Monday, February 29, 2016

No SMART Way To Work

I got a new job a few months ago (which I was so very excited to get), so it was time to plan a new bike/bus route to work. Instead of heading southbound on Woodward to Detroit, I would go northbound to Bloomfield Hills. It seemed easy enough.

In preparation for my first day of work, I looked up the bus route. Unfortunately, I found out that Bloomfield Hills decided in 1995 that it would not participate in SMART’s regional bus system. What?! Strike one. (BTW – See a recent Detroit Free Press article from this past summer, which explains that Bloomfield Hills’ City Commission again voted 3-2 in opposition of participating in SMART. GRRRR!)
Okay. No problem. I took a deep breath and decided that I would take the bus to the last stop in Birmingham and bike or walk the rest of the way. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t work either. Bloomfield Hills doesn’t have any sidewalks on Woodward and I don’t feel comfortable biking on it, where the speed limit is 50mph! Strike two.
I don’t easily give up. There’s got to be a way, right?! I noticed a smaller subdivision next to my new office building so I thought I could take the bus to the last stop in Birmingham and then find some side streets that I could bike or walk on to get me to the office. It made sense but I quickly found that it wouldn’t work either unless some of the landowners allowed me to cut across their back yards. I just don’t see that as a possibility. Strike three.
So two things: 1) Bloomfield Hills – be part of the region and support the SMART bus system. Some people want to get to your community to visit, work, shop, or eat but they can’t because you’re keeping them out. 2) Make your community walkable and install some sidewalks on Woodward.
Luckily, the lease is up for our office space and we’ll most likely be moving to a community that participates in SMART. Only a few more months before I have a SMART way to get to work.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

It was like riding...the bus!

2W4W fans!!
Hello from your long lost bus/biker, Julie.
Ok, not really lost. But I have had a lot of personal changes going on - many of which effect my commute.

I moved to Ferndale last August and currently reside in one of the Metro Detroit dual-bus-system-mega-hubs: 8 mile & Woodward. That was super for my commute to downtown Detroit (limited bus lines + running to the bus stop last minute whaaaat).

Wait - it WAS super?

Yup, that's a "was". I shifted jobs and actually now work full-time in nonprofit finance for....myself! Being a small business owner is exciting but that also means: my commute is down the hallway to my home office. The greenest commute ever, right?!

Melissa has been a super dedicated bus/biker - commuting weekly on her own (let's all give her a shout-out - the accountability to each other has always been a huge part of why we bus/bike - so check out that dedication! GO MELISSA!!).

We've been talking about new ways that I could use the bus and honestly - it just got so overwhelming. Starting my business and balancing these new clients became my focus - that and you all know how accountants have it in the beginning of the year (by the way - HAPPY TAX DAY, my accountant brothers and sisters). So I did kind let my involvement with 2W4W and the local transit community slide for a few months. What can you do? A girl's gotta eat (and drink).

Now as I'm expanding work with my clients, I'm finding myself in more local meetings. More reasons to go to Royal Oak, say. Or Troy. Places I can easily bus/bike. So yesterday, I went for it. And covered the following errands via bus/bike:

- A client meeting in downtown Royal Oak
- Post office
- A stop for a swim at the Y
- 8 mile Meijer for some dinner fixins

All of that took me 3.5 hours start to finish. And realized I missed bus/biking more than I could have imagined. Why?

- The productivity - I caught up on emails and texts during my short bus rides/stop waits

- The people - After interacting with mostly cats during the day, there is something to be said for face-to-face human interaction. The fun in wishing the bus driver a nice day. Saying hello to random other people. I know. I am SO Midwest.

- The comedy - Of course. Someone was openly drinking a beer at 3:45pm on the bus. And there's a stop just north of the Detroit Zoo going southbound called "Chicken and Ribs". The restaurant is closed, but dude. That bus voice announcing that stop TOTALLY got me hungry. Can someone get on this business opportunity?!

- The exercise - I biked about 4 miles - at 35 calories a mile - that's at least 2 vodkas. WIN.

- The impact of our voices - I did get stuck waiting for 15 minutes on the way home, and a bus that was on SMART's new bus tracker never showed. It was frustrating and this is day-to-day for so many bus riders, right? There is still so much work to be done in our area and I missed being one of the voices in the ever-growing SE MI transit community.

Oh man. It feels good to be back in my transit home.

Monday, March 9, 2015

SMART: Construction Calls for Better Signage Downtown

Where does one pickup the SMART bus downtown these days?

M-1 construction has taken over Woodward for the last six months. As a result, SMART Woodward buses have rerouted to Cass Avenue. Okay, that's fine. No big deal.

The problem is that I don't know where the stops are located and I don't think I'm the only one. There are no visible signs on Cass. None. How is a rider supposed to know where to pick up the SMART bus? Do the rider just stand at the corner and hope? But which corner? The south or north corner? How are bus riders supposed to know where to pick up the SMART bus?

I went to SMART's website and it wasn't helpful. Unfortunately, not all the stops for the Woodward downtown routes are listed. It only lists the major stop streets like Warren or Mack. What about the stops in between for the 450 or 460 routes?

