Gilbert’s Bedrock Is Beginning To Think Outside The Automobile

I attended an event last night hosted by Transportation Riders United in One Woodward. The second floor conference room has some great views of the city at sunset, thanks to Michigan legend Minoru Yamasaki‘s affinity for floor-to-ceiling windows. (Oh, I suppose he would, I said to myself as I perused the perimeter of the open space.)

TRU has been described to me as the slightly more polished corollary to other transit advocates in Detroit’s vibrant transit community. There’s the more social justice-oriented Motor City Freedom Riders, or the interfaith organization MOSES (Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength). It’s notable– and a testament to Detroit’s legacy of community organizing- in a city that has such a weak transit infrastructure, that there are so many groups working on transit accessibility. (Is the fact that we now have a parking reform advocacy group a sign that we’ve made it?!)

Andy Palanisamy from Ford presented on that company’s efforts in new mobility. And Bedrock’s Kevin Bopp presented on the Family of Companies’ (FOC) increasing attention to AMT’s, or Alternative Mode of Transportation trips.

For as much as I’ve complained about the Gilbert Chariots, that is, the Royal Transportation buses that block crosswalks and mow down pedestrians and cyclists while ferrying FOC staff from downtown to the parking lot megalopolis on the edge of Corktown (6th St., specifically), it seems that some upper management are beginning to be far more proactive about the transportation question. I also tend to think this is a “better late than never” initiative. I suspect Mr. Gilbert was far more interested in real estate empire building for most of the first decade of his tenure downtown than in supporting the development of robust and sustainable urban infrastructure. And, I mean, we’re the Motor City– why would ever challenge a dominant paradigm?

Bopp’s presented results were impressive, with as many as a third of FOC staff having engaged an AMT commute by 3Q 2019. This number had more than tripled from the beginning of the year. Granted, this is but a first step– key to longer-term success is, well, getting the whole thing put together. People are going to be more reliant on systems like buses or trains (I know, right?) if they actually exist and if the system is accessible and legible.

311 parking spaces! If we look at the spatial model I used for Detroit Park City, that’s roughly equivalent to 100 apartments. 100 apartments would produce some seven-figure sum of annual revenue, plus tens of thousands in tax revenue. This tradeoff model is a key to the DPC project, so, you better believe I loved that 311 number.

There was only minimal discussion about the technological advances behind things like autonomous vehicles and smart whatever. I was appreciative of this especially given a poll TRU conducted at the beginning of the event that agglomerated responses from the audience on what comes to mind when respondents heard the words “new mobility.” Top hits included “elitism” and “scooters.” Prasanth Gururaja from the Shared Use Mobility Center made the important point that none of this fancy stuff matters unless we have a robust regional transit system. Punctual, frequent, fixed-route service! Which, you know, maybe we’ll get one day.

Further coverage: Check out @nzorach, @grenadine, and others on Twitter and under the hashtag #MobilityEquity. And donate to TRU– they do good work.

Nat M. Zorach

Nat M. Zorach, AICP, MBA, is a city planner and energy professional based in Detroit, where he writes about infrastructure, sustainability, tech, and more. A native of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he attended Grinnell College in Iowa, the Kogod School of Business at American University, the POCACITO transatlantic program, the SISE program at the University of Illinois Chicago, and he is also a StartingBloc Social Innovation Fellow. He enjoys long walks through historic, disinvested Rust Belt neighborhoods at sunset. (Nat's views and opinions are his own and do not represent those of his employer).

Leave a Reply