Learning From My Travels: Reflecting on the 2014 Michigan Transportation Odyssey

Last fall, reporting for Mode Shift, I participated in a unique trip called the Michigan Transportation Odyssey.

It's a yearly excursion put together by the statewide coalition Transportation for Michigan  (Trans4M) to give folks a better idea of what is happening with the state's transportation infrastructure. This particular voyage emphasized community and nonmotorized travel.

The 340-mile itinerary began with an extravagant send off by Detroit Slow Roll’s passionate community of cyclists, and had us sprinting from Ferndale to Sault Ste. Marie over the two days—Odyssey 2014 was definitely a whirlwind tour. At each stop we found ourselves occupied with a mix of walking tours, presentations and one-on-one conversations.

Reflecting back on the trip, I’m especially thankful for the opportunity to meet Paul Palmer, vice-chair of the Michigan Developmental Disabilities Council. Raising questions at each stop, Palmer, who gets around by wheelchair, was an important voice on the trip for folks with disabilities and those who use assistive devices. As a person who can walk around quite easily unassisted, it was illuminating to observe and learn from Paul.

"I think the Odyssey opened eyes about accessibility issues," says Palmer. "People need safe streets."

All the stops had something to offer to the conversation Michiganders should be having about how we get around.

My 5 Fortunate Findings from the Odyssey 2014:

  1. Having lived in FerndaleI was blown away to see how much the city’s roadways had changed since the turn of the millennium. There’s a reason Ferndale has a reputation as a walkable community, and it’s because the residents and city leaders work together to establish pedestrian and bike-friendly streets. 
  2. What really stood out for me in Brightonwas the Tridge—an enormous three-legged walkway that stretched across their historic Mill Pond. Visually and functionally it did a wonderful job of linking together the downtown into a cohesive whole.

    3. I was surprised to learn that the Lansingregion is embracing a more comprehensive version of Bus Rapid Transit than many communities and I’m interested to see it in action.

    4. The sight of the Pere Marquette Trail in Midland was one to behold. Wide and smooth, the rail trail was bustling as we strolled along enjoying the late autumn colors.

  3. What really caught my attention on our way to Sault Ste. Mariewas the irregular sound of the engine. Thanks to mechanical issues, we never made it to our final destination. You can, however, see and read about the cool things happening in the Sault thanks to Mode Shift.

    Ultimately, the Odyssey offered a lot of lessons, not just about specific projects, but also about how local readers who are willing to innovate can have a transformative impact on their communities.

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