How do you get around Mid Michigan?
Most have a personal automobile to get from Point A to Point B. And with the decline in rail transportation, it wouldn't seem the way people get around Mid Michigan would change anytime soon.
But young people are increasingly less interested in driving. Between 2001 and 2009, the average number of miles 16 to 34-year olds spent driving dropped by almost 25 percent, according to study by The Federation of State Public Interest Research Groups (PIRG). There's also a growing emphasis on living more sustainably as nonrenewable sources of energy continue to deplete.
In response, cities across the country have been changing their development habits by increasing transportation options and installing new bike lanes in order to stay attractive to young professionals. Nearby Cleveland invested in a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project that has since garnered worldwide attention. Bike Cleveland, a cycling advocacy group, has been a powerhouse in pushing for more dedicated bike lanes.
These are the steps Mid Michigan will have to take in order to attract a new generation that looks for a place to live before a job, going against the grain established for decades in the United States. Although the region does not have any upcoming rail or BRT plans, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) has taken steps to change the way people get around Mid Michigan with MiCommute
, and an expanded comprehensive net work for non-motorized means of transportation.
MiCommute--"Reboot Your Commute"
"How do you get to work?" asks MiCommute, a project of MDOT that encourages Michiganders "to try little changes that can make a big difference."
Established in 2011, MiCommute strives to raise consumer awareness of alternative transportation modes. "Raising awareness about commuter parking lots, and rideshare programs helps people see that there are good choices besides driving solo," explains Janet Foran, communications specialist at MDOT.
"MiCommute provides access to ideas, tips and tools to beat the cost of commuting," Foran explains. "It's a one-stop shop for commuters, and encourages people to try something new."
The website offers information on ridesharing, public transportation, biking and walking. Each page includes benefits that come with each mode of transportation. MiCommute calls riding the train or bus affordable, convenient and less stressful, noting workers from all sectors of life are regular transit commuters. The page includes links to local and intercity transit agencies, such as Amtrak, Greyhound and Megabus.
Thinking about dusting off the ole bike? MiCommute estimates the cost of maintaining a bike year-round is $300 compared to $3,000 for a car. Not to mention riding a bike comes with added health benefits that are lost as soon as you get behind the wheel and stuck in rush hour traffic.
Once commuters make the change, they're converts for life. But getting people to make the initial change is an ongoing struggle for MDOT.
"People can be resistant to change," notes Foran, adding the difficulty of altering driving habits for those with changing jobs, childcare needs, and other special circumstances that require a car.
In the end, it comes down to individual choice. And to help persuade that individual choice, MiCommute has a nifty "Cost to Commute Calculator" that helps drivers identify just how much they're spending with each drive.
Let's be generous and say you drive 20 days a month, 32 miles per day, spend $3.43 per gallon of fuel, and get 35 miles per gallon. It adds up to $1079.22 per year if you drive alone. Split between a carpool of three other people, and it's $269.90. If you're able to get off the road entirely, MiCommute estimates you'll remove 243 pounds of carbon monoxide emitted into the air annually. Not bad.
Or as Foran puts it, "Sometimes it takes just trying something new to realize it can be good for your pocketbook."
MichiVan--"People Need To Know They Have Options"
Michelle Rockwood is the Market Manager at MichiVan, a rideshare program. She reiterates Foran's sentiments when it comes to the necessity of encouraging drivers to change their commuting habits.
"To change behavior, people need to know they have options," she explains. "[People need to] be willing to learn how the options can benefit them, and understand the cost savings and environmental benefits."
Gas, tire rotations, oil changes, insurance costs, stress are among nuisances Rockwood lists explaining why commuters should rethink their habits. These nuisances disappear with MichiVan.
"MichiVan handles car maintenance, insurance, and you split the cost of gas with your fellow riders," says Rockwood. "Many riders are also able to forego a monthly car payment by using MichiVan."
MichiVan works in coordination with the Clean Commute Options Program (CATA) for vanpool groups commuting into the tri-county area. Whenever there's a parking shortage or a lengthy commute for employees, businesses can call MichiVan to the rescue for little to no cost.
Although Michigan is home to the so-called "Big 3," Rockwood believes there's an increasing need for programs like MichiVan for those who want to save money and reduce stress. As such, they'll be active in recruiting new opportunities to serve new customers.
"[We are] reaching out to companies where we think our service can benefit their employees," she says. "MichiVan staff will conduct a free assessment of employee commute patterns to determine what alternative commute options are most suitable to the workforce."
Cycling--"Reduced Congestion and Increased Health"
As young commuters are ditching their cars, they're picking up bicycles instead.
Jay Reithel, Regional Planner at MDOT's Bay Region Office, says they're "actively engaged in working with communities to develop an interconnected, non-motorized network." Besides converting drivers into cyclists, the hope is to cut down on unnecessary trips in the car.
"A large number of trips under one mile in distance are currently made by automobile," Reithel explains, citing 28 percent according to the League of American Bicyclists. "A comprehensive, non-motorized network would provide the public the opportunity to make those trips through an alternate mode."
For their part, the League of Michigan Bicyclists is committed to advocating for pro-bike legislation and educating the public. Earlier this year, the group launched a statewide "share the road" campaign aimed at reducing bicycle/automobile accidents and getting more cyclists on the street.
Unsurprisingly, creating a network for cyclists is no cheap feat, Reithel admits. "Reduced funding for facility development and long-term maintenance costs" have made it difficult to develop the network.
Still, Reithel and his team are dedicated to identifying solutions that will better connect the Mid Michigan region for cyclists. "We are committed to finding ways to do things better, faster, cheaper, safer and smarter."
Joe Baur is a freelance writer and filmmaker based in Cleveland. He's also the Sections Editor of hiVelocity. You can contact him at joebaur.com.
Snow biking photos by Shawn Malone.
Bike tour photos by Erik Holladay.