You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Thu, May 2, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Top 5 ways not driving to work can make a difference in Ann Arbor

By Amy Biolchini


From left, Dylan Goings, Andy Fowler and Flavio DaCosta make their way down South University as they commute together Wednesday for the first day of the getDowntown Commuter Challenge.

Melanie Maxwell |

About 70,000 people commute in to the city of Ann Arbor every day -- and the vast majority of them choose to drive.

Rush hour traffic is a common gripe on highways and major routes around the city -- and parking can be a challenge at peak times.

Wednesday, getDowntown launched its annual competition to get people who work downtown Ann Arbor to consider a method to get in to work other than driving.

The Commuter Challenge draws thousands of participants from hundreds of area businesses to commit to logging the distance they travel to work and their method of travel.

The competition pits businesses against each other to see whose employees can divert the most greenhouse gasses from entering the air.

Here are the top five ways that not driving to work can make a difference in Ann Arbor:

  • 1. Tip the scale
  • Monica Patel, climate and energy specialist at the Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center, said the more people participate in alternative modes of transportation, the more they think about living closer to where they work to make their commutes simpler.

    Of the 39,095 people who live in Ann Arbor and work in Ann Arbor, 50 percent drive alone to work, 20 percent walk to work, 11 percent take the bus and 5 percent bike to work, according to the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study's most recent transit profile, conducted in 2009.

    In Ypsilanti, of the 2,680 people that live and work in the city limits about 30 percent drive alone to work, 42 percent walk to work, 2 percent take the bus and 2 percent bike to work.

    The educational benefit that comes from increased participation and interest in alternative commuting is valuable and much-needed, Patel said.

    “Driver-cyclist interactions have been difficult and really confusing,” Patel said. “I think there needs to be both - cyclist and driver education. Cyclists do pick the wrong roads sometimes.”

    Various pilot projects the city has proposed -- including painting bike lanes green on city streets -- could be a good way to evaluate the effectiveness of long-term solutions to support alternative commuters, Patel said.

  • 2. Build relationships
  • For Natalie Hensel, box office manager and accounting assistant at the Michigan Theater, riding the bus to work from her Ann Arbor home about a mile outside of downtown has proved to be a great way to meet people.

    “You can get to know other people that live in the neighborhood,” Hensel said. “There were a couple of situations where I lived in an apartment complex and didn’t know my neighbors -- but riding the bus you just start talking to someone, you run into each other a couple times a day and before you know it you’re sitting down for coffee.”

    The people-watching opportunities on public transit also make for good entertainment on the way to work, Hensel said.

    “It’s community building -- you see people more and you’re more likely to talk to them,” Patel said.

  • 3. Foster your creative side
  • For those that typically drive Washtenaw Avenue or Huron Street in to work, those busy roadways may not be the safest route to navigate by bicycle.

    “I take a lot of side streets,” said Andy Fowler, a software developer at Nutshell.


    Andy Fowler leaves his Ann Arbor home Wednesday to bike to work downtown at Nutshell.

    Melanie Maxwell |

    Living in the shadow of the Big House off of Main Street, Fowler said his typical morning commute winds through several less heavily traveled streets to get downtown instead of following Main Street the entire way.

    “When you commute using bus or walking and biking, you have think a little more in advance about your day,” Hensel said. “With riding the bus, the bus usually takes a little bit longer and you’re not on your own schedule -- you’re on the bus's schedule.”

    Buses don’t run past 10 p.m. -- so Hensel said she has to plan for special arrangements when there are evening events at the theater.

    “I think it’s more about just setting goals -- it’s a little personal challenge,” Hensel said. “If you give it a week, and maybe try it a couple of times … Make a little lifestyle adjustment and be willing to miss the bus a couple of times.”

  • 4. Shop local
  • “(Alternative) commuters tend to keep more dollars in the downtown area,” Patel said. “You’re more likely to go to a local place that’s down the street rather than driving to some places farther away.”

    The local-first perspective among people who don’t drive to work in Ann Arbor is one that Patel said she’s noticed.

    “People who walk end up stopping by the (People’s Food Co-Op) to pick up what they need instead of driving themselves to a store,” Patel said.

  • 5. Stay healthy
  • Keith Bourne, mobile strategist for Arbormoon Software Inc., said he chooses to bike to work because it helps him train.

    "I certainly like the cost savings and environmental impact, but main motivation is training," Bourne said. "I train for triathlons and try to get anywhere from 50 to 120 miles of biking in a week."

