OPINION: Detroit-Canada cross-border cycling – and beyond – soon to be a reality

Imagine you and your friends want to have a day-long outdoor adventure. You decide to bicycle the Detroit RiverWalk – the No. 1 riverwalk in the United States for two years running – in the morning. 

In the afternoon, you cross the Detroit River by bicycle and explore Canada’s soon-to-be second national urban park, the Ojibway National Urban Park, which features one of the most significant remnants of tallgrass prairie and oak savannah in Ontario. 

That will shortly be possible, and two Canadian and two U.S. trail organizations will be planning more such binational trail experiences for you.

Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit, Michigan, are border cities on the Detroit River that are considered the heart of the Great Lakes. In response to increasing public demand for access to the waterfront and non-motorized modes of transportation, greenway systems started in Windsor in the 1960s and 1970s, then in Detroit in the 1990s. 

In 2016, a U.S.-Canada greenway partnership released a binational greenways vision map to connect emerging international greenways and trails. The vision called for improvements to the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel Bus system to allow for bicycle transport, building a dedicated pedestrian and bicycle lane on the upcoming Gordie Howe International Bridge, and reinstating a cross-border ferry system. 

Two of these three cross-border trail connections have now been realized. 

The Gordie Howe International Bridge, projected to open in 2024, will include a multi-use trail and improvements to the Tunnel Bus system to accommodate bicycle transport. 

The multi-use trail on the new bridge will be 11.8 feet wide to accommodate two-way pedestrian and cyclist traffic, have barriers separating vehicular traffic from pedestrians and cyclists, and be toll-free for pedestrians and cyclists.

Building upon the foundation of Windsor and Detroit greenways, four major trail organizations have joined in fostering cross-border collaboration on joint trail experiences. This partnership was formalized in a Memorandum of Understanding on September 9, 2022, at St. Clair College Centre for the Arts on Windsor’s waterfront. 

“We are so pleased that the Trans Canada Trail and the Waterfront Regeneration Trust are joining forces with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Community Foundation to collaborate on a binational trail experience,” said Ric DeVore, president of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan. “The Great Lakes Way initiative provides access to our amazing greenways and blueways and connecting communities. We are excited about the possibilities of this collaboration.”

The four organizations that signed the Memorandum of Understanding include: 

  • The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan has championed The Great Lakes Way – an interconnected set of 160 miles of greenways and 156 miles of water trails stretching from southern Lake Huron through western Lake Erie along southeast Michigan’s coastline; 
  • The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has championed the Iron-Belle Trail that stretches over 2,000 miles from Ironwood in the Upper Peninsula to Belle Isle State Park in Detroit; 
  • The Waterfront Regeneration Trust has championed the 2,250-mile Great Lakes Waterfront Trail that stretches from the St. Lawrence River in Quebec to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario; and
  • The Trans Canada Trail is the world’s longest recreational network of multi-use trails that stretches more than 15,000 miles from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic Oceans.
Binational Great Lakes trail tourism experiences (credit: Trans Canada Trail).

In Detroit, the Detroit RiverWalk and portions of the Joe Louis Greenway are part of the Iron Belle Trail and The Great Lakes Way. The goal is to promote and amplify local trails in a regional context, thereby increasing trail usage and associated benefits.

These four partner organizations will be developing binational trail destination experiences, collaborating on marketing strategies, and exploring opportunities for using technology to enhance the trail user experience via a digital trail mirroring the physical route. 

The benefits of this binational trail collaboration are enormous, including expanding outdoor recreation and ecotourism economies. In Michigan, outdoor recreation generates $26.6 billion in consumer spending, promoting conservation, encouraging healthy lifestyles, and enhancing the quality of life. 

Possible cross-border outdoor recreational experiences could include binational bicycle tours and cycling events, Canada-U.S. open street events where Windsor and Detroit temporarily close certain streets to automobile traffic and open them for pedestrians and cyclists, joint Underground Railroad tours and First Nations celebrations, joint celebrations of World Migratory Bird Day and Earth Day, and more. Many believe the sky is the limit in creating cross-border outdoor recreational experiences.  

“The Great Lakes Waterfront Trail was inspired by thousands of people who demanded more for their Great Lakes and understood the Trail was the first step in creating a new relationship to it,” noted Honourable David Crombie, Founder and Board Member of the Waterfront Regeneration Trust. “Today, it is an award-winning, beloved amenity and tourism attraction. With the completion of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, we have the tremendous opportunity to connect our legacy work to amazing initiatives underway in the United States.” 

So, if you like close-to-home outdoor recreation, keep an eye out for what is coming. You won’t be disappointed.

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