Detroit to close Woodward for pedestrian plaza

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News
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A section of Woodward in the city’s downtown is closing for three months to create a pedestrian plaza

Detroit — A section of Woodward Avenue in the city’s downtown is closing for three months to create a pedestrian plaza.

The stretch of Woodward, between Jefferson and Larned, will act as a key transition from Campus Martius park to the Detroit Riverfront, according to city officials.

John Roach, spokesman for Mayor Mike Duggan, said the city will close off the busy section of Woodward beginning Thursday by moving cement planters and other fixtures onto the road itself to fashion an open space for people to walk, sit or eat.

On Monday, the space — called “The Spirit of Detroit Plaza” or Spirit Plaza — will open and use the existing esplanade, a rolling curved walkway along the median of Woodward, to move people from Campus Martius to the Riverfront.

Spirit Plaza

Janet Attarian, deputy director for planning and development for the city, said the decision to transform the roadway into a gathering space ties into a larger city initiative to create a “green necklace of public spaces” along Woodward and to the riverfront.

“We see this plaza as a pivotal place in connecting those two. It’s right in front of city hall and it’s the people’s plaza,” Attarian said.

Motorists will no longer be able to turn north onto Woodward from Jefferson or south to Jefferson from Woodward, city officials said.

The stretch of Woodward, between Jefferson and Larned, will act as a key transition from Campus Martius park to the Detroit Riverfront, according to city officials.

Ninety days of closing Woodward is “a bold move,” Attarian says, but simplifies traffic in the area.

Bob Gregory, chief planning and public space officer with Downtown Detroit Partnership, a partner in the project, said the 20,000-square-foot plaza is smaller than other downtown gathering spaces in the city and will have a different feel.

It will have food trucks, tables and chairs for people to enjoy the space as well as some artwork on the pavement, Gregory said. At least three times a week, the plaza will host programs, performances and activities pulling from the great diversity of the city and its neighborhoods, he said.

“It will have more of a civic and a neighborhood focus. This will be its primary mission. So many people visit the city/county building now, and when they are coming downtown, it gives them a place to interact while waiting for a meeting and to see a performance from their own neighborhood,” he said.

The project is funded with public and private dollars. Gregory would not disclose the total cost of the project.

Helen Johnson, vice president of strategic investments for Quicken Loans, one of the projects funders, said her organization has contributed $50,000 to the project while the William Davidson Foundation granted $50,000. The city of Detroit invested $60,000, Johnson said, and state officials granted $25,000.

“It’s a great example of how good collaboration to fund public spaces should work,” Johnson said. “It extends the positive momentum from the Woodward esplanade and connects us even better to the riverfront and to the energy around the QLine.”

Roach said city planner Maurice Cox has been looking at ways to make the city more pedestrian friendly. A similar project was done at Gratiot and Randolph with great results, Roach said, as well as in Times Square in New York City.

“It’s helped to manage traffic at that (Detroit) intersection,” he said.

The closure, which is official on Monday, will stay in place for 90 days and be evaluated to measure public support and traffic impact.

“The planners think it will alleviate some traffic congestion on Jefferson. There is a lot of backup there with so many coming off I-375 and the Lodge trying to get on Woodward. They think will improve traffic flow on Woodward,” Roach said.

Last fall, several miles of Michigan Avenue and Vernor Highway — from Campus Martius to Corktown and Mexicantown — were made to be a pedestrian-and-bike-only zone for two Sundays as part of a test to see if Detroit is ready to turn major streets into temporary car-free zones on a regular basis as part of an Open Streets Detroit initiative.

JChambers@detroitnews.com

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