Bicycling is a favorite pastime for many Wayne County residents. The Middle Rouge Parkway is filled with bicycle paths that are open to locals and visitors near and far. Many would be surprised to learn that this pastime was popular in southeast Michigan over one hundred years ago! Before it was the Motor City, Detroit was the country’s bicycling capital.
One of the first documented bicycle rides in Detroit took place in 1868. Calling it a “velocipede,” a Detroit man (Ben. Fletcher, of the Michigan News Company) was seen riding slowly along Jefferson Avenue followed by a curious crowd of onlookers. The ride was a shaky one and required the occasional help of passersby to keep him steady and push the “velocipede” forward.
Eventually, bicycles were as plentiful as pedestrians and carriages throughout the streets of Detroit and surrounding areas. Wayne County jumped at the opportunity to provide bicycle paths and open spaces for bicyclists to ride and thrive. The local bicycling boom in southeast Michigan at the turn of the twentieth century was in large part thanks to Edward N. Hines and the Good Roads movement.
Known as the “Father of Concrete Roads,” Edward N. Hines worked as a printer, however road improvement was his true passion. Hines had an incredible impact on Wayne County roads, park life, and bicycling. He led the way in using concrete for road construction, and created the first mile of concrete road on Woodward Avenue in 1909. He also oversaw the creation of 150 miles of roads and streets in and around Detroit.
In addition to refining Wayne County roads, Edward N. Hines was an avid cyclist. In 1890, he formed Michigan’s Good Roads organization which advocated for the creation of county roads. This on-the-ground work led to the County Road Law in 1893, as well as inspiring a change to Michigan’s Constitution in 1894.
In the early 1900s, Hines served as vice president of the League of American Wheelmen, chief consul of the Michigan division of the L.A.W. and president of the Detroit Wheelmen. He also supervised the construction of 3-foot wide bicycle cinder paths and successfully helped push a bill through the legislature that protected bicycle paths from the roving kine and Michigan farmers’ wagons that devastated local roads.
Edward N. Hines was ambitious when it came to good roads and bicycling: “I may want too much, I may be too visionary, but I am going to have a road beautiful even if I have to spend my own money to satisfy such a desire.”
Inspired by Hines, Wayne County Commissioners continued pursuing the creation of bicycle paths, particularly in the Hines Park area. In 1971, they proposed a bikeway to be built along I-275 and M-14 and along Hines Drive in the Middle Rouge Parkway. With permission to proceed, by 1974, nine-tenths of a mile (Phase I of the bikeway project) was built along Hines Drive, starting west from Newburgh Road.
By 1976, 2.8 miles of the bikeway (Phase II of the project) was completed, connecting the bikeway completed in 1974 with the bikeway under construction along I-275, as well as another path from M-14 to the Northville Recreation Area. Over the next few years, six more miles were added, 3.6 miles between I-275 and M-14 and 2.4 miles from Ford Road West to Gulley Road. Three more miles were added by 1984.
In 1986, Wayne County Recreation Director Vic Chiasson remarked that, “People asked us to do this. We feel it will bring walkers, runners and bikers back to the park on a consistent basis. We closed it sporadically in the past. This way, people can plan on it every week.” Chiasson is speaking on not only the creation of bicycle paths but also on the renewed initiative of closing certain parts of Hines Park for bicyclists and pedestrians.
Bicycling events include “Bike Days,” bike-a-thons, fundraisers and more. An example of this unique programming includes closing Hines Drive from Warrendale Drive (west of Outer Drive) to Ann Arbor Trail every Saturday 9:00am to 3:30pm from May 3 through September 1986. Today, there are many bike paths and special events planned for avid local (or visiting) bicyclists to ride throughout the Middle Rouge Parkway.