    Walking, biking and even taking the bus requires more mobility than sitting in a car, Patel said.

    “There are health benefits to alternative transportation that you don’t see when you drive to work,” Patel said.

    In 15 minutes of brisk walking about 3 mph, an average person would burn about 65 calories. Similarly, in 15 minutes of bicycling about 10 mph, an average person burns about 100 calories.

    Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.



    Fri, May 3, 2013 : 10:10 a.m.

    I haVe a better 5 reasons... 1) it makes the road s less crowded for ME and my car 2) it makes it easier for ME to park my car downtown 3) it makes for a faster commute into town for ME 4) it makes for a faster getaway time for ME 5) it makes ME more popular because I hav a car that others beg to borrow when they can't do their chores or get to where they want to go because they rode a bike. 6) which leads to ME getting regional promotion, it bike rider Happy all around.

    Woman in Ypsilanti

    Fri, May 3, 2013 : 4:09 a.m.

    Re: "In Ypsilanti, of the 2,680 people that live and work in the city limits..." It makes sense to me that a higher percentage of people who live and work in the city limits would walk or bike to work than what you see in Ann Arbor. Ypsilanti is pretty small so most people are walking and/or biking distance to every other part of town.


    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 9:55 p.m.

    Living more than 15 miles out of town, I do both. I drive to Meijer & bike in from there because I refuse to pay to park to work. I'd rather stave off obesity with some exercise than spend $1.20 an hour to get fat.

    Linda Peck

    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 6:18 p.m.

    Whenever I see bicycling in an article here, I try to reply if appropriate. My reply usually addresses the problem of riding two and more abreast on roads and walkways. This is so unsafe and really hangs up car traffic. Plus, I have to step off the walk and let them pass in order not to be run over. As some bikers read this, I hope they will change their behavior, if this complaint applies.

    Brian Genisio

    Sat, May 4, 2013 : 11 a.m.

    As far as I understand, riding three abreast isn't legal. I've never read about anything suggesting the safety of it (either way), probably because it is illegal. On first thought, I'd wonder about the worry that the rider in the middle can get boxed in. cheers!

    Linda Peck

    Fri, May 3, 2013 : 7:49 p.m.

    Brian, thank you for your careful reply. I stand my ground on the 2 and 3 abreast issue, and I will do the research you suggested, too. The one aspect that may make it safer is the visibility of 2 and 3 as opposed to one. As far as riding on sidewalks, I don't think that is a good idea, either. By the way, I am not able to cycle anymore, but in my healthier days (1970s) I commuted on a light weight 10-speed, high tech, bike in Buffalo, NY and very well, too. I also was a long distance rider of more than 25 miles. I loved biking.

    Brian Genisio

    Fri, May 3, 2013 : 9:54 a.m.

    Linda, "Common Sense" and "Conventional Widsom" are usually wrong. I don't accept those answers from anyone for any topic. As for backing up my claims, the onus is usually on the person asserting something (you) to come up with citations to back it up. But, a simple Google search finds a lot of talk about the subject. Most of the arguments against the practice have to do with impeding traffic, which I discussed in my response. You will find some people claiming it is unsafe, but it is usually in the same breath as them wanting to eliminate the practice because the impeding traffic issue. I can't find anything that explains why it is unsafe. I can find things that explain WHY it is safe. The fact remains that it is legal to ride two abreast in 49 states. There is a reason for that. That being said, I believe you that your anecdotes about safety are true. Riding two abreast is not always a good idea. There are a LOT of cyclists in Ann Arbor who don't know about safety and disregard everyone else on the road. They blow through stop signs, red lights, and do all-together stupid things that make drivers really really mad. I believe that you have seen cyclists riding two abreast at the wrong time. I'm just suggesting that deeming the practice unsafe isn't fair and it brings us into uneasy territory. You'll find people (all the time) yelling at cyclists to get on the sidewalk. They believe it is safer. In almost all cases, however, they are wrong. The safety data doesn't support it. The safety data supports that riding on the road is 2x safer than riding on the sidewalk and 4x safer than riding on the sidewalk against traffic! But most people don't know this. They will tell people that they should be doing the more dangerous thing in the hopes of the opposite. Telling people that riding two abreast is similar (though not nearly egregious) because someone might believe you, though there is nothing to support your claim.

    Linda Peck

    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 8:16 p.m.

