Archive for June, 2012

They came to the riverfront on bikes and in cars. They walked in from the neighborhoods and from secret parking spots blocks away. They rode shuttle buses in from the suburbs and many hopped on the city busses to downtown. A few even arrived by taxi. In some cases, friends and families got there at sun up to get the best seats available along the Detroit River. They were all there with one goal in mind, to claim the best viewing spot for the 54th annual fireworks display. It’s one of the world’s largest, and it is held over the river at the foot of Woodward Avenue in downtown Detroit.

While riding along the many streets near the river on fireworks night, I was amazed at the amount of people filling the green spaces and setting up chairs along the many blocked off streets. The parks and streets that hug the riverfront from west of Joe Louis Arena, to east of Belle Isle and beyond, were jammed with people preparing for the big event. Numerous tents were set-up, blankets spread out, colorful play pens and other kid’s toys were everywhere. Needless to say, hot grills were loaded with ribs, chicken, and burgers and the grill masters kept a keen eye on the sizzling meats that created a smoky haze over the parks.

Vehicles weren’t allowed on most of the downtown side streets leading to the Detroit River

The riverside parks and other green spaces were filled with BBQ smoke

Parked cars lined Jefferson Avenue, Lafayette Boulevard, Fort Street, Gratiot Avenue and many of the other major feeder streets leading into the city. In fact, the Lodge Freeway was closed where it passes under Cobo Hall downtown. However pedestrians and bicyclists had access to the closed section. So I took advantage of the opportunity by swooping under Cobo on my bike, in high gear. It was a fast, exhilarating, unique ride .

Lodge Freeway under Cobo Hall

What would the fireworks be without bicycles cruising the streets

Bicycling throughout downtown and in the immediate area near Hart Plaza, ground zero for the annual fiery display in the sky, I couldn’t help but notice the large amount of police. I spotted Detroit police, Wayne County deputies, and members of the U.S. Border Patrol. State police were there, as were rangers from the DNR and others.  They seemed to be everywhere I went.

Police officers from many departments were patrolling the streets

Officers were sitting high on horses scanning the ever-growing crowd. Others were on motorcycles and a few were slowly pedaling their bicycles through the masses, all working as a team to control the droves of people. Many of the police on foot were standing at busy intersections directing traffic that was lined up for blocks in all directions. EMS technicians and trucks were in plain view, strategically placed should an emergency occur.

No cars or pedestrians were allowed on Jefferson Avenue

Both motorcycles and horses were being used by officers

As the daylight inched its way closer to darkness, more and more people poured onto the downtown streets heading to Hart Plaza. Woodward Avenue, which leads directly to the Plaza, seemed to be the viewer’s street of choice. There people haphazardly set-up rows and rows of chairs in anticipation of the fireworks. Those entering Hart Plaza were funneled into fenced off access points where coolers, bags, etc. were searched.

Hart Plaza on the banks of the Detroit River is the premiere location to view the fireworks

Woodward Avenue filled up quickly as the evening approached

I headed out of downtown shortly before show-time and once the darkness settled in, the fireworks went off as scheduled. Not only did I stop a few times to watch them, I could hear them exploding, popping and booming in the background as I rode home ahead of the traffic.

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Detroit is the Motor City. It’s a town of cars, freeways, and summer roadwork.  When they all come together, it creates lengthy stop and go traffic jams, as was the case on westbound I-94 near downtown this past weekend. While pedaling along East Grand Boulevard on the north side of the expressway, I noticed that car and truck traffic was much heavier than normal for a late Saturday morning. It didn’t register with me that drivers may have been hopping off the expressway and taking the service drive, which happens to be the Boulevard in that part of town.

I didn’t realize the expressway was slated for weekend work until I crossed over the East Grand Boulevard bridge on my bicycle. Glancing to my right I saw the glow of red brake lights from the cars below, all at a standstill. Peering over the bridge I saw a long line of orange barrels in the outside lane, angling to the right. The barrels were anchored at the end of the merge by a large yellow, electronic arrow. The blinking illuminated directional arrow was pointing right, forcing traffic from three lanes to one.

Vehicles slowly squeezed into one lane

Looking to my left I saw the front ends of cars and trucks, lined up on the expressway for as far as I could see. They were all waiting their turn to merge to the right just beyond the bridge. Looking down on the cars crawling by below, I couldn’t help notice the many drivers talking on cell phones, staring at their phone screens, or in some instances, texting away.  I was up there watching the slow, merging traffic through a chain-link safety fence for about 10-minutes. During that time, I would say at least 50% of the drivers were using their mobile phone one way or another.

