My dad has lived in the same town his whole life. But when I took him biking on the nearby rail-trail last year, he was surprised he had missed something in his own backyard. I suspect it's the same for many people in auto-centric Southeast Michigan. My mom and I encountered very few people on yesterday's ride on the Macomb-Orchard Trail that runs from busy, suburban Rochester Hills to rural Richmond 25 miles away. It's a shame because many of the trail amenities were nicer than those I've encountered around DC: benches and info boards with maps at nearly every intersection, tire pumps (in Rochester Hills), and bathrooms (!) every few miles.
Sprawling SE Michigan is not a very friendly place for cyclists or pedestrians (Paul Krugman and one of my favorite bloggers Angie Schmitt - even suggest that Detroit's persistent problems are primarily the result of sprawl). I commend the cheery soul on an adult cargo trike I saw Sunday morning pedaling along the vast Northwood Shopping Center parking lot by Woodward Ave. in Royal Oak, and the lonely figure traversing another vast (and empty) parking lot by the Summit Place Mall (a dead mall) in Pontiac. In this place that continues to be wholeheartedly designed for cars, a few (often by necessity) doggedly get around without one.
|Try riding a bike here|
Still, there are some bright spots. Michigan has the most rail-trail miles in the country. Detroit's bike (and bike manufacturing) scene is growing. Some of the inner-ring suburbs (like Royal Oak) are adding bike lanes. Blogs like ModeShift and Rust Wire are challenging the status quo and imagining a better future for the region. It's not enough to undo the damage, but maybe one day our built environment will aspire to the beauty of the state's unparalleled natural environment.
|Swamp forest on the eastern end of the Clinton River Trail|
|Peaches in Romeo|
|Beginning of the Macomb Orchard Trail, on the mountain bike I got when I was about 15 years old|
|Chicory and Loostrife?|
|Mom checking the info board in Washington Township|