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Archive for September, 2011

The Tenth Annual Tour De Troit was held this past Saturday. The 22-mile bicycle tour of Detroit left at 8:00 a.m. from Roosevelt Park, located in front of the historic Michigan Central Depot on Michigan Avenue near 14th Street. Over 4,200 cyclists participated in the ride that wound its way through Southwest Detroit, the New Center area and out to Belle Isle; that gem of a park in the Detroit River. From there, the bicyclists eventually returned to their starting point where food and refreshments were served.

Exiting Roosevelt Park

Once the riders crossed the Belle Isle Bridge and rode a loop around the island park, they returned to the mainland for a brief stop at Gabriel Richard Park, at the foot of the bridge right off East Jefferson Avenue. Once there, the bicyclists were given cool refreshments and snacks before pedaling on.

It was at this park where the reality of what thousands of bikes looked like, all in one place, resonated with me. They were everywhere as I rolled into the nice little green space that hugs the banks of the Detroit River. It was a different perspective as compared to riding with the large, spread out group of bicyclists. With the group, bikes surrounded me and since I had to be keenly aware of their movements to avoid a crash, I didn’t have a good handle on how many bikes were on the tour.

After a quick snack and a brief period of people watching, I was curious as to what the busy park looked like from above. So, I walked up on the Belle Isle Bridge to get a broader, overall view of the sheer amount of bikes and cyclists in the park below. What a sight both on and off the bridge!

A view of Richard Park from the from the Belle Isle Bridge

Gabriel Richard Park filled with bikes

There was a steady stream of riders crossing the bridge in both directions. Those coming across from the island suddenly faced a traffic jam made up of hundreds of bikes, all waiting their turn to work their way across the six-inch roadside curb to enter the park below. The backup reminded me of some of Detroit’s worst morning rush hours; only these vehicles had two wheels.

Riders making their way from the Belle Isle Bridge into Richard park along the river

Once the riders worked their way to the park, they seemed to blend into the buzz of activity. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the movement in the park below as the bicyclists jockeyed for parking spaces and made their way to the long refreshment and portable toilet lines. Those lines reminded me of slow-moving ants, one following the other, as they headed to their nests.

Bicyclists were scattered throughout in the park

Once the lines died down, it was time for the second leg of the ride to begin. Again, it was mass movement below as the bikers got organized and pushed or rode their bikes up to Jefferson where they once again faced a mass traffic jam of cyclists. When the pack started rolling, it didn’t take long for the large group of cyclists to spread out and fall into a leisurely pace back to Roosevelt Park.

After a well deserved rest, riders slowly prepared for the return trip

Heading to Jefferson from Richard Park

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The Detroit RiverWalk currently runs from Joe Louis Arena (home of the Red Wings) east, past the Renaissance Center to the foot of Mt. Elliott Street. It’s a distance of about 2-1/2 miles. Built of brick and cement, it hugs the Detroit River, making for a nice leisurely stroll or bike ride. It’s especially relaxing when a huge, thousand foot freighter glides silently by, floating atop the river that on most weekend days is filled with pleasure boats. While bicycling along the walk over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed that most people confine their visit to the foot of Hart Plaza near downtown, east beyond the Renaissance Center to the merry-go-round near Milliken State Park.

Fishermen on a harbor wall

However, there is a lesser visited portion of the RiverWalk that stretches further east of Milliken Park, to the foot of Mt. Elliot and its namesake park. To me, that section is more serene, less crowded and much quieter. In fact, I’m always surprised at the lack of people on that particular stretch. Sure there is a good mix of bicyclists, joggers and a few fishermen, (some out on the break walls jutting into the river) but it’s limited and not many casual walkers visit that end of the walk.

UAW H.Q.

In some ways, the far east end of the RiverWalk is much more interesting. There are newer commercial and residential structures, such as the UAW Headquarters and the Harbortown Condominiums that face the walk. That section also has a nice group of late 19th century buildings right out of Detroit’s early industrial heritage. Along that strip, for example, I’ve passed beautiful old brick structures, such as the former Park-Davis Research Laboratory. This is a National Historic Landmark built in the late 1800s. On that same stretch I’ve seen the vintage 1874 three-story Detroit Lighthouse Depot located next to the U.S. Coast Guard property at Mt. Elliott Street. Also, in the east end area of the RiverWalk are The Iron Street lofts near the river. The lofts are carved out of a former four-story saddle and plumbing manufacturing facility that was constructed in the 1890s.

