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Posts Tagged ‘urban greenway’

What’s not to like about a December night in Detroit with the temperature hanging around 60 degrees, especially if you ride a bicycle? That was how warm it was a few nights ago, so I took advantage of the mild temperatures and headed out on 2 wheels to explore downtown and beyond. After all, that night may have been the last comfortable evening before that white, slippery stuff fills the air and coats the streets creating dicey road conditions for more than just bikers.

Despite a slight hazy mist in the air and damp pavement from an earlier steady drizzle, it was a great night to be out on a bicycle. There was no need for a heavy or rain resistant jacket, gloves or other cold weather clothing; quite unusual for this time of year.

My night ride took me through Detroit’s mid-town neighborhoods and streets to downtown. Once there I headed south on Woodward Avenue through the city’s central business district. The store fronts and office buildings along that 6-8 block section were lined with colorful holiday lights that reflected and shimmered on the pavement in front of me.

Holiday lights in Downtown Detroit

Holiday lights in Downtown Detroit

The Greektown commercial strip was glowing

The Greektown commercial strip was glowing

After zigzagging my way through the downtown streets, I crossed Jefferson Avenue into Hart Plaza, a public outdoor space that faces the Detroit River. Despite the unseasonably warm weather, the Plaza was quiet and empty except for a few people slowly wandering toward the river.

A view of downtown Detroit from Hart Plaza

A view of downtown Detroit from Hart Plaza

From there I rode the RiverWalk to the Dequindre Cut. Just as I entered the urban greenway, I passed a couple of runners in full stride and a security guard sitting in his car keeping an eye on things. That was about it for people. The many wall murals and intricate, colorful graffiti found on the cement walls in the Cut took on a whole new appearance in the misty, Edgar Allen Poe type of night. The images and colors appeared flatter and eerier, as if the eyes in the images were watching my every move.

Wall painting in the Dequindre Cut had a creepy look to them

Wall paintings in the Dequindre Cut had a creepy, sinister look to them in the low light

My ride wound down after a quick loop through the Eastern Market, a much different place on a weekday night  versus Saturdays when it is jammed with shoppers. There were no lift trucks moving crates of produce from one building to another; no semi-trucks backing into loading docks; and the specialty stores that ring the market were all closed.

However, there were a few folks buying Christmas trees from vendors that were setup at the far north end of the market. It was a rather fitting end to a bike ride in Detroit on a warm December evening.

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The mile long Dequindre Cut Greenway is a Detroit gem. It runs from the Detroit River north to Gratiot Avenue, where it is fenced off. The below street level Greenway was once a foreboding weed choked abandoned rail line where graffiti artists worked their spray-can magic. It was strewn with trash and was also a place where homeless people had set up camp.

A few years ago, the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy received a $3 million grant to convert it to an urban Greenway.  With the funding, the old Dequindre Cut rail line was cleaned out, and a paved landscaped trail was added.  It is now used by bicyclists, roller-blade enthusiasts, runners, skateboarders and casual walkers.

Phase II, a view from above

From what I understand,  funding has recently been secured for development of the second phase of the Dequindre Cut Greenway that will incorporate the half-mile section beyond the Gratiot fence, further north to Mack Avenue. It will include access to Detroit’s Historic Eastern Market.  Like the pre-developed original section, this half-mile long stretch looks a bit seedy from the street overpasses with wild plants, trash and run down, abandoned factories lining a big chunk of it. Having walked the original phase I prior to development, I decided to check out this undeveloped section before work begins.

Path leading into the cut

I pedaled south along the two-track gravel path off Mack into the abandoned railway that gently  slopes downward. Before entering into the cement encased section below ground level, I could spot the old rails shining through the overgrown, dense weeds that have taken over.  In some areas along the path, the rails have been removed leaving perfectly spaced, heavy wooden ties that reminded me of piano keys. Much like the original phase I section, the graffiti artists have worked their colorful, fascinating magic along the barrier walls and on the many bridge overpass supports.  In one area below a crumbling street overpass, there were piles of trash that looked as if someone recently dumped it from above.

The old rails can be found in some sections

Railway ties are perfectly spaced and look like they’ve been there for years

Graffiti is everywhere under the bridges

There a number of streets cross over the undeveloped section of the Dequindre Cut

One of the most striking things about this half-mile section is the architecture of the abandoned manufacturing buildings. Many of them appear to have been built-in the 1920s or 30s and feature some outstanding brick work, especially above the windows. Others are utilitarian in design, perfectly aligned next to each other creating a seamless straight line of brick that stretches quite a ways.

Old warehouses and industrial buildings line the old railway

Nice brick work above the arched windows

Looking at the places, I couldn’t help but think of the many thousands of people that once worked in them and the trains that used the rail line to deliver and pick up raw materials and manufactured goods. It will be interesting to see how the second phase of the Dequindre Cut Greenway development shapes up.

Stay tuned!

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