Conquer the Cold challenge returns to encourage greener commuting during Ann Arbor winter

After a 23-month hiatus, TheRide's Conquer the Cold Challenge has returned to encourage people to commute to downtown Ann Arbor by any means other than driving alone.

Participants create an account on the TheRide's getDowntown challenge website or app, create or join a team, and then log trips to earn points and rewards. It doesn’t matter if the trip is for work or play, by bus or by bike — as long as you’re not driving alone, you’re conquering the cold. Conquer the Cold kicked off Jan. 10 with balmy-for-Michigan temperatures in the 30s, and will run through Feb. 10.  The mostly annual program dates back to 2012, but was put on hold in 2022 due to COVID-19. 

"It’s exciting to be able to bring it back," says Lilliane Webb, business services program director for TheRide. "It’s about helping people get out of their single-occupancy vehicle, or the drive-alone commute, and switching to other types of transportation, such as taking the bus, walking, using a scooter — even skiing, if that’s your fancy."

The last time the challenge was held — a "special pandemic edition," as Webb calls it, in 2021 — it logged around 300 participants. Webb says she hopes to exceed that this year, adding that "less important than the number of people who participate is exposing people to the idea that it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to commute outside of driving alone during the wintertime."
Although single-person teams are allowed, Webb points out that "we are influenced by the people around us." Therefore, teaming up with coworkers, neighbors, or friends is encouraged. But teammates aren’t the only motivators. On the website and app, reaching milestones unlocks social media badges, as well as tangible prizes: a Conquer the Cold button, an LED light for cyclists or pedestrians, and even, in Webb’s words, "a really warm, cozy, comfortable hat." 

Meanwhile, participating downtown businesses will offer specials for those who take the Conquer the Cold pledge. Finally, City of Ann Arbor Transportation Planners Suzann Flowers and Trevor Brydon are hosting group walk-to-work events, and getDowntown will hand out free snacks and warm beverages at park-and-rides on select days.
Conquer the Cold has many benefits: emission and traffic reductions, encouraging physical activity, fostering a sense of community, freeing up parking spots for those who need to drive, and creating an opportunity to embrace the fact that cold weather is part of what makes Southeast Michigan special.
"The idea is certainly not to pick the worst day of the year and everyone go out," Webb says. "There’s a lot of really great mild winter days where a lot of people — and not just super hardcore [people] — can get out and make these sustainable choices that are good for our environment and good for our community."

Brooke Marshall is a freelance writer and recent transplant to Belleville. She first visited Ann Arbor on a cross-country bicycle tour; you can read that story (and more!) in her first book, "Lucky."

Image courtesy of TheRide.
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