Historic Park-Davis building

The Detroit Lighthouse Depot building overlooks the U.S. Coast Guard Station

The Iron Street Lofts

In addition to the eclectic mix of buildings found along the east end of the RiverWalk, are harbors of refuge and the U.S. Coast Guard Station. The station has supply laden docks, floating rescue boats, overhead boat rigging and buoys lined up like bowling pins. It has an industrial ship building look and feel to it and is remarkably quiet. I’ve bicycled past the riverside station quite a bit, and most of time all I hear is the distinct snapping sound of flags flapping in the breeze or the cry of gulls passing overhead. The calmness of those sounds reflects the feeling I get while cycling along the east end section of the RiverWalk.

Buoys, boats and other misc. Coast Guard supplies

Numerous buoys stacked in a parking lot

Buoys lined up, ready for duty

A Red-winged Blackbird enjoying the quietness of the east end

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Riding the Rails via Bicycle

One of things I like to do on occasion is ride the rails. No, not like the hobos of past that hopped into freight train boxcars that eventually took them across the country.  It’s another form of rail riding that I do on my bicycle. I ride along the railroad lines that crisscross the City of Detroit like stitches across a wound. There are hundreds of miles of rail lines in the city that are used to carry tons of steel, automobiles, raw materials and other manufactured goods.

Crushed gravel along rails

The rails sit on coal colored, heavy-duty wooded ties that are embedded in loose shards of heavy, crushed stone. That’s usually what I end up riding on. The gravel doesn’t offer much traction for bike tires, and pedaling on that loose gravel tends to throw my bike all over the place, testing my arm and leg strength. However, this isn’t always the case. Many of the lines I’ve traveled have access roads, or well used paths running along the tracks for maintenance vehicles. Those are great to ride on.

This path is like a hiking trail

Along some lines, it's like being in the country

I saw a few warning signs

As I discovered, there is plenty of bike access along the tracks. At some intersections, where the tracks cross a street or road, I simply enter the line from there. Other areas are fairly secluded with only a small path leading through a field that leads up an embankment to elevated lines. This is my favorite. Riding those high lines offer incredible views of the downtown skyline, the New Center and other areas of Detroit. Plus, they’re just a lot of fun to ride because I’m over everything; cars, people, streets, etc.!

While riding the lines, I’ve crossed viaducts that I have driven cars under. I’ve spotted people taking a second look (with a surprised look on their face) as I’ve passed over them while they walked below. I’ve pedaled past junkyards, incredible graffiti, faded commercial buildings, and numerous abandoned and active factories. Some of these factories have been converted to lofts with second story living space at eye level. On the Detroit lines, I have also ridden over main highways like Grand River and Woodward, and all the major expressways where drivers have pointed up at me as if to say, “Look at that guy.”

Woodward Avenue coming out of downtown Detroit

One of hundreds of street overpasses

Many of the lines pass abandoned factories they once served

Obviously, trains rumble by as I’m exploring the rails. In fact, just the other day I was sitting on by bike over the Lodge Freeway overpass watching the cars when suddenly a monster of a locomotive rounded the corner. The conductor saw me, blasted his horn a couple of times, reached out the window and gave me the thumb-up. I returned the favor as he rolled by pulling well over 100 cars.

Train engines are big and powerful

Love the logo on the front of this steel monster

Surprisingly, the cars that rolled past were quiet. They had a steady underlying hum and a distinct clicking sound, reminding me of a subtle beat on a snare drum. The engine is where the sound is on a train. The 150-ton massive machines generate the sound of power and pure brute strength. I love the sounds of a train, and I like where the rails take me in Detroit!

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It’s been a while since I’ve posted photos of Detroit’s amusing signs that I spot while bicycling throughout the city. As I wrote in the past, the city is full of grass root entrepreneurs that salvage and use scrap wood, discarded shipping pallets and other curious materials at hand, to create signs prompting their goods and services. Such items as car repairs, hardware supplies, roadside barbeque specials and other offerings people may want, are all part of the mix.

While looking at the handcrafted signs, I have seen many misspelled words, even on professionally created ones. Others are quite difficult to read because the spray or hand-painted letters bleed into each other, and some simply don’t make sense.  Most feature a variety of eye-catching colors and unusual, crude graphics that represent the item(s) being advertised.  I’m particularly drawn to the spray painted messages found on freestanding, portable wood signs that are placed along the streets, sidewalks and nailed to utility poles across this city. I’ll continue to share the amusing signs I stumble upon during my two-wheel travels in Detroit.

It’s tough to read this business name.

I like the multi-message of this crudely painted sign.

I guess that’s the question.

Nice graphics and use of duct tape on this sign.

Creative use of letter size and highlights.

Not sure what this means.

Jesus say? Is that right?

Cute pumpkin sign, just in time for fall.

This entry on Amusing Signs in Detroit is part four of an ongoing series. To view the others, simply click on one of the headlines below.

Amusing Signs of Detroit

Amusing Signs of Detroit – Part 2

Amusing Signs of Detroit – Part 3

Amusing Signs of Detroit – Part 5

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