Detroit drives forward with pilot programs to solve mobility roadblocks

The city that put the world on wheels is reinventing mobility again.
 

Detroit launched Project Kinetic, a web of mobility innovations that includes placemaking and fast-charging electric vehicle stations, smart buses that talk to intersections, car- sharing services in underserved neighborhoods, swift shuttle circuits and an insightful parking app, all in the name of moving residents and guests quickly and safely.
 

Even the New York City Transit Authority, which runs the well-oiled Big Apple, took notice. It came to Detroit for transit advice, reinforcing Motown’s reputation as a global center for mobility innovation.
 

“It’s one of my favorite moments,” said Mark de la Vergne, Chief of Mobility Innovation for the City of Detroit.
 

What intrigued the New Yorkers the most: How the city collaborated with the private sector and PlanetM, Michigan’s mobility-focused development program, to easily get from point A to point B in Detroit.
 

“That’s the one and only time New York has come to Detroit for transit advice,” de la Vergne says.
 

Starting the engine
 

Project Kinetic formed in January 2018 after Detroit had success with its Night Shift program, a partnership between Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT), Lyft and Detroit Cab to provide residents a ride to and from their bus stop between 11 p.m. and 5 p.m., when it’s most difficult to get around the city, de la Vergne points out. It was the initial public-private program that piqued New York Transit Authority’s interest.
 

Kinetic’s private partners include General Motors, Lear, DTE Energy, Quicken Loans Community Fund, Bedrock Detroit, Boston Consulting group and New Economy Initiative, a philanthropy-led strategy group run by the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan.
 

They worked for 12 weeks to brainstorm more than 120 solutions to tackle the most pressing mobility challenges facing the community after interviewing more than 100 residents and visitors about their concerns.
 

The common themes to improve were:
 

  • Mobility in lower-density neighborhoods
  • Downtown accessibility to improve traffic conditions and parking for commuters
  • Traffic safety using technology to reduce fatalities for Detroit pedestrians, bikers, drivers and riders
  • Electric vehicle (EV) use and education
 

“We wanted to create more options for people to get around,” de la Vergne says. “That’s what we are trying to achieve.”
 

Testing solutions through pilot programs
 

Stakeholder input narrowed the list to five pilot projects. Two launched late this summer. The first, Car4You, provides low-cost vehicle access by the hour to residents in northeast Detroit’s Osborn neighborhood, often chronicled by media outlets as Detroit’s deadliest neighborhood.
 

Two red 2016 Chevrolet Sparks are available to residents for $7 per hour. They are parked at Matrix Center, a community center on East McNichols, and are available 24 hours, seven days a week, explains Alex Keros, the former Smart Cities Chief for GM Urban Mobility and Maven, GM’s car-sharing service. His new role is GM’s lead architect of EV Infrastructure.
 

While car-sharing typically involves private owners renting out their own car, Maven oversees the Car4You Sparks with the help of the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance, Keros explains.
 

“Residents may be using these to go on a job interview or errands like a new mom taking her baby to the doctor, but it’s still early in the process so we’re studying all the use cases,” Keros says. “We want (the Sparks) to be seen as a community asset.”
 

EV awareness
 

ChargeD is Project Kinetic’s second pilot to launch. The program puts the city’s first and only DC fast-charger EV stations – four of them – in downtown Detroit’s Beacon Park, a move known as placemaking. It reimagines the public space as an outdoor gathering spot that will include education opportunities about EVs, strengthening visitors’ connection with the community and the EV concept, impacting quality of life.
 

DTE Energy led the project with support from the City of Detroit, PlanetM, GM and Blue Energy.
 

“We imagine people coming here or nearby to lunch and getting a charge while having that meal,” says Brett Steudle, senior strategist, electric vehicle strategy and programs at DTE. It takes 90 minutes for a full charge, compared with about six hours or more with a home charger, he says.
 

The park will host some EV classes and Steudle expects the mere presence of the chargers will serve as an opportunity to discover the benefits of EVs and mobility technology.
 

“If you want people to embrace EV technology than you have to build the infrastructure and DTE wanted to be a part of that,” Steudle says.
 

Eventually two more chargers will be installed at Capitol Park, near Shelby and Griswold, a public space managed by the Downtown Detroit Partnership.
 

“It’s a chicken and egg deal,” Steudle explains. “People are reluctant to buy an electric vehicle if they don’t think there are ample opportunities to charge that vehicle. We think this will help people get over those barriers.”
 

Pilots on deck
 

The remaining pilots to come are:
 

Busority: A traffic management system where city buses and other public transit are equipped with connected technology that grants them priority at select intersections, eliminating the need to stop frequently. That speeds up their routes, helping riders manage their time.
 

It’s a joint project led by Lear and the city. It requires outfitting DDOT buses with smart technology. It may be completed in the first quarter of 2020, de la Vergne says.
 

MicroTransit: Detroit will oversee this routed shuttle system. Its goal is to improve work commutes offering more direct routes with fewer stops. Its launch date is unknown.
 

ParkDetroit: The city, with support from Quicken Loans Community Fund and Bedrock Detroit, are working on updating its parking app that launched in 2015. The upgrades will help users find available parking spaces quicker and at a lower price. The completion date is unknown.
 

“Being able to provide a single resource for all parking information – right now that information is fragmented or not online – it will improve customers’ experiences and help them make that parking choice easier,” de la Vergne says.
 

Keros believes solving mobility issues is the heart of Project Kinetic and this process of discovering and addressing the needs should act as a catalyst.
 

“It doesn’t matter if we’re in Philly or Detroit, this can be duplicated” to solve mobility roadblocks across the country, Keros says.
 

Detroit is happy to be in the driver’s seat.

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