Cars and trucks crawled along in long lines

Lot’s going on in some cars, others not so much

Others appeared to be snacking; some were smoking, talking with passengers, fiddling with what looked like their radio. Some simply looked bored.  One “tough guy” driver flipped me off, as if it mattered.  After all, he was the one stuck in traffic, not me. I laughed and pedaled away thinking to myself, “Bikes are better.”

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Summer Heat

The weather is heating up in Detroit. So far this spring the thermometer has hit that magic 90 degree mark a number of times. This past weekend was no exception, with both days hitting that number. Surprisingly, the heat came without the humidity, a rarity here in Detroit, and it made for a comfortable bike ride.

My bicycle journeys in the warm weather took me through a number of neighborhoods where folks were out enjoying the sunny weather. I saw people attending to ribs and chicken on smoking grills, as they talked and laughed among friends and neighbors. Some were out early in the day mowing the lawn before the heat of the day kicked in. There were a few homeowners poking around in their flower gardens or sweeping the sidewalks in front of their modest homes. Others were simply relaxing in the shade of a Norway maple tree, offering small waves or shouting out words of acknowledgment to those passing by.

One of the coolest things I came across while riding was an open fire hydrant with young kids relishing in the spray. It was something I haven’t seen in quite some time. The hydrant I saw was spraying an arc of water over the street, and there were 4 to 5 kids streaking through the waterfall. They were laughing, screaming and daring each other to stand under the water for as long as they could. What a fun, little party they were having! So I decided to join in by riding through the spray and cool off.

The kids were having a blast playing in the cold water

What a shock! The ice-cold water that was blasting out of the fire hydrant poured down with major force, much harder that I thought. Although I was soaked from helmet to shoes, it was refreshing in the hot afternoon. As I rode back through the deluge to continue on my journey, a kid about 7-years old yelled out to me, “Hey mister, you owe me $3.00 for the water.”  I just waved and continued on, smiling to myself.

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No, I didn’t race my bike in the Grand Prix, and I didn’t see any other bicyclists out on the Belle Isle racetrack this past Sunday. In fact, bikes weren’t allowed inside the race venue at all.  Imagine that? So I did the next best thing and checked out the Grand Prix from the outside looking in. I did so on my bike, a perfect means of transportation for an event of this size; an event that was spread over many acres on the west end of the island.

I was there for the early practice sessions on Sunday morning, a few hours before the actual race.  Not many fans had arrived yet, but they were slowly working their way to the island via shuttle buses or by walking across the Belle Isle Bridge. Once on the island, race fans were being funneled through security checkpoints at the entrances before heading to their grandstand seats.

Race fans on their way to the track entrance

Since I didn’t have a ticket, I rode along the eastern boundary of the fenced off area to see if I could find an open view of the track. The miles of cement barriers and chain linked fencing lining the track were covered with advertising banners, making it almost impossible to get a look at the race cars humming by. Fortunately, there were a few cutouts in the banners that were being used by professional photographers, and race personnel. It was at these openings where I was able to get a glimpse of the cars.

These guys never flinched as the cars sped past

Sort of like drapes pulled back for a view of the outside world

The cars flew by during the morning practice session

As I pedaled along the perimeter of the course, I spotted cameramen perched high on lifts. They were filming the speedy Indy cars as they sped around the winding track at speeds well over one hundred miles-per-hour. The live video was being shown on giant TV screens that were strategically placed along the track.

The camera and operator was in constant motion

The giant TV screen faced a section of the grandstands across the track

Cutting across a grassy area of the island park, I came across an auto corral. In that roped off area were a number of sports and classic cars. They were all perfectly lined up, like dominos on a table top. In that section of the park I saw spotless Ferrari’s, a variety of Porsches, Ford Mustangs, vintage Corvettes, Cadillacs, and sporty Camaros. Unfortunately, there were no vintage bicycles, just one outfitted with a battery operated motor, silently rolling by.

Classic 1954 Corvette

A sleek, black Ferrari, one of few that were parked on the lawn

As I rode my bike across the Belle Island Bridge to the Detroit mainland later that morning, I couldn’t help but think of the brutal contrast between the city’s huge deficit and the millions of dollars spent by private companies to put the auto race together.

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