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Free shuttle service now available at Belle Isle Park, traffic study underway

Visitors may see low-flying airplanes July 8-10 and July 13-14 as part of traffic study

To help relieve some of the effects of traffic and parking congestion at Belle Isle Park, free shuttle service is available and a multimodal transportation and traffic study is underway. It’s all part of an effort to help enhance traffic flow, make it easier for visitors to find their way around, and expand transportation options – walking, cycling, driving and public transit, etc. – at the popular Detroit island park that is among the most-visited state parks in the nation.

Free shuttle service

Brightly painted in yellows, blues, pinks and black, a school bus parked on the street in front of a glass-and-steel, domed building.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources now provides free shuttle service via The Detroit Bus Company's hand-painted, biodiesel-powered buses. This shuttle pilot program runs noon to 8 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.

Ample parking is available in the Paddock parking area, conveniently located between the park entrance and the James Scott Memorial Fountain. Riders can hop on one of two shuttle buses that will make a continuous loop between the parking area, designated swim beach, Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, Belle Isle Aquarium and Kids Row.

“The goal is to reduce heavy traffic congestion that can cause visitor headaches and island closures due to parking capacity limits,” said Karis Floyd, Belle Isle Park manager. “We want people to spend more time at their favorite destination and less time driving around looking for a parking spot. The DNR is very excited to offer this new shuttle service, and we hope visitors hop on!”

Over the busy Fourth of July holiday weekend, the shuttle was in operation and appears to be having the desired effect.

“Our staff was hearing reports that the shuttle service was well received and was used consistently by visitors,” said Floyd. “The fact that we did not have to temporarily close the park due to capacity limits suggests that the shuttle service helped spread out the number of visitor cars on the island.”

Although parking and the shuttle are free, a Recreation Passport is required for vehicle entry. For $12 (or $6 for motorcycles), the Recreation Passport gives Michigan-registered vehicles year-round access to all 103 state parks, 1,300 state-managed boating access sites and parking at trailheads.

The Detroit Department of Transportation also offers bus service to the island via the #12 Conant route. DDOT service runs approximately every 60 minutes:

  • 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
  • 8 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. Sunday.

A Recreation Passport is not required for visitors arriving on foot, by bicycle or via DDOT bus.

Traffic study

To help ease traffic congestion and increase public safety, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, in partnership with the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Belle Isle Conservancy, has launched a comprehensive multimodal transportation and traffic study, expected to be completed at the end of 2023. Wade Trim, a metro Detroit-based engineering consultant firm, will complete the study.

"The park has experienced a rapid rise in popularity, almost doubling from 2014 to 2021," said Amanda Treadwell, urban field planner for the DNR Parks and Recreation Division. "Last year’s attendance exceeded 5.5 million visitors, the highest since the DNR assumed management of the island park."

The goal of the plan is to develop a phased strategy for implementing sustainable improvements to help manage traffic, vehicle and pedestrian circulation and a variety of transportation services, while balancing the protection and preservation of the park’s natural and historical resources.

Treadwell said that due to the park’s single access point – MacArthur Bridge – park staff and law enforcement must monitor and manage park closures there when the park reaches capacity. In addition, the Detroit Police Department helps manage traffic backups on East Jefferson as visitors wait to cross the bridge to Belle Isle.

Ultimately, the DNR hopes the study will identify ways to create a safer and more enjoyable park experience for both visitors and park staff, while ensuring direct access for emergency vehicles.

Flyover traffic study July 8-10, 13-14

As part of the inventory phase of the multimodal transportation and traffic study, an aerial traffic inventory will take place Friday, Saturday and Sunday, July 8-10, and Wednesday and Thursday, July 13-14 (weather permitting). A low-flying airplane will collect aerial images of visitor and visitor vehicle distribution for the island. During these same dates, visitor-use counts will include video recording at the Paddock parking area and Loiter Way shuttle stops.

Additionally, cameras located throughout the park will collect attendance and vehicle counts, parking utilization, observations of pedestrian-vehicle conflict and vehicle turning counts.

The DNR assures visitors that the level of video quality will not be good enough to allow for any identifying information, such as recognizable faces or license plate numbers. These traffic/usage inventory tasks will run through early 2023.

Public involvement

Because public input is a critical part of the process, the project team will facilitate a series of opportunities in February, March and April 2023 to talk with the public and stakeholders about the study and their experiences visiting Belle Isle. Visitor feedback will be incorporated into study analysis and final recommendations for improving park safety, access and traffic flow.

Visitors can sign up to receive text alerts for Belle Isle Park. A text will be sent when there are happenings – for example, severe weather, beach or parking closures, or large events – that could affect your visit. To sign up, text GEM to 80888 or visit

For more information on the new shuttle service, contact Karis Floyd at 810-397-3037 or For more information on the transportation and traffic study, contact Amanda Treadwell at 313-269-7430 or

Note to editors: Accompanying photos are available below for download. Caption information follows. All photos courtesy of Derek Cookson Photography.

  • Bus by conservatory: One of the buses (from The Detroit Bus Company) in front of the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory; it's part of the DNR's free shuttle service pilot program to help ease traffic congestion on Belle Isle.
  • Bus by fountain: One of the buses near the James Scott Memorial Fountain on Belle Isle.
  • Bus front view: Looking at a bus head on, parked in front of the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory on Belle Isle.
  • Bus and T-shirt: One of The Detroit Bus Company buses and T-shirt.
Karis Floyd (shuttle service), 810-397-3037 or Amanda Treadwell (traffic study), 313-269-7430