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People and cyclists move about in the middle of a wide boulevard with no cars. There’s businesses on either side and skyscrapers in the background.
Michigan Avenue car-free during Open Streets Detroit
Photo by Michelle Gerard

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7 Detroit streets that could go car-free

The city’s reliance on the automobile often goes unquestioned, but what if we banned cars from certain streets?

Earlier this month, San Francisco voted to ban cars on Market Street, one of the city’s main thoroughfares. That got us thinking, which streets in Detroit would be good candidates to make car-free?

Obviously Detroit is vastly different from San Francisco and many other cities that are considering similar initiatives. Our reliance on the automobile, substandard public transit, and lack of urban density set Detroit apart.

But maybe those reasons are precisely why we should consider making certain streets car-free. Detroit’s subservience to the car has resulted in paving over vibrant neighborhoods for freeways, an abundance of surface parking lots, and Detroit being one of the most dangerous cities in the U.S. for pedestrians.

It also wouldn’t mean the elimination of all forms of transportation—bikes, scooters, buses, and transit for those with disabilities would still be able to use the street. And it would coincide with trends already taking place in Detroit. Over the past few years, the city has greatly expanded the number of non-motorized trails and bike lanes.

Not to mention that we’ve experimented with this before. For three years in a row, Open Streets Detroit closed off long sections of Michigan Avenue and West Vernor Highway to cars. People turned out in huge numbers, and those days were undeniable demonstrations of Detroiters’ enthusiasm for car-free streets.

Lastly, we’re not saying that all the below streets should become car-free, simply that it’s worth considering. Here are seven potential candidates.

Woodward Avenue

The stretch from Campus Martius to Jefferson Avenue is a great candidate to be car-free. It already blocks off cars every year for the Jazz Fest and there’s an esplanade down the median of Woodward. Now with funding being allocated to make the already car-free Spirit Plaza permanent, it makes even more sense.

Several rows of seats, tables, planters, and games are set up along a small patch of road. There’s vibrant orange paint on the concrete.
Spirit Plaza, a small car-free section between Larned Street and Jefferson Avenue.
Photo by Michelle Gerard

Plus, imagine if years down the road Jefferson Avenue were tunneled underground, as some have proposed, then there would be a continuous car-free path all the way to Hart Plaza. One can dream.

Monroe Street

In its framework plan released this September, the Greektown Neighborhood Partnership proposed turning Monroe Street into a “complete street,” or one that’s easily accessible by all forms of transit. Renderings showed cobblestone streets and wide sidewalks with plenty of room for multimodal transit.

It’s not a big leap to go from that to one that’s car-free.

Bagley Street

This street in the heart of Mexicantown is in the process of being converted into a “shared street,” a concept popular in Europe where there are no lanes and the sidewalk is level with the road. Studies have shown it to be safer than regular streets.

People walk down a tiled street with businesses on other side. There’s colorful planters, dancers, and awnings for pop-up businesses.
Rendering of the Bagley shared street.
Utile, Inc.

Also, this street form makes it easy to shut off traffic during festivals or other events—in other words, to make it car-free.

West Canfield Street

The Canfield Historic District, a one-block collection of gorgeous 19th century homes in Midtown, has a one-way cobblestone street. It’s not car-free, but easily could be.

What if it were then extended one or two more blocks? Between Second and Cass avenues, there’s a dense collection of businesses that could benefit from cafe-style seating and more foot traffic.

Riopelle Street

We’re not sure which street makes the most sense, but we’re pretty sure we’d like to see part of Eastern Market go car-free. Every Saturday throughout the year, the market becomes a pedestrian hub as thousands of people exit their cars to move between sheds or along the Dequindre Cut.

We’re proposing Riopelle Street because it’s adjacent to the sheds, but not as frequently trafficked on non-market days as Russell Street.

People mingle and eat and small tables on the sidewalk outside a brick building.
Agnes Street in the West Village.
Photo by Michelle Gerard

Jos Campau

By making this stretch in Detroit car-free, there could be a seamless non-motorized path extending from the Riverwalk to the under-construction Joseph Campau Greenway. In the meantime, streetscaping is already taking place to add protected bike lanes in either direction.

Agnes Street

A dense collection of businesses operate in this one-block stretch in the West Village. What would we lose by making it car-free? A dozen parking spots and some convenience crossing over to Van Dyke. What would we gain? Some cafe-style seating that looks out onto the gorgeous Ouizi flower mural, as well as much-needed safety in a neighborhood with lots of families.

We know this is going to be a controversial topic so sound off in the comments. Which additional streets would you want car-free? Why is this a terrible idea? Let us know.

Eastern Market

2934 Russell St, Detroit, MI 48207 313-833-9300

Riverwalk

, , LA 70130 Visit Website

Dequindre Cut

Dequindre Cut Greenway, , MI 48207 Visit Website

Greektown

, , MI 48226 Visit Website

Eastern Market

2550 East Windmill Lane, , NV 89074 Visit Website
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