Two major Detroit streets go car-free on two Sundays

Louis Aguilar The Detroit News

A 3.7-mile stretch of Michigan Avenue and Vernor Highway — from Campus Martius to Corktown and Mexicantown — will be a pedestrian-and-bike-only zone for two Sundays in coming weeks. It’s a test to see if Detroit is ready to turn major streets into temporary car-free zones on a regular basis.

The city’s first Open Streets Detroit, presented by the DTE Energy Foundation, will make the two major thoroughfares car-free from noon to 5 p.m. on Sept. 25 and Oct. 2. Dia Hughes, owner of Astro Coffee in Corktown’s Michigan Avenue, is among those who have high hopes for the idea.

“In a car culture, the serendipity is lost” of walking around and discovering a neighborhood, he said. “That feeling we can walk down a street and find new shops in your neighborhood,” Hughes said at a Tuesday press conference at Clark Park on Vernor.

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More than 75 programming partners have signed up for events along the thoroughfares. Events include:

■Live bands and DJs

■Street hockey and soccer clinics led by Detroit City FC

■Art fairs and solar-powered pottery studio

■Cycling events, including obstacle courses and scavenger hunts

■Children’s activities, such as games and sidewalk chalk art

Michigan Avenue is the heart of Corktown’s dense scene of restaurants and bars. Vernor is the main business corridor for the Mexicantown community. The area’s restaurants and bars are being encouraged to open and possibly set up sidewalk booths. There will be no outside vendors or beer tents.

“This is all about promoting the communities and business in the neighborhood in a healthy way,’ said Lisa Nuszkowski, who works with the nonprofit Downtown Detroit Partnership, the current driver of Open Streets Detroit. The downtown partnership is a coalition of corporate, civic and philanthropic groups.

If the 100-plus cities around the world already participating in the Open Streets program are any guide, many Detroit residents and businesses will embrace the car-less streets to walk, jog and bike in the middle of road.

While some business owners have expressed concerned they may lose money by shutting down the street to vehicles, economic surveys taken by other cities shows most local businesses have a slight increase in sales, according to 880 Cities, a Toronto group that is a consultant to the Detroit program.

If the initial Open Streets Detroit are viewed as a success by the community, organizers hope to find other Detroit neighborhoods willing to do the same. “We would love for it to become a permanent thing,” Nuszkowski said.