Yes, These Detroit Area People Tunnels Were a Thing in the 20s
If you find yourself living in or driving through Highland Park, MI, you might notice some odd-looking concrete structures on the corner of the intersection. They are, in fact, a relic of a since-abandoned project that was aimed at protecting pedestrians.
I came across this on Tiktok, naturally, thanks to @colin313, otherwise known as ColinDetroit, who recently posted this video:
Personally, I had never heard of these underground pedestrian tunnels. While the area isn't as busy now as it was when these tunnels were implemented, they were at one point, tragically, necessary.
How It Started
The pedestrian tunnels became a necessity due to the rising level of traffic through the Highland Park area. This was before freeways so, residential streets were the only way to commute to downtown Detroit. According to a 2017 article from dailydetroit.com, because these residential streets were the only option, it was often very dangerous for pedestrians. Specifically, children. That same article says,
Children throughout the city were being killed by traffic accidents. In 1924, 96 children perished in Detroit.
In response, the idea for underground pedestrian tunnels was born. They even made a "Safety Patrol" video to highlight the importance of traffic safety:
The first tunnel, seen in the above video, was built in 1925. It featured an iron gate that would lock at night and the city even budgeted to have an officer of the law stationed at the corner of the tunnels. In total, three were constructed all of which are now blocked in some fashion.
So, What Happened to Them?
The simplest answer is...progress. When these tunnels were built in the 1920s, Highland Park was home to 50,000 residents in a mere 3 square mile radius. Now, only 10,000 remain. Plus, the development of freeways in the area made residential streets just that. Residential. With less traffic in the area, the tunnels were no longer necessary.
Today, the tunnels are reported to be filled either with concrete, trash, or even water.
It's a bit mind-boggling to think that there was a time when kids would just wander free on the streets to the point where building a tunnel was needed for them to survive. But, the 20s were a different time.
Of course, today we have a lot more to worry about. Unfortunately, one of those things includes school buses driving into wet concrete. Whoops: