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Detroit Bikeshare Job Falls Through

Detroit Bikeshare Job Falls Through
By Gordon Chaffin • Issue #137 • View online
Hello, everyone! It’s been a while. You’re getting this email because you’ve donated to me, subscribed in the past to the Street Justice news organization I created, or helped my job search recently. This is a new blog you’ll receive occasionally from me; to update my friends and supporters. There should be an easy link to unsubscribe if you’d prefer to not get these emails.
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When last we newslettered, I was staying at my brother’s house in Jacksonville with my parents. Last week, we drove back to Michigan and we’re unpacking into my childhood home. My brother is back next month from Navy deployment. I miss his dogs already. It snowed the day we got back. 😳 My father cut the grass last week while wearing his winter coat. 🤪

Heading to the dog park with my brother's dogs. (March 2021)
Heading to the dog park with my brother's dogs. (March 2021)
Detroit Bikeshare Job Falls Through
I’ve spent much of the last two months in a deep-dive researching MoGo Detroit – the Motor City’s bikeshare system. That’s because I’ve been interviewing to become their next Executive Director. It was an incredible opportunity to contribute to the equitable improvement of my hometown. I ended up doing informational interviews with almost 50 Metro Detroit stakeholders and decision-makers and I sent out probably a hundred more requests. I delivered a 60+-page research packet to the MoGo Board of Directors last week.
Unfortunately, the MoGo Detroit Board of Directors decided to hire a different candidate for Executive Director. I’m embarrassed that I spent this much time researching for one job opportunity. I have this habit of obsessing on things – pushing too hard trying to do it to the best of my ability. I’m the guy with a heat lamp and blanket in the basket of eggs; not the guy who divides them and puts them in many different baskets. I wanted to kick butt from day one at that job, and I would have. Just today, I was using knowledge gained from those stakeholder conversations.
I continue to look for jobs in DC and SE Michigan, working in mobility, community development, and/or planning. I’m will be applying for jobs in the mobility industry and intersecting policy issues and I’m interested in mission-driven organizations of any type. If I stay in Michigan, I want to live and work in Detroit. I would want to be a part of the revitalization. Also, after suburb-Florida and suburb-Michigan experience, I still feel that car-driven American suburbs are fundamentally evil forces on society and harmful to my soul.
A pair of RadWagon electric cargo bikes, riding north on I-95 in South Carolina.
A pair of RadWagon electric cargo bikes, riding north on I-95 in South Carolina.
Summary from my Detroit Bikeshare and Transit Research
MoGo Detroit is a small, nonprofit bikeshare system that grew from a 2012 feasibility study produced by Wayne State University’s economic development office. The founding Executive Director did an amazing job, according to everyone I spoke with, growing it from a local University study into a nonprofit housed within the Downtown Development Partnership. The system started in the Downtown/Midtown corridor that revitalized after Detroit was shepherded through bankruptcy by the Obama Administration.
Today, MoGo serves that core downtown area – widening out into adjacent neighborhoods – and has dropped some stations into “Live6,” an NW Detroit community identified a decade ago as a strategic investment point by city planning. MoGo also expanded into southern Oakland County, which is a progressive and walkable area in town names you might know like Royal Oak (i.e. former streetcar suburbs).
I wanted to share a summary of my MoGo Detroit research with the world – my vision for where it could go. I gave my word that I wasn’t interviewing people for publication. So, this is just a top-level summary and list of organizations with staffers who were extremely generous in giving their time to a stranger. I’m hoping the new Executive Director MoGo did hire finds my packet useful. I badly want them to succeed.
In the cover letter, I wrote:
This work demonstrates the passion, proactivity, and emotional intelligence you highlighted when I asked what attributes made Lisa successful as the founding ED. Lisa is an independent leader whose judgment you could trust. I will continue to lead MoGo in a similar spirit. I’ve sought conversations with almost 50 stakeholders to learn how mobility in the Detroit area brings opportunity.
I’m grateful to the 47 people who offered time to discuss MoGo and Metro Detroit. Many additional people connected me with others better able to speak to non-car transportation and narrate Michigan’s last 10 years. Repeatedly, my conversation partners mentioned the need for cross-discipline, triple- and quadruple-bottom line efforts tying government programs and funding streams in with philanthropy, local nonprofits, and residents in need of many more things than an isolated bikeshare dock. As I chart the beginnings of a MoGo expansion, I envision a more ambitious network assisting with multi-disciplinary challenges, serving more people, with a more sustainable business model, and delivering on our specialty: affordable, reliable bikes.
