Belle Isle closed due to overcrowding — it's likely the Grand Prix's fault


One of many 2017 traffic jams on Belle Isle. - MOIRA FRACASSA
  • Moira Fracassa
  • One of many 2017 traffic jams on Belle Isle.

Belle Isle was in the news on Memorial Day because the Michigan State Police temporarily closed the public island park due to overcrowding.

But there's one thing that almost none of the local media mentioned — about a quarter of the island is already shut off from the public. Each spring, the construction of the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix restricts and eventually prohibits public access to the southwest part of the island.

That means there's a lot less real estate for public park users, and that's when you get problems like this. A Michigan State Police spokesman told Metro Times that the island was temporarily shut down because ambulances and emergency responders could no longer get through the traffic jams. He declined to comment on whether road closures and Grand Prix construction contributed to the mess. However, traffic jams are a regular problem during Grand Prix construction.

Would park users have been turned away had the entire island been open? Probably not, but it's impossible to say for certain.
It takes race organizer Roger Penske's team 68 days to set up and break down the Detroit Grand Prix. That's one of the longest construction projects of any street race in the world. We verified that by checking with every other street circuit. Penske's team is claiming that the Grand Prix executes one of the quickest set up and breakdowns, but we debunked that claim.

Penske's team also claims that the closures are worth it because the race brings $58 million in spending. We spoke with several economists who explained why that isn't true or relevant. Its economic impact is likely much, much lower than that.
The Grand Prix's contract with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources that allows to run the race on the island expires this year. The two sides are in negotiations for a new contract.

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