noticing a lot more relaxed and upright cycling in NYC this summer. A nice trend. Keep up the good work.

Zen

Summer Casual | Central Park

Unflappable

Zen and Bliss

Doubling. NYC Style.

Insouciant

Well, Hello.

Upright and Relaxed

Upright and Relaxed

Upright and Relaxed

Upright and Relaxed

Madison Avenue

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Detroit on My Mind

For the second month in a row, Saks Fifth Avenue is featuring bicycles in their window displays. Last month was a tip of the hat to Father’s Day. This month, it’s an homage to summer travel.

Shinola Bicycles | Saks Fifth Avenue

This month’s windows feature Shinola bicycles. I grew up in a Detroit suburb and like many Detroit area expats, have a strong sense of pride and love for my ‘hometown’. By pure chance, I also happen to be headed to Detroit today for a long overdue visit.

Shinola Bicycles | Saks Fifth Avenue

For many Americans, there is a long held romantic notion of the summer car trip. I love that these window displays shift that idea towards the idea of a summer bicycle trip. No special bicycle clothes or gear- just normal (though expensive) clothing and bags to bring along whatever you need. But that’s how advertising works. It’s aspirational.

These windows are one of those subtle indications I love to notice: that bicycles are mainstreaming back into the daily fabric of our lives. As far as ‘trends’ go, street style and high fashion both feed off one another. I think it’s pretty great that one of  NYC’s most famous luxury department stores can visualize and promote bicycles as a normal form of transportation.

Shinola isn’t the only bicycle manufacturer based in Detroit. Three other companies have set up shop in the D- Detroit Bikes, Detroit Bicycle Company and Freighty Cat (though Freighty Cat has yet to start production).

Wouldn’t it be cool if some future day, when someone mentions Detroit and the Big Three- that bicycles would come to mind instead of automobiles?

Looking forward to seeing you soon, my dear Detroit. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

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Independence Day

Let freedom ring. Pass along the love and teach someone you know how to ride a bicycle.

About to Set Free

Gently nudge them on as they find their independence.When You Give Kids Safe Space to Cycle, They Own It.

When you give kids safe space to ride, they own it.

Kids. Free. Should be like this everywhere. And why are cars still allowed in Central Park?

All our public spaces should be safe enough so that anyone can ride from age 8…

When we finally get a protected bike lane on 5th Ave, can we name it after Bill?…to 80 and beyond.

Happy Independence Day. Ride on Patriots.

 

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Thanks Dad.

A slightly belated Father’s Day post.

Pass Along the Love. Teach a Kid to Ride.

For all the Dads who taught their kids to ride a bicycle.

I'm Done. Carry Me Home Dad.

Who carried them home when they were to tired to pedal anymore.

All Smiles on the Family SUV

Who knew the best kind of family SUV to get from A to B.

School. Errands. Home.

Who picked you up from school and brought you home.

Papa is My Co-Pilot

Who made sure you got the best seat.

Get Dad A Bicycle for Father's Day

Thanks for all you do. Hope you got a new set of wheels for Father’s Day.

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Signs of Life

A sign that a city’s effort to make cycling accessible to everyone is succeeding? Parents transporting their most precious cargo by bicycle from A to B.

Family Outing

Whether it’s by cargo bike.

Who Knew Hummer Drivers Could Be So Adorable?

A gentle nudge along the way.

Mom, Keeping a Close Watch

Or keeping a close watch.

***

An even better sign that we’re doing something right is when you see kids cycling independently.

Independent | Traffic Flow Because the environment is relatively safe.

They Ride, Despite a Hostile Environment

When despite a hostile environment, kids will still ride bicycles.

Wheels Up, Wheels Down

When bicycles outnumber cars.

Wheels Up Wheels Down

When our children feel comfortable and safe enough to have fun and  ‘pop a wheelie’.

The Innocence of Spring. School Chums.
When they’re at such ease that enjoying a popsicle and some bonding with a school chum, is utterly safe, normal and enjoyable.

There are two things that will get us there. Streets designed for people (not cars) and more people on bikes.

There’s a fun easy way to get more people on bikes this weekend. Make Brooklyn Safer is having a Kid’s Bike Swap/Bike Rodeo Saturday April 14 from 11:00-1:00pm.

Whether you have children or not, you should go. Who knows how many children you will inspire to find the freedom and joy of getting from A to B by bicycle. That child you might inspire? They might be the voice of the next generation who will keep our message going forward and gaining strength.

Power to the people. Peace y’all.

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New Amsterdam

New AmsterdamSome days if you squint your eyes and imagine cycling infrastructure everywhere with different buildings in the background,  you could almost pretend you were in another city. A city where riding a bike is nothing out of the ordinary.

Old DutchWhere no one thinks it’s extraordinary to cycle to or from work.

Totally Relaxed

Where stopping by a shop to pick up a new pair of shoes while out cycling is mundane.

Snow #bikeNYC Dutch Style

Where cycling in the snow while holding an umbrella isn’t a rarely seen event and bike lanes are filled with people on bikes instead of illegally parked cars.

All Around ClassWhere everyone cycles.

Sun KissedEven moms on their way to pick up their kids at school.

Curious

Where no one blinks an eye that you’re riding a bicycle when you’re dressed nicely.

Lela RoseWhere people cycle from A to B whether it’s a nice sunny day.

Dapper on a Chill Morning

Or a grey, cold and chilly one.

Family Outing

Where when you mention the family SUV, you’re really talking about the family cargo bike.

This Isn't Amsterdam

Well, almost. We’re not quite Amsterdam yet.

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