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Lisa Nuszkowski

Central to Detroit: CMU grad leads bike-share effort

Program builds on, feeds the Motor City’s vitality and growth

Contact: Curt Smith


Editor's note: Central Michigan University is involved in the entire state's success — after all, Michigan is our middle name. This is part of a special report on people with CMU connections making a positive difference in Michigan's largest city, Detroit.

There are a lot more wheels on the streets of Detroit these days, and not just because of the city's most famous product.

These wheels are on bright red bicycles, and a Central Michigan University graduate got them rolling.

Lisa Nuszkowski is executive director of Detroit's new bike share program, MoGo. Launched in May, MoGo offers people on the move another Detroit transportation option.

MoGo logged 8,000 rides in its first two weeks.

"It's going really well," Lisa says. "We've exceeded our projections by almost double."

'A labor of love'

Public service has always been part of Lisa's worldview, and the years leading up to her bachelor of arts degree in political science from CMU in 2001 paved the way.

She calls MoGo "a labor of love" that began five years ago while she was economic development project manager at Wayne State University. Lisa met with people from several local foundations and corporations in 2012, when bike-share programs were sprouting around the country.

 

Lisa Nuszkowski

Hometown: Mount Morris, Michigan
Occupation: Executive director, MoGo bike share
CMU degrees: Bachelor of arts degree in political science, 2001
Noteworthy: Interests include running, yoga and international travel

A feasibility study followed a year later, and then a foundation for fundraising and support.

Today, nonprofit MoGo is affiliated with Downtown Detroit Partnership, a group dedicated to boosting the city's core. The Henry Ford Health System and Health Alliance Plan are MoGo's top sponsors and "have committed a significant amount of money" toward its operation, Lisa says.

The rest of the funding comes from federal grants, philanthropy, businesses and bike rental fees.

"It was some time in coming, but it's very gratifying to now have something on the ground that started literally as a conversation five years ago," Lisa says.

From Point A to Point B

Today, there are 43 self-serve stations with a total of 430 bikes spread over 10 neighborhoods in and near Detroit's downtown. Users simply pick up bikes at one station and drop them off at another.

The bikes are not meant for long treks, Lisa says, but rather for "Point-A-to-Point-B" travel.

"You can hop on a bike at the Riverfront and check it into a station at Eastern Market," she says. "Then let's say you want to head downtown to Campus Martius. You can check out another bike at Eastern Market and ride over."

Bike-share programs exist in more than 70 American cities, Lisa says. Detroit's bikes, built for both comfort and urban use, are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, barring severe weather.

Daily passes — perfect for visitors — are available for $8. Monthly passes are $18 and annual passes are $80. Trips are limited to 30 minutes.

There's a $5 access pass available to people receiving state benefits. "MoGo for all" is the group's theme, Lisa says.

The things you miss in a car

Along with zero risk of parking tickets, Lisa says she enjoys the little details of life and architecture around town that can't be seen from a car traveling at 35 mph.

Even more, she says, is the human interaction — from a simple hello or a nod to a full-blown conversation.

"People point out how noticeable the bikes are. 'Are they new?' 'How much do they cost?' 'That bike's really cool.'

"I think it's a really important part of connecting with the community that you just don't get while sitting inside your car by yourself," Lisa says.

There's no doubt about the program's popularity. There have been so many "When is it going to come to my neighborhood?" questions that discussions are underway to possibly expand the project in 2018, she says.

Encouraging signs

Lisa has lived and worked in Detroit for 13 years. The city's recent burst of activity excites her.

She's a big supporter of community partnerships: In her eyes, growth has to be a result of collaboration.

"Including the community and getting them engaged in what you’re doing is really important."Lisa Nuszkowski

That's why Lisa immediately sought public feedback after MoGo's debut.

"I think including the community and getting them engaged in what you're doing is really important," she says. "Then it's something you're building together as opposed to you just presenting it."

Lisa said she most enjoys how brightly MoGo reflects Detroit's diversity.

"From young, old, black, white, brown — all backgrounds — it's been really encouraging to see a wide variety of people embracing it," she says.

While Detroit is a magnet for millennials, MoGo is aimed at everyone.

"We designed MoGo to serve all types of people and all types of trips," Lisa says,  "whether you're a resident, employee, student or visitor."

She added MoGo officials are exploring ways to connect Detroiters to economic opportunities such as jobs and education, fueling the city's revival.

A solid CMU foundation

Lisa says studying political science helped her connect on a community level and better effect change.

"My first experiences in that world were at CMU, whether it was through the classes I took or the internship I had," she says. "It definitely helped create a foundation that I built my career on."

Lisa also holds a master's degree in public policy from the University of Michigan.

Read more about alumni in Detroit:

Using change to invest in the future

 

Kyle Goodall cultivates eager young helpers as he works to “tear down the walls of injustice.”

Read his story

In vested interest

 

As he works on million-dollar deals to benefit city residents, Aaron Seybert has two people in mind.

Read his story

Rebuilding with social capital

 

Community leader Marlowe Stoudamire focuses on Detroit’s future by looking back 50 years.

Read his story

Building a company, rebuilding a city

 

Thirsty for success, entrepreneur Cason Thorsby says he and his chosen city have a lot in common.

Read his story


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