Lt. Gov. Gilchrist stresses need for better regional transit

Candice Williams
The Detroit News
Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist on Thursday stressed the importance of connecting communities within the region during the Detroit Policy Conference.

Detroit — Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist on Thursday stressed the importance of connecting communities within the Detroit region.

He said that can be accomplished through improving transit, providing Internet access for all and supporting entrepreneurship.

Gilchrist outlined those priorities during the Detroit Policy Conference Thursday at MotorCity Casino Hotel. He is among 30 leaders talking about their vision for Detroit’s future in areas including job growth, housing, education and transportation.

“When the governor and I say that we want Michigan to be a home for opportunity, this is what we mean,” Gilchrist said from the Sound Board stage. “That is why I chose to move my family back to the place that made me who I am, because we believed this is a home for opportunity.”

Gilchrist shared his story of leaving Detroit in 2005 for a job as a software developer in Seattle. While working in various parts of the country, he said he saw headlines that weren't favorable to the city of Detroit. He became the city's lead defender, he said. Ultimately, his family decided to return and be useful at home.

One issue Gilchrist said he encountered was the region's lack of transit options. Most recently in the winter of 2018, Gilchrist said he commuted by bus from his Corktown home to Ann Arbor three days a week for a job at the University of Michigan. He said the bus was frequently late each way and a "terrible experience."

There has to be a better solution for those within Detroit to access employment opportunities elsewhere, he said. 

"We need to have transit systems that are timely, cost-effective, that are coherent," he said. "That we have more than one way for people to get to where they want to go. ... I don’t believe that we are incapable of these things in the state of Michigan. I don’t believe we are incapable of these things in this region."

A four-county regional transit plan was put together last year but struggled to gain traction after a prior master plan narrowly failed before voters in November 2016.

The plan for Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties included a 20-year property tax at 1.5 mills, which would have generated $5.4 billion in millage revenue and leveraged an additional $1.4 billion in state, federal and fare revenues for investment regional transit.

Oakland and Macomb county leaders did not back the plan, leaving more regional transit options in doubt.

On Thursday, Gilchrist said he also sees Internet access for all as a priority. In his first job building computers at a Detroit community center, he said he saw the impact Internet access had on those he taught.

"By having every person, every household, every child in Michigan have that opportunity, that’s connecting them to ideas that will not only find them work but will create work for other people," he said. "That will connect them to education and training opportunities that everyone in our community needs to move forward. It will enable them to see the world.”

The third point Gilchrist stressed was enabling entrepreneurship in all forms.

“We need to recognize that all types of people have ideas and that those ideas are as diverse as those people,” he said. “In order for us to be a partner at the state level, we need to make sure that we are not discriminating against people who may have ideas. That we are creating opportunity for them and meeting them where they are.”

He said it takes partnering with a variety of entrepreneurs including technology companies, agriculture businesses, brick and mortar stores and daycare centers.

“Imagine the productivity that’s unlocked when we support the entrepreneurs who are doing things that solve hyper-local challenges that unlock the productivity of a community,” he said. “It requires a different posture, it requires a different set of policies, it requires leadership that is responsive to the needs of people.”

Gilchrist's speech resonated with Marlowe Stoudamire, founder of social capital firm Butterfly Effect Detroit. He said that Gilchrist doesn’t isolate himself to only politics and spaces of influence and power.

“He can be a voice of a lot of the concerns and a lot of the needs entrepreneurs in Detroit have,” Stoudamire said. “Somebody like him can be an advocate while we can be action oriented. If Garlin can advocate and get people to think for a second long enough to open a crease, it allows many of us to get into that crease and show people where the real potential is. I think it’s important  that he took the stage.”

Stoudamire said he likes how Gilchrist spoke of barriers.   

“I think by him using anecdotals like transportation and those gaps and how that’s even a barrier for him and the fact that he has a different mindset than the average Detroiter because he wasn’t necessarily drawn to getting in a car and driving because of his previous experience outside of Detroit, I think that's so important,” he said.

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN