#rpDetroit Co-Curator Jessica Robinson on Access to Mobility in Detroit

Jessica Robinson

Jessica Robinson © Steve Koss

Jessica Robinson is Executive Director of the Michigan Mobility Institute where she works to accelerate the development of talent for the growing mobility industry. The Institute is the first initiative of the Detroit Mobility Lab which she co-founded to focus on building the mobility talent infrastructure necessary to shape the sector’s future within the City of Detroit.

As co-curator for the track "Mobility & Urban Space" at #rpDetroit, Jessica Robinson is leading the mobility programme and jointly responsible for the selection of submissions for the Call for Participation. In our interview, she discusses Detroit’s unique connection to mobility, the significance of accessibility and her vision for future mobility projects in the city.

What makes Detroit stand out to you?
Detroit has movement in its DNA in a place unlike anywhere else in the world. Generations of people here have grown up designing and building vehicles. We celebrate movement through muscle car cruises, group night rides on tricked out bicycles, and even in the city’s famous Diego Rivera mural. I think that gives Detroiters a truly unique connection to mobility.

What challenges and opportunities are you currently dealing with when it comes to mobility in Detroit?
As the home of the American auto industry, we have a long history of looking to cars first as our mobility solution. But in a region as spread out as ours and with many in our community still in need of jobs, we have to look for other options. Access to transportation is critical for Detroit families’ economic mobility. Access to after-school programs is a barrier for Detroit youth. To tackle these challenges, it’s been exciting to see the public sector and private sector come together. They’ve set up solutions like programs that link ride sharing to the bus, for example, and the city has invested in expanding our bike network through safer lanes – making shared bicycles and even e-scooters alternatives.
Detroit is known as Motor City – how can public transport make Detroit more accessible?
Public transport is making Detroit more accessible through services and routes that meet the needs of today’s riders. For instance, our bus system operated by DDOT has added routes that cross town without following the old hub-and-spoke plans, and we have express bus routes that connect downtown to the suburbs. We’re also seeing the city look at experimenting with flexible shuttles to get people to jobs at work sites not well served by existing, fixed routes.
If you had unlimited resources, what mobility project would you bring to life in Detroit?
I can actually envision two mobility projects that would have tremendous impact here in Detroit. The first would be to improve options for transporting students back and forth to school. Attendance rates are directly linked to learning outcomes and graduation, so if we could make it easier to get to school, this reduced barrier could have tremendous impact. In Detroit, many families end up driving their kids every day, and this adds up quickly in household transportation and time costs. 

The other project is one that I get to work on every day, and it’s another kind of link between mobility and education. In this case, we’re creating new training for tradespeople and technical professionals. Detroit can be home to thousands of new jobs in the advanced mobility industry in the next decade, but we face a growing gap in the number of people skilled for these positions. With unlimited resources, we could get more people trained more quickly.
What are you hoping to see from the rpDetroit Call for Participation?

I’m hoping that the Call for Participation attracts ideas that challenge us to think about the connections between our transportation choices and the people in our communities. Mobility is linked to so many parts of our daily lives. It would be interesting to be able to include the perspective of visual artists, musicians, or storytellers to draw out the rpDetroit theme of access.

The Call for Participation is open until August 1!