    Brian, this shows me that bicyclists will go to all lengths to defend themselves. I am perplexed that "common sense" does not apply to this topic. My experience in fact demonstrates the danger in people riding two and three abreast on a road that is designed for cars and trucks, at a speed which is well below the speed limit. You did not give a link to back up your claims or research showing otherwise. I would read it.

    Brian Genisio

    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 6:34 p.m.

    Two abreast on the sidewalk, I agree. I don't believe cyclists should be on the sidewalk in most cases. It isn't safe for anyone. In a city like Ann Arbor, riding in the road tends to yield the least number of accidents (bike-motorist, bike-pedestrian, and bike-bike). Two abreast on the road, however, I must disagree with. First, it is legal to do so. Second, it is not as unsafe as you believe. In fact, it is often MORE safe. Two abreast is more visible and forces cars to go around in cases where the road is too narrow and squeezing by is unsafe. On the other hand, if the cyclists are making it impossible for the motorist to pass legally or safely (like a single-lane road with no passing ability), it is usually not in the best interest of the cyclists to ride two abreast. I urge you to not declare something to be unsafe unless you've read the literature put out by safety experts. Your intentions may be good, but the result might be that you are telling someone to avoid doing the safe thing. Along those lines, if you have information you can cite to suggest otherwise, I am very happy to read it and consider it. Note that "common sense" and "conventional wisdom" do not apply to safety rules.


    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 4:05 p.m.

    If any person has the time to cycle to wrok; all the better. For every cyclist who commutes, there's one less driver on the road. There are a hundred good reasons to either cycle or ride the bus. There about as many as to why not. Number one: distance followed closely by time. How many personal belongings does one pack along with them? The car makes more sense. Seems like the ultimate plan is to turn Ann Arbor back to the 19th century, given all of the high rise home dwelling planning to go up. I may seriously rethink drving into downtown during the Art Fair and either cyle or run in to work.

    Brian Genisio

    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 5:19 p.m.

    I find it interesting that you cite time as a reason not to cycle. I suppose it depends on how far your commute is. It also depends upon whether you need to change clothes when you get to work. Anything within the city to downtown is 5 miles or less, which (for me) is the threshold at which the time difference is unnoticeable. At 5 miles, it takes me approximately 20 minutes door-to-door to ride my bike. It takes me approximately 18 minutes to drive, park, and walk to the office from the parking structure (also door-to-door). Those two minutes do not alter my behavior. After the 5-mile mark, however, the distance (time) begins to matter a bit more, but not by a ton. Considering I am getting a moderate workout twice a day, I consider myself to have SAVED time by cycling because I've gotten my exercise in for the day. True, however, that there are reasons not to ride. Getting sweaty in the summer can be a pain when you need to be professionally presentable. Weather (cold or wet) can be a damper too. Keeping your bike maintained costs money too (less than gas, however). There are areas of town where motorists are not as pleasant to ride with. And the personal belonging you mentioned need some planning (not much, though. I keep an extra set of clothes/shoes in the office and the rest of my belongs go in my back pack or in my bike's "trunk"). Once that planning is accounted for, the commute becomes very easy and enjoyable. In the end, I strongly prefer cycle commuting over car commuting when it is a realistic option for me. Some days are cold and rainy. Other days, I need to drop off/pick up the kids... but from April to November, you are much more likely to find me on my bike than in a car :)

    Craig Lounsbury

    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 3:36 p.m.

    If Andy Fowler lives " in the shadow of the Big House off of Main Street," and works at Nutshell which shows an address of 317 Maynard why was he commuting on South U? Just curious.

    Amy Biolchini

    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 3:59 p.m.

    Craig, perfectly valid question. To mark the beginning of the Commuter Challenge, Andy rode his bike from his house near the stadium to meet some of his friends in Gallup Park so they could all ride in to work together. We caught them at several points around their route, including on South U. They also all wore green shirts for the event.


    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 3:19 p.m.

    No poll option for "mixed", so I had to pick Personal Vehicle. I bike maybe 30% of the time, when the weather is reasonable, it's not dark at commuting times, and I don't have to drop off or pick up kids from somewhere.

    Paul Wiener

    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 2:45 p.m.

    Anything that decreases the number of bikes on the street/road greatly improves everyone's quality of life, which is necessarily is reflected in the way people care about their environment. A2 at present, due to its building, traffic and street management, is one of the most environmentally unfriendly places in the country, and will only get worse.


    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 3:21 p.m.

    Likely typo in first sentence makes me a little confused about what you are saying.

