Biking Gone International: A Look at Michigan’s Growing Biking System

When complete, several new and existing Michigan trails and pathways will connect the U.P. with Detroit and Canada.
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After over six years of construction, the Gordie Howe International Bridge’s planned completion date is set for fall 2025. // Photograph courtesy of Gordie Howe International Bridge

Since construction started in 2018, metro Detroit has been buzzing with anticipation for the newest crossing from the Motor City to Canada, and at press time in early June, the Gordie Howe International Bridge had just 36 feet remaining until both sides are connected (since publishing, the bridge has been connected).

When it’s complete next fall, the bridge will be 1.5 miles long and feature six lanes — three in each direction. But motorists aren’t the only ones to benefit from the new international crossing.

The bridge also features a toll-free, two-way, single-lane multiuse path that will open with the bridge and connect to several new and existing trails and pathways in both Michigan and Canada.

“We heard from numerous cycling groups on both sides of the border, such as Detroit Greenways [Coalition] and Bike Windsor Essex, who advocated for a multiuse path,” says Heather Grondin, the chief relations officer of the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, which is overseeing the bridge project. “After receiving that feedback, the project team worked closely with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Canada Border Services Agency to include the multiuse path in the bridge design.”

To ensure pedestrian safety, the trail will be outfitted with concrete barriers that separate it from vehicle traffic, as well as “means restriction” fencing, emergency call stations, security cameras, and lighting.

The multiuse path can be accessed through the Canadian port of entry off Sandwich Street in Windsor and at the port of entry in Detroit across from the Historic Fort Wayne Coalition. There’s a path around the perimeter of the Detroit port of entry that can be accessed off Green, Campbell, and Fort streets as well, according to Grondin.

No matter which port you use, each one will have separate processing facilities for trail users. Pedestrians and bikers using the trail will need proper documentation to cross the border in either direction.

In Canada, the Gordie Howe International Bridge will become the first international bridge to join the approximately 17,398-mile (28,000 km) Trans Canada Trail as it connects with an approximately 2,237-mile (3,600 km) portion called the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail. This trail features paved, unpaved, and gravel paths along the lakes and waterways from the Windsor area to the Ottawa area near Québec, over to Sault Ste. Marie near the U.P., and back around Lake Huron, past Sarnia, to the Windsor area.

Meanwhile, here in Detroit, the trail will eventually connect with several new and existing trails and greenways through the city and beyond, including one trail that is planned to connect Detroit with the Upper Peninsula.

Here’s a closer look at some of the stateside connecting trails:

Joe Louis Greenway

The Joe Louis Greenway will run through Detroit and three other cities. // Photograph courtesy of the City of Detroit

This 29-mile biking and pedestrian trail began as a citizen-led effort in the early 2000s, and when it’s complete in five to 10 years, it will pass through 23 neighborhoods and four cities — Detroit, Dearborn, Hamtramck, and Highland Park.

Though the design and route are evolving, the greenway will incorporate portions of the former Conrail railroad property in its route, and will also connect to two existing paths: the Detroit Riverwalk and the Dequindre Cut, the latter of which the city is planning to extend north to connect with the greenway’s loop.

“Parts of the greenway will be built on a former railroad and will be completely off-street with separated paths and landscaping. Other portions will consist of on-street bicycling and pedestrian facilities, or paths adjacent to the street,” explains Idrees Mutahr, project manager of the Joe Louis Greenway.

Last fall, the city held a ribbon cutting to celebrate the completion of one of the greenway’s trailheads: the Warren Gateway. Construction of the greenway is ongoing and heading north. Debris removal on the Conrail property began last summer, and construction in that area will begin later this year.

“While various segments of the greenway will have a different look and feel based on the design of the path and the context, the segments of the greenway under construction along the Conrail now will feature concrete bike and pedestrian paths, bioswales and native plantings, security call boxes, lighting and charging stations, and seating,” Mutahr says.

“Trailheads like the Warren Gateway have facilities like the Warren Pavilion, the playscape, workout equipment, and other park amenities. We are also in the process of creating a Neighborhood Stories signage series to tell the story of the Midwest-Tireman community along the first mile of the greenway.”

The City Walls program is also expected to paint six murals on the greenway between Warren Avenue and I-96.

A full route of the Joe Louis Greenway is available at detroitmi.gov.

The Great Lakes Way

The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan is spearheading this recreational project, which when complete will connect about 160 miles of greenways and some 156 miles of blueways — water trails designated for recreational use and environmental protection — between southern Lake Huron and western Lake Erie, according to the foundation’s website, cfsem.org.

The Great Lakes Way will connect to several trails and pathways in metro Detroit, including the Detroit Riverwalk and different spots on the Joe Louis Greenway, as well as water trails on Anchor Bay, on Lake St. Clair, and further south into Monroe County.

Iron Belle Trail

The Iron Belle Trail will link Belle Isle all the way to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. // Photograph courtesy of the Michigan DNR

This proposed trail system is about 71% complete and will feature a series of hiking and biking trails that spans 2,000 miles from the Iron Mountain area in the Upper Peninsula to Belle Isle.

The Joe Louis Greenway will help complete portions of this trail and will meet with it along the Southwest Greenway and the Dequindre Cut, according to Mutahr.

Hikers and bikers on the Iron Belle will have two trail options. One will take them along the upper border of the U.P., down the west side of the Lower Peninsula, through Manistee, Kent, and Calhoun counties, then east through Jackson and Washtenaw counties. The other will stick closer to the southern border of the U.P. down the east side of the Lower Peninsula, through Saginaw, Genesee, and Oakland counties.

When complete, the total system of trails and paths “will be a catalyst for recreation, active transportation opportunities, tourism, and economic development in both border communities and beyond,” Grondin says. “The multiuse path [on the bridge] will also help reduce the carbon footprint of cross-border traffic and provide a sustainable option for travelers.”

For more information on the Gordie Howe International Bridge, visit gordiehoweinternationalbridge.com. For Iron Belle Trail updates go to michigan.gov.


This story originally appeared in the July 2024 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. To read more, pick up a copy of Hour Detroit at a local retail outlet. Our digital edition will be available on July 8.