I heard that “street cred” is critical for MoGo to grow and for me to succeed as its leader. I’m a white kid from Macomb County that left Michigan after college and never lived in Detroit. Some may be understandably suspicious. I ask all stakeholders to give me the chance to earn their respect and trust with my actions and words. I acknowledge my privilege and identity, but I cherish it also. I’m a bike commuter, a public servant, an immigrant’s grandson, a mobility justice advocate, and hopefully MoGo’s next leader.
SUMMARY: MoGo Detroit Should Access Pandemic-Related Federal Recovery Funds to Expand Quickly and Join Campaign for Regional Transit Funding
MoGo Detroit has the opportunity to be the most popular and functional last/first-mile mobility option connecting Detroit-area residents with the places they want to go. However, MoGo’s success is irrevocably tied to the improvement and expansion of transit services in Southeast Michigan (SE-MI). The region has mostly single-use, low-density development patterns with unsafe, car-oriented surface transportation. Hopefully, that changes – it’s an unhealthy, financially unsustainable economic growth strategy – but it is the near- and medium-term playing field. With that in mind:
MoGo should join efforts to fund the Regional Transportation Authority of SE-MI (RTA) with a dedicated investment that would also deliver funds to expand and maintain MoGo as the priority micro-mobility option. I’ve spoken with Ben Stupka at RTA and others to begin this effort. That is a politically challenging path that follows from the assumption that MoGo leadership envision a multi-county bikeshare system capable of delivering high-quality non-car travel options beyond the City of Detroit and adjacent communities already organized around smart growth principles (e.g., Ferndale). In order to connect riders with the most essential and recreational destinations, I believe MoGo should pursue a regional vision with a 20-30 year time horizon.
In any case, near-term MoGo expansion should focus on more Detroit neighborhoods and those adjacent, interested communities. There is a one-time opportunity to seek federal pandemic recovery-related funding to catalyze expansion ten times what’s possible in a normal 1-3 year time frame. The Live6/South Oakland County expansion provides a good case study to replicate and expand within the City’s strategic neighborhoods. Joe Rashid at E. Warren Development Corporation expressed interest during our conversation, as did Jennifer Gomez at the SW Detroit Business Association.
MoGo should engage with “Streets for People” – Detroit’s ongoing campaign to create a multimodal master transportation plan – and other planning processes with transportation elements. These include the upcoming Belle Isle Master Plan, Detroit DPR Strategic Plan, neighborhood plans, implementation of SEMCOG’s Bike Mobility Network, MDOT project and maintenance plans, plus County and municipal-level streetscape and public space visioning. MoGo must advocate for beginner-friendly bike networks – all-ages, and abilities – in as much of the region as possible. The system’s success depends on a much more extensive, comfortable network for vulnerable road users. For equity, for viability, MoGo must be a bigger advocate. The Joe Louis Greenway and other growing off-street facilities will provide opportunities for quick station expansion. We should partner with Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance and the Community Foundation of SE-MI on efforts like the Great Lakes Way.
Bikeshare is public transportation and transit success depends on dedicated, annual funding from stakeholder governments. There are other funding models to supplement that automatic revenue, like adjacent land-value capture, but MoGo has limited capacities there. Not to worry! Based on my conversations, regional transit efforts have failed because they haven’t involved competent campaigns and coherent coalitions.
There is no inscrutable, insurmountable disposition in Metro Detroiters making regional cooperation impossible on connected, cleaner travel options. The local Motor City/Automation Alley history makes it more difficult to change gears as a populous. However, past experience should not dissuade future efforts to establish best practices, highest-quality Metro Detroit transit – and MoGo should be a part of that.
I’ve begun to review the histories of comparable, successful bikeshare systems like Divvy in Chicago and Indego in Philadelphia. Those systems created replicable processes for scaling pilot and demonstration efforts into larger service areas and infill stations for capacity. To best accomplish their equity-focused missions, they continued to center local stakeholders – residents – early and often in planning, implementation, and upkeep/maintenance. I’ve spoken with MoGo champions at PeopleForBikes’ BetterBikeShare effort and NACTO. I would continue infusing MoGo expansion plans with inclusive, empowering community outreach and contributions.
My leadership of MoGo would focus first and always on delivering excellence in what we already do with an eye toward what’s needed for the expansion strategy I describe. Lisa Nuszkowski – Adriel, Rory, and the rest of the MoGo team – have done an amazing job getting MoGo to where it’s at now. Feasibility study to downtown deployment to targeted neighborhood revitalization at Live6 with connectivity up to essentials and amenities in Southern Oakland County. Almost every stakeholder I spoke with had worked with MoGo in some capacity and offered praise. Lisa’s leadership has left an amazing foundation. Last month’s news about QLine service resumption shows she is already doing a good job at M1 Rail.
It was a gauntlet starting and growing a nonprofit organization, then shutting it down. But, I gained the necessary experience to lead MoGo well; a promising bikeshare system with the ingredients to change the non-car mobility game in my hometown.
On my last run before leaving Jacksonville, I ran to one of the city's only walkable commercial districts: San Marco.
On my last run before leaving Jacksonville, I ran to one of the city's only walkable commercial districts: San Marco.
LIST: Informational Interviews with Metro Detroit Mobility Stakeholders and Decisionmakers on Related Public Policies
  • Michigan Department of Transportation (Mar 17)
  • Bedrock Detroit (Mar 17)
  • Rocket Community Fund (Mar 18)
  • Kresge Foundation (Mar 18)
  • Detroit Department of Transportation (Mar 19)
  • Michigan Economic Development Corporation (Mar 22)
  • Detroit Institute of Arts (Mar 22)
  • Center for Automotive Diversity, Inclusion & Advancement (Mar 22)
  • SEMCOG, Detroit’s Metro Planning Organization (Mar 22)
  • Fort Street Presbyterian Church (Mar 23)
  • Outlier Media (Mar 23)
  • Civic Companies (Mar 23)
  • Shift Transit, MoGo’s contracted operator (Mar 23)
  • East Warren Development Corporation (Mar 23)
  • Office of the Mayor, City of Detroit (Mar 25)
  • Detroit Historical Society (Mar 25)
  • Former MoGo Ambassador (Mar 26)
  • Wayne Metro Community Action Agency (Mar 26)
  • Live6 Alliance (Mar 29)
  • Better Bike Share Partnership at PeopleForBikes (Mar 29)
  • TransitGuideDET & Transit Riders United (Mar 29)
  • Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan - Greenways (Mar 30)
  • Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan - New Economy Initiative (Mar 30)
  • Plain Sight Civic Engagement Consulting (Mar 30)
  • SEMCOG (Mar 31)
  • Detroit Riverfront Conservancy (Mar 31)
  • SE Michigan Resilience Fund at NFWF (Mar 31)
  • National Association of City Transportation Officials (Apr 1)
  • Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce (Apr 1)
  • Transportation Riders United (Apr 1)
  • Belle Isle Conservancy (Apr 1)
  • NewLab at Detroit Central Station/Ford Mobility (Apr 2)
  • Rocket Community Fund (Apr 6)
  • Detroit Regional Partnership (Apr 6)
  • Techtown Detroit (Apr 7)
  • Southwest Detroit Business Association (Apr 12)
  • Regional Transit Authority of SE Michigan (Apr 12)
  • UMich Poverty Solutions (Apr 14)
  • Ferndale Downtown Development Authority (Apr 15)
  • Oakland County & Michigan DNR Non-Motorized Advisory Workgroup (Apr 19)
  • Michigan Economic Development Corporation - Detroit Community Development (Apr 20)
  • Detroit Department of Public Works (Apr 20)
  • Data-Driven Detroit (Apr 20)
  • May Mobility (Apr 21)
  • DetroitFutureCity (Apr 22)
  • Dearborn Downtown Development Authority (Apr 23)
  • U-D Mercy School of Architecture (May 4)
  • Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI, Dearborn-Ann Arbor) (May 7)
A Polaris GEM -- a low speed, electric vehicle perfect for short errands -- parked next to a Home Goods store in Jacksonville Beach. More Info: https://twitter.com/GordonAChaffin/status/1383880370882367496
A Polaris GEM -- a low speed, electric vehicle perfect for short errands -- parked next to a Home Goods store in Jacksonville Beach. More Info: https://twitter.com/GordonAChaffin/status/1383880370882367496
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Gordon Chaffin

This is Gordon Chaffin's newsletter. By day, he's a local journalist and current events storyteller living in Washington, DC. The goal: produce writing and multimedia -- civic participation resources -- that include, inform, and equip stakeholders with the least power to improve their community. On evenings and weekends, Gordon is a freelance audio/video producer and photographer. Topics of interest: transportation -- especially non-car transit -- plus housing, environmental justice, social and gender policies like family-medical leave, and education -- especially early childhood. Please send news tips to gordon[AT]streetsensemedia[DOT]org and freelance job inquiries to gordonchaffin[AT]gmail[DOT]com.

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