How people move around -- whether by bus, car, bike, or foot -- is personal and contextual. Understanding transportation patterns and how to improve the journey for everyone is at the heart of the Accessible Streets Studio. Since Newlab and Michigan Central launched the Studio in 2020, engagement with Detroit residents, community organizers, policymakers, and researchers has uncovered four major themes to guide the Studio:

  • Bridging transportation gaps
  • Improving access to essential resources
  • Fostering safe and welcoming streets
  • Ensuring access to timely and relevant mobility information.

These themes were identified through a diary study that enabled the Newlab team to virtually put themselves in the shoes of Detroit residents, dozens of stakeholder interviews, and several interactive workshops. With this knowledge and insight, Newlab is now turning its attention to recruiting the most promising companies worldwide to partner with Detroit to address local mobility challenges. In its next phase, the Studio will continue to connect with residents, community and civic leaders, transportation experts, and researchers as new concepts are brought to life through neighborhood-based pilot projects. 

Human-Centered Design Research

Developing a holistic understanding of Detroit, from its culture to its infrastructure and neighborhoods, is critical to surfacing the challenges faced by residents and requires building trust and relationships within the community. 

Success for the Accessible Streets Studio is rooted in connection and conversations with local leaders and residents to ensure it can serve Detroit’s unique transportation challenges. Launched amidf a pandemic, the Studio took a nimble, adaptive approach to meet residents where they are and gleaning how COVID-19 may have impacted their daily habits and approaches to transportation. 

In the diary study that Newlab conducted this Fall with a group of residents from neighborhoods across Detroit, participants were encouraged to provide a window into their day-to-day travels before and during the pandemic. By sharing texts, photos, video, and written thoughts detailing their experiences, a human-centered depiction of what transportation in Detroit looks like began to emerge. In follow-up interviews, residents had the opportunity to expand on their diary entries, including what they liked and didn’t like about their daily travel. The Studio team further explored why residents didn’t choose certain transportation methods and posed hypotheticals around how new services would be received, such as demand-based shuttles or decentralized delivery services.

“One of the greatest hurdles to commuting by bike isn't always the lack of infrastructure, but sometimes it's just lacking the confidence to do it. By creating more protective measures such as segregated bike lanes, dedicated light systems, and clearly indicated road markings–we in effect encourage others to try new options”

Diary study participant

“I'm a native Detroiter, I can walk to where I need to go but someone with limited mobility wouldn't be able to navigate those two blocks to get to Downtown.”

Diary study participant

Here’s what Newlab heard from Detroit’s community leaders and residents:

  • Co-designing solutions with residents will set those solutions up for success in neighborhoods.
  • Considering an inclusive design that takes into account different segments and needs from residents is critical. This includes considering the needs of senior citizens, people with limited mobility, and those who speak different languages.
  • Residents are the experts in knowing what’s needed in their community—engaging them in an ongoing manner is how trust is built. 
  • It takes time and concerted effort to raise awareness about new mobility options and ensure people understand how to interact with pilots and feel comfortable doing so. 
  • Pilots are a starting point, and it’s essential to use these opportunities to test and validate business models that can scale and create sustainable solutions for Detroit. 

Bringing in Diverse Perspectives

Equipped with insights and feedback from residents and local stakeholders at the neighborhood, city, and state level, Newlab built conviction around four focus areas for the Studio to address in Detroit:

  • Bridging Transportation Gaps: Connecting people from A to B means designing transportation solutions that meet people where they are at and address first/last mile challenges.
  • Fostering Safe & Welcoming Streets: Fostering streets that are more hospitable for pedestrians, public transportation riders, and people using micro-mobility services is a critical step towards a multi-modal future where personal cars are not the only option.
  • Access to Mobility Information: Making information about transportation options and real-time availability easy to find and intuitive to navigate will serve residents. Facilitating data sharing from existing mobility initiatives will support long-term policy-making and planning decisions.
  • Access to Essential Resources: Mobility is a gateway to connecting people with opportunities, including employment, healthcare, education, and basic necessities. Supporting mobility freedom is essential.

Using this local context as a foundation, the Studio convened participants representing a mix of entrepreneurs, civic stakeholders, and industry experts for a virtual workshop to begin building the bridge between resident’s mobility challenges and the technologies and concepts that can be used to address them. Newlab designed this workshop as a collaborative forum to share insights from the user research conducted and as an opportunity to engage a diverse group of external thinkers in ideation sessions to help brainstorm pilot projects and concepts in response to the focus areas identified. 

Key considerations that emerged from the workshop are now informing the types of teams the Studio will work with, the pilot projects that the Studio will help facilitate between selected teams and the community, and how Newlab will measure the success of these projects. Many of the considerations brought up by participants at the workshop reinforced trends from the diary study and stakeholder interviews, emphasizing the importance of creating an inclusive dialogue amongst residents, stakeholders, and entrepreneurs to catalyze positive outcomes for Detroit.

Partnering with Teams to Pilot Solutions for Detroit’s Mobility Challenges

Grounded in an understanding of the most urgent mobility issues and what residents value most, the Studio launched an open call in January seeking companies with relevant technologies, products, and new services to meet the needs of Detroiters. 

Though community engagement was critical at the outset of the Studio to ensure priorities align with the highest needs of residents, Newlab is committed to cultivating continuous feedback opportunities for the local community and intentionally bringing residents into the selection of companies and the development of pilot projects. 

Newlab is now focused on recruiting a cohort of Resident Ambassadors from Detroit to continue engaging with and participating  in the Studio, especially as companies are assessed and chosen to pilot their technologies and services. Additionally, a team of eight advisors from academia, philanthropy, and government—all with local ties to Detroit—have joined the Studio and will play an active role in guiding the selected companies as they develop and design their solutions for Detroit’s neighborhoods.

The Studio’s goal is to continually strengthen the bridge between the residents it’s serving and the technologies it’s supporting to address their challenges. By creating touchpoints and forums that connect communities with technologists and innovators, Newlab helps to ensure that the piloted solutions are custom designed for Detroit and that residents see their needs reflected in the outcomes of the Studio.

To stay up to date on Studio news, please view the Accessible Streets Studio webpage.