The Ins and Outs of Cycling through Downtown Rochester

Where the Trails Meet

Rochester has been named a 2015 Nationally Certified Main Street Community, which emphasizes historic preservation. Finding a balance between the needs of residents, businesses and visitors in the historical downtown area can be challenging. Rochester has adapted to many changes since 1817 and is now at the heart of an increasingly popular recreational trail system connection.

Where the Trails Meet

Downtown Rochester River Walk Sign – Photo by Sonya Julie

The Paint Creek, Clinton River, and Macomb Orchard Trails are a part of a vital network that meet near the outer edges of Rochester. Parking bikes at the edge of town and walking in is a good way to enjoy the city but cyclists have concerns regarding safety when traveling through town to connect to another trail network.

According to Nik Banda, Deputy City Manager and Economic & Community Development Director, “No new specific bike routes are planned in the near future.” However, the city “just installed a permanent bike rack adjacent to our new westerly parking garage near Penny Black,” which holds 16 bikes.

The new bike rack near Penny Black holds up to 16 bicycles – Photo by Sonya Julie

“We have also installed bike lockers in both [parking] decks. We do not promote riding bikes on Main Street, but encourage folks to use our existing trails that lead to downtown and park their bikes and enjoy downtown” says Banda.

Some cyclists seeking a route through downtown Rochester feel that the area has safety concerns that affect cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers of motorized vehicles. The “trails slip silently around downtown, a town with no bike lanes and empty bicycle racks,” says David Gifford, local cyclist. “Where the wide Paint Creek trail ends at Lipuma’s it goes under Main Street and into a heavily used pedestrian river walk. This avoids bringing cyclists into downtown and puts pedestrians in harm’s way as cyclists whiz by.”

Milltown Movement

On Second Street just east of North Main Street, the city approved of moving the previously straight Clinton River trail to wind along the river in order to accommodate the Milltown apartments and town home community that will cover 11 acres alongside Paint Creek and the Clinton River, where the two waterways converge.


The Clinton River Trail is being rerouted along the river to make space for the Milltown apartments. The photo on the left is from early April – by David Gifford. Photo on the right is from late May – by Sonya Julie.

Rerouting the Clinton River Trail to a scenic walkway creates another congested area in downtown Rochester. “Cyclists will be tangling with pedestrians and dog walkers. This arrangement is not only destructive to the integrity of the trail but dangerous to cyclists and pedestrians alike” says Gifford. If the Clinton River Trail floods, trail users, including cyclists, will then be forced to travel through the Milltown complex.

Safe Access and Infrastructure

European cities makes cycling easy and cost-effective for users because they have invested an enormous amount of money into urban planning. Many communities in the Motor City have struggled with the dominant automotive infrastructure and trying to balance it with access to non-motorized transportation systems. MDOT offers competitive grants to Michigan communities through TAP, a program that focuses on safety and improvements for alternative forms of transportation such as cycling.

The connection between the Downtown Rochester River Walk and Clinton River Trail are under construction - Photo by Sonya Julie

The connection between the Downtown Rochester River Walk and Clinton River Trail are under construction – Photo by Sonya Julie

Bike lanes are gaining in popularity and research shows that they can shorten crossing distances, thus improving pedestrian safety as well. Dedicated signal phases prevent turning conflicts with people walking and protected bike lanes reduce traffic weaving. Adding bike lanes in Rochester could help to improve safety in the city.

Implementing a different route through town is another option. “As a solution to the disconnect to downtown I’ve proposed routing the Paint Creek Trail to Pine street, crossing University at the light and making Walnut the bicycle thoroughfare providing access to downtown and connecting with the Clinton River Trail” says Gifford.

Welcoming Events

Incorporating safe and navigable areas for cyclists and pedestrians can help to reduce pressure on car-parking facilities and increases access to businesses and activities in downtown Rochester. Typically six bikes can park in the same amount of space as one car which can create a positive economic impact.

There are events like Motor City Brew Tours that pass right around town that could instead run through town. In last year’s tour, 350 participants helped to contribute to both the local trail system and the local economy. Holding these types of events in downtown Rochester could be beneficial. “Direct and indirect economic impacts occur when downtown visitors spend money at a local business and that money is used to pay employee wages and other business costs” explains Cristina Benton, Director of Market and Industry Analysis at Anderson Economic Group, LLC in Lansing. “In addition, local events generate many positive and long-term benefits to the downtown area. The event is likely to attract participants from outside the area, thus contributing to an increased awareness of the area for all participants.”

There are not currently any plans for any cycling events in the near future for Rochester according to the DDA but that does not mean that there won’t be in the future. The city encourages citizens to participate and welcomes their input through events such as the recent Downtown Visioning Session that allows citizens to provide suggestions and ideas regarding the future growth and development of Downtown Rochester. The Detroit Greenways Coalition talk held earlier this week looked at the future of the Clinton River Trail and plans for developments and improvements which included topics that related to cycling and planning efforts for the trail systems.

Urban cycling is on the rise across the nation as it promotes sustainability, community, and health. The bicycling trend could certainly help to keep Rochester’s economy rolling into a bright future.

About Sonya Julie

Sonya Julie is a Freelance Writer and Life Coach. She Writes about Health & Healing, Fitness & Yoga, Food & Paleo, as well as Travel & Adventure, and Community. Visit Sonya's Website, Sonya Julie Exploring Life.


  1. Paula Antoniou says

    My husband and I bike commute to work through the downtown Rochester area all the time and never have any issues with safety or pedestrians. Sure, you have to slow down and be vocal about passing, but that’s no big deal. It’s only for a short time while in the immediate downtown or riverwalk area. I guess I don’t see a big issue. (Our commute is 13-15 miles from Orion to Rochester on safety paths, dirt roads, rail trails and through a park or two, depending on which route we choose. It’s great!)


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