    David Cahill

    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 2:28 p.m.

    I have a home business. That choice is not on the poll. Yes, I am virtuous!

    Craig Lounsbury

    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 2:19 p.m.

    I suggest Ann Arbor hire a consultant @ $275,000 to study the Ypsilanti model to see why they only have 30% of folks driving to work alone while Ann Arbor has 50%. ;)

    Jeff Gaynor

    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 5:18 p.m.

    @Craig: That would make a marvelous study - paid for or not. What is it about Ann Arborites that entitles half of them to their own one-two ton automated personal vehicle?

    Larry Baird

    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 1:18 p.m.

    The poll is missing telecommuting, which I guess is technically walking to work.


    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 1:10 p.m.

    The headline should say DOWNTOWN Ann Arbor since that's all it's about. I'm sure people are biking and walking in the other 95% of the city as well.

    Craig Lounsbury

    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 2:22 p.m.

    I wonder if outside downtown might show higher numbers of people driving because they are more likely to have free convenient parking? I have to think some folks headed downtown opt not to drive simply because to park costs money.


    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 12:34 p.m.

    You know what? If I can live in a convenient location to my job without going broke trying to pay the taxes or the rent/mortgage/association fees, feel safe, and still have a vehicle to use when I choose to use it, then great. Until then, I'm driving right around this town back and forth to work. Don't worry, I'm usually at work well before all the traffic that this area has refused to deal with properly for 30 years is out.


    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 12:28 p.m.

    6. Annoy all motorists.

    Brian Genisio

    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 5:05 p.m.

    I am very sorry you are annoyed by cyclists. I understand how difficult it can be to change lanes and/or go around a cyclist. Or to be slowed down by them. I mean, you have places to go, right? A 20 second inconvenience is completely unacceptable. They should all just drive cars and be normal, right?


    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 1:28 p.m.

    Keep in mind, bikers drive cars too. As a biker AND a driver, I find I'm much more frequently annoyed by other drivers than by bikers.


    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 12:03 p.m.

    I live over a mile from the nearest bus stop. Takes too long to walk to it to get where I need to go. Where is the county-wide transit plan?

    Nicholas Urfe

    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 1:03 p.m.

    A mile is nothing but a good walk. Doctors say you must get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day for cardio health and a mile does not even come close. You could bike to the bus stop and put your bike on the bus rack.


    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 12:38 p.m.

    Right with you a2scio. If there were bus service in scio two, more would ride the bus.


    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 11:47 a.m.

    Untill we can " teleport " I'm thankful to Henry Ford....


    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 11:29 a.m.

    Curious as to why the bus commuting % is so low.... Any comments readers? What is missing from the bus to make it a more utilized option?

    Jeff Gaynor

    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 5:12 p.m.

    Thank you, Go Navy, I'll remember that when I take the bus to the school where I teach. But I'll try to not feel to inferior to my Ann Arbor students who get chauffeured to school. I know you must be referring to me, as I haven't met any undesirable types in the last 5 years. certainly not the ones who get off at St. Andrews for the morning breakfast who are as nice as can be; interesting conversation too. Once in a while there is a person who talks too loud on a cell phone. And there's the U-M riff raff - students, teachers and employees - but they seem to be ok. Or maybe someone like me has low standards. Likely so.


    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 4 p.m.

    Elephant in the room: The bus is often filled with less-desirable types.


    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 12:36 p.m.

    Mine would be two hours. 30 minutes before I could leave Ypsi and then roughly an hour to get to Ann Arbor. After that, 30 more minutes to the west side -- that's IF a bus ran early enough and IF it ran far enough down Jackson.


    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 12:12 p.m.

    I would love to take a bus, but my commute time would jump from about 15 minutes to 35. There's no straight line route down Packard (from Pittsfield/Ypsi) continuing down Eisenhower.


    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 11:22 a.m.

    I work 20 miles from home with no bus service available.


    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 6:16 p.m.

    I also live 20 miles out. I park at at the City limits and run 4 miles to work downtown. May be an option to commute a portion of the total distance, alleviate parking issues and stay fit.

    Jeff Gaynor

    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 5:05 p.m.

    Long range issue: in deciding where to live, factor in transportation costs - both money and time (understanding, in recent times, you take the job you can get).

    Justin Fenwick

    Thu, May 2, 2013 : 1:45 p.m.

    Try to find yourself a carpool or vanpool mate! You can always try to share a ride when biking or busing is not an option.