Thursday, November 14, 2013

Sharpening the Cut.

My latest appeared at Huffington Post a few days ago, but thanks to persistent wifi problems, only today have I been able to link it.  Sorry about that.

It focuses on the Dequindre Cut, a high-profile rail-trail conversion in Detroit, whose Phase I (extending about 1.2 miles, from Gratiot Avenue to the Riverfront) has been quite popular for cyclists and pedestrians.  A conversion of the Grand Trunk Western Railroad  that, until the early 1980s, could take commuters from the suburb of Royal Oak southward within a few blocks of the Renaissance Center, the line sat vacant and derelict for many years.  Now, this southern spur offers a generous linear park that is almost completely grade separated.

For the vast majority of the cut's northward trajectory, it looks like this--lots of room for different modes, regularly spaced lighting (and emergency phones), along with an expansive grassy buffer to the trail's west.  But at the southern terminus near Atwater Street (yes, when you are at the water), the right-of-way for the Cut broadens even more.  At this point, the Cut meets with street grade, and the whole thing transforms to something different.

Essentially, the designers of the Dequindre Cut decided to sculpt this section into a plaza with benches and landscaping, but, as the second photo indicates, the bike lanes in particular get goofy, meandering in an S-shape, then splitting.  What's going on?  Anyone not expecting this change--which is pretty much anyone coming along the Cut from the north for the very first time and headed southward--is going to be confused by this.  And it shows.  Pedestrians have to stop short; bicyclists have to veer out of the way.  It's an accident waiting to happen.

Approaching the trailhead from the river and looking northward, the image also poses a problem.

Quite simply, it doesn't look much like a trail; it just looks like a plaza.   The first time I went running along the Detroit Riverwalk, I ran right past the Dequindre Cut and had to ask someone where it was.  And I know I'm not the only one.  My hope is that, as Phase II begins (extending the conversation northward to Warren Avenue) the designers focus on clean simplicity and don't try to gussy things up with fulsome programming.  In my estimation, they over-programmed Campus Martius Park as well (which I blogged about several weeks ago).  But I'm confident they'll redeem themselves through the remaining segments of what someday will--inshallah--be a fantastic way to connect the burbs to the River.

As always, comments are welcomed, either here or on HuffPost, where I've included the full article along with lots more pics.