Car-free pedestrian plazas suddenly all the rage in the Motor City

An aerial shot of the Spirit of Detroit Plaza. | Photo via Twitter

Detroit, for decades a monument to the hegemony of the automobile, is increasingly ceding road real estate to pedestrian uses, most recently through the creation of outdoor public plazas.

Since spring, at least three pedestrian plazas have opened around town: the Gratiot-Randolph public plaza, a new plaza on Woodward between Jefferson and Larned, and now a pop-up pedestrian plaza in suburban Oak Park along Nine Mile Road.

Curbed Detroit, in a story about the new Woodward Avenue plaza, puts the new developments into perspective nicely:

Detroit hasn’t been known for being very pedestrian-friendly in the past. In fact, it was recently named one of the most dangerous cities for pedestrians in the country. In the last couple months, we’ve seen more mobility options in the Motor City including the QLINE and the MoGo Bike Share. An esplanade opened from Campus Martius to Larned last month, and now a large pedestrian plaza is open in front of the Spirit of Detroit statue on Woodward.

Spirit of Detroit Plaza

Creative Commons photo via City of Detroit

This new plaza, at the foot of Woodward Avenue, hosts food trucks and features tables with chairs, picnic benches, tree planters, pavement decorations and games such as horseshoes and cornhole. Live entertainment is planned two or three nights per week.

Along with the esplanade just north of it in the Woodward median, the plaza makes it easier for pedestrians to go between busy Campus Martius and Hart Plaza and the RiverWalk to the south.

This plaza has generated some controversy, with people objecting to closing one of downtown’s most recognizable intersections to vehicle traffic. City officials say they plan to evaluate the plaza after 90 days.

Gratiot Randolph plaza

Near Greektown, the city this spring unveiled a $60,000, 13,000 square-foot plaza at Randolph Street near Gratiot on the site of what had been one of Detroit’s worst intersections (I should know — I got into an accident there once).

It’s a great idea, but so far, outside of a lively opening weekend replete with food trucks and crowds from the Tigers game, the plaza feels half-baked, uninviting and underutilized. There’s little to designate it visually as a pedestrian plaza, just a few isolated tables and lonely flowerpots surrounded by gray asphalt.

So far the Gratiot Randolph pedestrian plaza is …. not so inviting. | Photo courtesy of Doctor J/Daily Detroit.

Hopefully there is more work to come to make it look like the plaza depicted in the rendering in the video above.

Oak Park pop-up plaza

A dozen or so miles north in Oak Park, officials have created a pop-up park on Sherman Street at Nine Mile Road. According to the print publication Ferndale Friends, the pop-up is a pilot concept to test more far-reaching changes to Nine Mile, including shrinking it down to three lanes, installing dedicated bike lanes and making other changes to boost commercial businesses.

“The pocket park creates the vibrancy and streetscape setting that residents and visitors want,” Kimberly Marrone, Oak Park’s director of economic development and communications, told the publication. “It allows us to test different activities and amenities at the site and get feedback from residents and visitors.”

A friend of mine who lives in the neighborhood tells me the park has so far been popular, with family crowds during daylight hours and nighttime DJs spinning slightly less family-friendly tunes.

It’s nice to see Oak Park doing something to try and boost what has been a sad stretch of Nine Mile storefronts and add vibrancy and quality of life to one of its neighborhoods. Let’s hope it sticks.

Did I miss any other pedestrian plazas out there in Detroit?

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: