DETROIT—A lot of helping hands have been working with Mode Shift in recent weeks to shine a light on challenges people face getting around Metro Detroit. Since early November, a group of 31 fellows with a program called Challenge Detroit have been partnering with us to address topics like bike safety, bicycle infrastructure and multi-modal transportation.
The fruits of their research and outreach efforts will be shared during an 11 a.m. presentation at Detroit's Boll Family YMCA this Friday, Dec. 13.
Although our readers are probably familiar with Mode Shift as a source for southeast Michigan transportation news, the organization is also dedicated to raising awareness about related issues while advocating for bike use and infrastructure as a way to meet the region's transportation needs.
As for Challenge Detroit, the annual fellowship gives college graduates an opportunity to live, work and socialize in the city while giving back to the region by assisting local nonprofits in their work. The program is geared towards helping participants become ambassadors and potential leaders for Metro Detroit, retaining talented professionals and revitalizing the region by supporting local causes.
Challenge Detroit fellows live in Detroit with a stipend, work four days a week at a southeast Michigan business and spend Fridays focusing on challenges that involve area nonprofits. From Nov. 18 to Dec. 13, they've been partnering with Mode Shift on their multimodal transportation challenge. Afterwards, participants will take on other challenges like homelessness and land re-utilization.
Jessica Soulliere, Mode Shift's editor and program director, was intrigued by the organization’s offer.
"It was as much an opportunity to help Mode Shift tackle some issues we've learned Detroiters struggle with on a daily basis as it was an opportunity to teach young folks about those struggles from a down to earth perspective."
Both groups met in advance to explore how the partnership would unfold. Mode Shift gave them several options, including making a Detroit bike map, raising awareness about bike safety and looking at ways to improve bike parking in the city.
"When we talked about the problems we'd like to see solved, they were so enthusiastic," said Soulliere. "Instead of picking just one, they chose all three."
Challenge Detroiters divided the tasks among different working groups. Before they began their projects, however, they were issued another special challenge by Soulliere.
"On our first Friday working with Mode Shift, we were challenged to arrive at our meeting place without using a car," fellow Elizabeth Machesky recalled. "I think this was a task we all enjoyed, and it was certainly eye-opening to hear about other fellows' obstacles along the way, ranging from bike accidents to buses over an hour late, that I do not think about while driving."
Machesky has been working with Eprize during her fellowship. Her group was provided with a budget and tasked with recruiting an audience that usually doesn't interact with Mode Shift. They held a community dialogue about bikes and also produced a safety guide.
"My team and I decided to hold our conversation at the Northwest Activity Center, and we used flyers and one-on-one interactions to invite community members to our event," she said.
"We served lunch to our guests, and broke attendees into three small groups, each led by Challenge Detroit fellows, to discuss bike safety, as well as to conduct feedback sessions on the prototypes we had created (a bike map, unique ideas for bike parking, a bike safety guide, etc.). Our guests seemed to really enjoy themselves, and we were thrilled to help welcome them into the Mode Shift community."
Corissa Leveille, a fellow who has been working with the Eight Mile Boulevard Association during her time with the program, was involved with the bike map project.
“I was placed in the bike map research group, which was tasked with creating a viable bike map for the city of Detroit,” she said. “After analyzing existing bike maps throughout the country and surveying Metro Detroit bicycle riders, we were able to create a uniquely folding bike map of Detroit that allows its users to zoom in on specific areas of the city without unfolding a huge document.”
Fellow Thomas Shuelke is working with the Beaumont Health System and participated in the community conversation project. His involvement with the challenge has him now looking for bikes for him and his wife. He told Mode Shift that they'd also like to stay in Detroit permanently if conditions permit.
Shelley Danner, Challenge Detroit’s program director said the fellows have been really excited about working on these issues at a time when bicycling is enjoying such a resurgence on the city’s streets.
“I think, because it's in its infancy but its really starting to gain some traction, our fellows found it really exciting to be in the trenches working on this,” she said. “It also really addresses a need in the city, because not everybody can afford a car.”
Danner adds that the challenge has been a very collaborative experience that has allowed the fellows to glean a lot of useful knowledge.
Mode Shift’s Soulliere said she’s also very pleased with how the program turned out.
“I've seen minds, hearts and behaviors changed,” she said, “and I am thrilled to see the final presentations this Friday.”
RSVP to attend the fellows' 11 a.m. presentation at Detroit's Boll Family YMCA this Friday, Dec. 13.