Getting around Michigan without a car

Editor's note: Earlier this spring, a group of Michigan legislators and interested citizens took part in "a transportation odyssey," which was supposed to be a three-day, eye-opening trip about the possibilities and pitfalls of the transportation infrastructure in Michigan. We were shocked to hear that only one person in the entire state of Michigan participated in the entire three-day escapade, which left us wondering exactly how could our politicians truly understand the situation, or make good decisions for their contituents if they won't take the time to understand the whole picture? Here's one man's take on the entire affair. 

Traverse City, Mich.—We tracked down James Bruckbauer, Transportation Policy Specialist for Michigan Land Use Institute, to ask him about participating in the Michigan Transportation Odyssey, a three-day trip from Detroit Metro Airport to Traverse City from March 21-23 using only Michigan transit systems and the statewide passenger train service. Here's what he had to say:

Mode Shift: Were you shocked to find out you were the only one attending all three days of the Michigan Transportation Odyssey?

Bruckbauer: No. When you include the time it takes to get back to where you began, the entire trip is a pretty long and exhausting commitment.

Mode Shift: Why did you decide to participate in all three days, even though it involved an investment of your time and money for a one-way car rental?

Bruckbauer: I firmly believe that we need strong transit systems within our regions and connecting our entire state. I would also like to someday be able to get around this state easily without a car. Therefore I wanted to experience our current system firsthand.

It's also strange that motorcoach service provider, Indian Trails, offers free wi-fi on its Kalamazoo to Traverse City route, while Amtrak does not offer wi-fi at all in Michigan.

Mode Shift: In your position as the Transportation Policy Specialist at the Michigan Land Use Institute, how did participating in the Michigan Transportation Odyssey shape or reshape your perspective on transportation in Michigan?

Bruckbauer: A few people told me it was a strange thing to do. And I found out that, well, it really is strange. It's strange that in 2012 it takes more than two hours to get from Detroit's airport to downtown without a car. It's strange that in order to take a train from Detroit to Grand Rapids, you have to go to Chicago first. It's also strange that motorcoach service provider, Indian Trails, offers free wi-fi on its Kalamazoo to Traverse City route, while Amtrak does not offer wi-fi at all in Michigan.

Mode Shift: What experience over the three days surprised you the most?

Bruckbauer: Not many people know there's a strong connection between economic development, transit station locations, and microbreweries. In Grand Rapids, someone responsible for attracting talent and businesses to West Michigan told us that when he takes potential recruits to Founders, they always look across the street and ask: How's the transit system? They are probably coming from areas that have strong bus and rail systems. To them it's a no-brainer. Michigan microbrew and transit: the connection sounds silly, but I assure you it's not. A considerable amount of research led us to our conclusions.

Mode Shift: What experience over the three days inspired you the most?

Bruckbauer: We jumped off the train in Kalamazoo, had a very quick tour of the beautiful transit facility, and jumped on a bus out to Western Michigan University and back. You can arrive in Kalamazoo by train and access many parts of the city either by walking or taking the bus. They are an example of how to connect people to our urban cores and to the places where people need to go.

Mode Shift: What experience over the three days disappointed or discouraged you the most?

Bruckbauer: The people who boarded the SMART bus in downtown Detroit heading to Birmingham were mostly white professionals. About twenty yards away at a DDOT bus stop, everyone who boarded the bus was black. You don't have to look far to see modern-day segregation.

Mode Shift: After using public and private transit to travel from southeast Michigan to northwest Michigan, is your general sense of Michigan transit one of hope or despair?

Bruckbauer: I think the recent MLive editorial is correct: The environment for support of public transit is changing in Michigan. Even at a time when the political message is one of disinvestment, there is still strong support for transit.


What transportation do you prefer when traveling around the state for business or pleasure? Tell us your favorite way to romp around Michigan without a car.

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