Riding the bus in Detroit is not fun: Half of the city’s bus routes have been cancelled over the last decade, and waiting for a bus to show up can take as long as two hours. A new project is trying to make that wait a little more pleasant by building mobile bus shelters—and since this is Detroit, the shelters are made out of recycled parts from abandoned buildings.
"The transit system in Detroit leaves a lot to be desired," says Craig Wilkins, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, who helped launch the Door Stops project. Many people don't have a choice not to use it; about a third of the people in Detroit don't have access to a car and rely on buses to do everything from grocery shopping to going to work or school.
"While we can’t make the buses run faster, we can at least make the waiting process a little more humane," Wilkins says. "You don’t have to stand up for two hours, and you don’t have to wait in the snow or rain for two hours."
The shelters are made out of old doors salvaged from the plethora of local houses that the city is tearing down. "We’re making a statement about what we can do with this material," Wilkins says. "Maybe we can use these buildings in different ways."
Although an architectural salvage company rescues some of the unique parts of demolished buildings, ordinary features like doors tend to end up in the trash. The sheer volume of abandoned buildings makes it hard to keep up. "If it doesn’t get used, it sits and rots until someone can put it in the landfill, where it sits and rots some more," Wilkins says.
After the Door Stops project collects salvaged materials, it works with local artists to make each shelter unique. They’re placed on common bus routes, but designed to be mobile, so if bus routes improve and a stop is needed somewhere else, they can easily be moved by local residents.
Having mobile shelters has presented some challenges: Some of the first shelters installed quickly disappeared, presumably stolen by scrappers. But Wilkins says the group doesn’t want to police the shelters. "The Door Stops are gifts to the city’s residents," he says. "If they find that they’re more useful to take them scrap them and put food on someone’s table, it’s not really our place to say no, that’s supposed to be a bus stop."
So far, the group has installed about 12 shelters. They plan to put in about 25 total as a proof of concept, and then seek funding to add more with additional features, like solar panels that can power lights at night and charge mobile phones for waiting riders.
Each shelter is intended to inspire others to create more solutions of their own. "It’s a way to hint to other people—artists and designers in the area—that these are things we can do with the materials at hand to make our city a better place," Wilkins says. "If we can do this with door, who knows what can be done with other materials that are just sitting in our vacant lots."