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Midnight (Graffiti Quilt)

To Transform the Vernor Highway Underpass Into a Pedestrian Passthrough

Photo of Alyse Parries
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Design is all about making the ordinary extraordinary. Project Midnight intends to transform the underpass on Vernor Highway (between 17th and Newark st.) into a safe and usable pedestrian passthrough.

The underpass near Michigan Central station is a significant connector between the major throughways of Vernor Hwy and Michigan Ave. This underpass is also a major passthrough between the neighborhoods of Mexicantown and Corktown. This plan involves transforming the Vernor Highway underpass into a pedestrian friendly passthrough between two major communities. 

1.) This project includes strategic design using solar powered LED lights to help further define pedestrian pathways while also creating safe pedestrian pathways when walking or biking in low light.

2.) The walls of the underpass will be adorned innovative street art inspired by the geometric patterns of Underground Railroad Quilts. Detroit plays an incredibly important and pivotal role as the American terminus in the Underground Railroad. This project seeks to honor the heritage of both “quilt code”and contemporary graffiti in an Afrofuturistic homage to Detroit. I’ve named this project “Midnight” because Detroit was given the code name of “midnight” in the Underground Railroad and this project intends to literally lighten and enlighten with its presence. Ultimately this project is a means to provide a more inclusive forms of transportation while cultivating and connecting community.

 3.) The eastern section of the underpass, which is currently closed off by a rectangular cement barrier, will be opened up and used to create a wide bike/pedestrian lane. Additionally, the boarded up windows along the eastern wall will be filled with framed vertical gardens. 



How will your solution benefit residents, workers, or visitors in the Michigan Central Station impact area? (1,000 characters)

The design of a safe pedestrian passthrough under the Vernor Highway underpass will create a more connected travel pattern for both communities and visitors around Michigan Central Station. This will especially help residents commute between the vibrant neighborhoods of Mexiantown and Corktown. AAdditionally, it will serve as a stop in the upcoming May Creek Greenway that will eventually connect the downtown area to Michigan Central Station.

Describe your solution's stage of development

  • Initial Design - you are still exploring the idea and have not tested it with users

Size of your team or organization

  • I am submitting as an individual

Are you submitting as a student team?

  • No

Are you submitting as a team from the Impact Area?

  • No

Funding Request

  • $250,000

Rough Budget (500 characters)

20K - Research and development. This includes consulting with art historians, artisans, light designers, and landscape architects. 80K- Materials. 100K- Labor. This includes making sure the underpass is structurally sound and meets all engineering and city codes. 50K- Maintenance for 4 years after installation. This will sustain all of the work that has been done during the project as well as provide research and insight into doing similar projects like this in the future.

Describe how you would measure the success of your pilot (1000 characters)

I will use a non-directional visitor traffic counter to measure foot traffic both before and after the implementation of this new underpass design. Additionally, I will implement a social media hashtag for this area ( #GraffitiQuiltDetroit) to further measure and gauge engagement.

Sustainability Plan (500 characters)

I've built sustainability into the design of this project (solar powered lights and self-watering system for plants) as well as into the budget (testing, research, and grounds maintenance for up to 4 years). Additionally, this project is intended to be able to fit into an ecosystem of development such as the May Creek Greenway and Michigan Central Station. With this development the empty shop spaces below the bridge may become viable usable space, contributing maintenance of this project.

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Join the conversation:

Photo of Mackenzie Fankell

Alyse Parries Thank you for sharing this proposal! I am a Michigan Central Station Challenge facilitator. Many community members have shared their frustration with the barriers that the freeways create between neighborhoods. I'm so glad that your solution addresses this problem. There are also a lot of safety concerns for bikers and pedestrians near Michigan Central Station, so I am glad that this solution addresses that too! Do you know of other overpasses that have been converted to create paths for pedestrians and bikers? I am curious about how difficult it is to do. Your plan to include elements of the underground railroad history and vertical garden sound phenomenal. Do you have any preliminary sketches that you could share? Look forward to hearing more!

Photo of Alyse Parries

Hi Mackenzie Fankell !! Pardon the delayed response, I'm just seeing this message now.

To answer your question about overpasses, yes there have been quite a few converted to pedestrian pathways! I don't presume this conversion to be too difficult structurally, there is not a lot of actual "building" needed. Ultimately it will come down to assessment by landscape architects and complying with Detroit city safety codes.
Also, I've made a reference guide with preliminary mock-ups for all parts of this concept. I hope this link works:

Let me know if the link shared works or if there is a better method to share pics!