A beginner's guide to getting around Ann Arbor without a car

The city can be a car-free paradise – it’s just a matter of finding the best way to explore. We’ve outlined the best ways to bike, scoot, and bus around town.
If you’re looking for greener ways to get around Ann Arbor or thinking about ditching your vehicle entirely, you’ll be in good company. 36% of all trips in Ann Arbor are made on foot, by bike, or on transit, well above the national average. 
“The reality is that we have a wonderfully connected [transportation] system,” says Ann Arbor Transportation Manager Eli Cooper. “… You only have to take advantage of it.”
The city can be a car-free paradise – it’s just a matter of finding the best way to explore. We’ve outlined the best ways to bike, scoot, and bus around town, and asked car-free commuters for their best tips to get around.
Ann Arbor’s cycling infrastructure has grown significantly in the past year. A bike highway on First Street, a bike lane on Packard, and the Allen Creek Berm Opening that connects downtown to Argo Park are all recent additions to making the city more bike-friendly.
 Jade Marks riding her bike on the West Liberty Street bike lane in Ann Arbor.
“It’s no longer ‘build it and they will come,’” Cooper says. “It’s building upon our success.”
These infrastructure projects and initiatives like Healthy Streets are making cycling more accessible and safe. They’re popular too – the Allen Creek Berm Opening had 1,746 users counted on a recent summer Sunday. 
How do I get started? All you need to start is a bicycle! If you don’t have one, a local bike shop like Sic Transit or the volunteer-run bicycle co-op Common Cycle can get you set up.
What does it cost? Marc Epstein, general manager at Sic Transit, says bike pricing is "pretty crazy right now," due to surging interest in outdoor activity during the COVID-19 pandemic. He estimates that prices have risen 12-15% during the pandemic. Sic Transit's entry-level bike is currently priced at $800. However, used bikes can be found at much more affordable prices. Epstein says a refurbished bike at Sic Transit is usually $400 and up. He says used bikes can be found on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace for as little as $50 – although the quality may be lacking. However, he says, "one could find a solid working bike for around $200 if they are diligent."
How do I get where I’m going? “The way you would go to drive somewhere is almost always not the way you should try to bike,” says Ann Arbor bike commuter Jade Marks. She recommends finding routes by talking to other commuters through social media groups, checking Strava heat maps, or using Google Maps’ cycling directions feature. Bike lanes are usually the safest and most efficient way to travel, and there are 78 miles of them in Ann Arbor. (For a closer look at them, see the map below or click here.)
A map of Ann Arbor bike routes.
What are the rules? Know the law. You have more rights than you might realize. For example, two bikes can legally ride side by side on roads, and cyclists can ride on sidewalks. Helmets are not legally required for riders over 18, but recommended.
But what about winter? Cold weather doesn’t mean cycling isn’t feasible. “Commuting by bike, especially in the winter, if you can, does wonders psychologically,” says Ann Arbor bicycle commuter Shamsheer Singh Chauhan. “I love the feeling of accomplishment and strength.”

Public transit
TheRide, Ann Arbor’s fixed-route bus system, returned to full operation on Aug. 29 after the COVID-19 lockdown. There are 35 different fixed routes with varying frequency, usually ranging from every 10 to 30 minutes.  
A map of TheRide's bus routes.
How do I get started? To ride the bus, arrive at the bus stop five to 10 minutes before the designated arrival time. You can see the bus’ route number on the front of the bus. Be sure to stand on the correct side of the street based on your bus’s direction. You can track your bus status at TheRide’s website.
What does it cost? You can pay in cash, tokens, or with a bus pass or mobile ticket. Let the driver know if you plan to transfer and they will give you a transfer card. Most bus rides cost $1.50, with free transfers available within 90 minutes. Discounts are available based on income, age, or disability. Discount passes may be available through your employer or academic institution. Blake Transit Center is Ann Arbor's hub for bus service, located at 328 S. Fifth Ave. downtown. You can buy passes in person and ask questions of the staff there.
Blake Transit Center in Ann Arbor. 
How do I get where I’m going? “Try to find the shortest route using Google Maps,” says bus rider and University of Michigan (U-M) engineering graduate student Ahmad Al-Sadi. “The public transportation feature uses routes for both public buses and blue [U-M] buses.”
Special services, like rides to Detroit Metropolitan Airport, commuter services, and reservation-based rides for people with disabilities, are also available. In exciting news, bus service will also begin between Ann Arbor and Detroit on Oct. 18.
What about my car, bike, or wheelchair? Free parking through Park and Ride is available at eight different locations so you can park outside the city center and bus in. Buses are also equipped to accommodate wheelchair users and can transport bicycles. Ann Arbor Transportation Commissioner Bradley Parsons says this feature has enabled him to travel with his son. “The bus is frequent enough and always nearby, and if the weather makes cycling untenable you can always find a bus ride and put your bikes on the rack,” he says.
Spin Scooters offer another way to get around town car-free. E-scooters had a complicated start in Ann Arbor in 2018 with the unannounced arrival of Bird scooters, but the city has since formalized a partnership with Spin, which offers 400 scooters as of this June. 
 Scooters on the East William Street bike lanes in Ann Arbor.
“Scooters play an important part in micro- and shared mobility,” says Ann Arbor Transportation Manager Raymond Hess. “But this is my teaser: there is more to come.” 
How do I get started? You can rent a scooter through the Spin app
What does it cost? Spin Scooters cost $1 to start, then $0.39 per minute plus taxes and fees.
What are the rules? Under a new ordinance just passed in September, ​​scooters can operate on both sidewalks and streets, and riders must give pedestrians an audible signal before passing. 
Making the car-free leap
In our car-centric culture, going car-free can feel like a scary proposition. But car-free Ann Arborites say the process is easier than it may seem.
“Start small and be patient with yourself,” Marks says. “The only thing you need to live car-free, aside from a bike, is creativity. Whether it’s grocery shopping or going out in your new cocktail dress, you’ll find a way that it works for you.”
Parsons says car-free life can also be a rewarding way to connect with loved ones. He’s experienced that firsthand with his son Jackson, 10.
Jackson Parsons at age 5.
“I've never seen Jackson so happy as when he was with me on a bike on his way to school,” Parsons says. “It turned every day into an adventure. Just try it. You’ll feel connected to nature and will have fun doing so.”

Suzette Wanninkhof has ridden her bike across several countries, but her favorite bike ride of all is to the Kerrytown Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. She has lived car-free in Ann Arbor since 2017. She can be reached at wanninkhof1@gmail.com
All photos by Doug Coombe, except Jackson Parsons photo by Brad Parsons.
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