Fortunately, luck has allowed me to get on the bus to head home but the question remains, why no bus signs? The M-1 construction isn't going away any time soon. 2 Women 4 Wheels thinks it makes sense for SMART to put up some temporary signs on Cass.

To our readers - what do you think? Are there any other routes that require temporary signage because of construction?

Monday, October 13, 2014

DDOT: Out of Bus Passes

I left work a little early to get a new DDOT bus pass. When I arrived, I saw the scene in the picture below.

Unfortunately, the machine behind it was out of order, too.

No problem. It was before 5pm, so I walked over to get a bus pass the old fashioned way from the person working at the DDOT window. To my surprise, no one was there. See the picture below with the closed window, a sign explaining they close at 4:45pm, and my watch showing that it wasn't 4:45pm yet.
Grrr... all I want is a damn bus pass!!!

So I walk over to the information window, where a DDOT employee kindly explains to me that they ran out of bus passes.

Really? It's Monday and DDOT ran out of bus passes?! I don't even know where to start.

What do you think? Is this acceptable?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Rollin' through the D...C.!

Faithful 2W4W fans! You are all aware that Melissa and I get the privilege to travel these great states - and sometimes planet - of ours. I head to Washington D.C. so frequently for work - the waitress at the hotel I frequent actually knows the kind of hot sauce I like with my eggs in the morning. #reallife

One of my co-workers, David, a major public transit/biking/2W4W fan, has been asking me to take a tour of the D.C. bike-lane infrastructure for awhile. It hasn't worked out for various reasons, but I was totally nervous about actually taking this ride. WHY? Isn't the name of this blog something to do with wheels and biking?!

Yes, it is. The challenge is - in Detroit and SE Michigan, bike lanes are limited and it's honestly ok, and I'd venture to say, expected, by drivers that bikers be on the sidewalk. Biking on the sidewalk doesn't fly in most every other metropolitan area - mostly as the sidewalks are full of people. I've biked once in the streets of downtown Chicago - my life flashed before my eyes every single time a car whizzed by me. And a good friend of mine was recently was hit by a car as she bike commuted in San Francisco (she's ok, and healing well, thankfully). I was about to navigate these bike lanes in rush hour DC, on a bike-share bike, and without a helmet? Get your big girl bike shorts on, Julie, and let's get serious.

The helmet issue was solved quickly by David, who was kind enough to lend me his for this ride - but left me worried as he was helmetless. But we rolled on - I was grateful for the extra head protection to get started. First up, Capital Bike Share right outside our office. David has an annual pass that he let me use so boom - key fob - here's a bike. Awesome. The bike was heavy duty but felt sturdy as I hopped on - I will take it.
There she is - closest to me in the photo - let's ROLL.
David started our bike tour on lanes that were pretty protected from the road. Think two lanes of traffic - parked cars - and then a 2-way bike lane. A 2-way bike lane with marking down the middle!? These are things I've seen in renderings, in videos and in cities I've visited, but I've never actually experienced one. One word: brilliant. Ok, one more word: safe. It just made sense as you navigated it - even as someone new to biking in the area, and this was it - complete streets at WORK. A dream.

This picture is not the best - but you can see across the street how there's a parked car next to a 2-way bike lane - and most importantly - bikers using the bike lanes. 
 We even had the opportunity to check out a real live bike traffic light, which is the red mini-bike light to the right as you look at the photo below. When that thing turns green, you have about 2 seconds to literally traverse a busy intersection, and pretty much skip waiting for 3 traffic lights. I was a little confused as to what street we were going on, so my traversal turned into sort of a crescent moon shape across the intersection. Hey guys - this is a lot of awesome to take in so be patient with this little Detroit biker.
At 16 & U Street - when that bike light turns green, eyes on the prize, bikers! 
All and all, our tour of DC took about 45 minutes and was solidly in the 5pm rush hour traffic. Bike commuters definitely keep it moving - I was overtaken by those rockin' road bikes while I got an extra workout pedaling with my bike share bike. Please don't take this as any sort of knock against the bike share program, it was amazing to be able to pick up a bike and drop it off on the fly - and all bike share bikes come with bells = YES. And most of all - I loved it. I could not stop smiling the entire time. The infrastructure supports biking in the city, and seeing how people use it - I could only wish that we could start in this direction for Detroit. Bike lanes are a great start, but having a system where bikes actually get priority at times? That would really give our Motor City something to get used to - while moving us into to the future supporting ALL transportation options.

Until next time - thanks for the bike tour, David! 
I would feel so much better if we both had helmets on :) 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Friday afternoon bus stop excitement

It's been awhile since we've shared some stories of the bus and Friday afternoon at the bus stops were pretty darn exciting.

Since it was Friday - and who really wants to work until 5 on a Friday - I was waiting at the bus stop for the 4:04pm 445 SMART limited heading northbound. As I'm quietly waiting for the bus, a group of people runs up to me - yelling 'let's ask her!!!'. They are all wearing matching shirts so clearly doing some sort of scavenger hunt or something? The next thing I know, a man has dropped to his knees and is asking me to marry him. I am convinced to say yes as they say their jobs depend on it (who I am to deny in this economy?!) and I'm part of a photo showing my agreement to this whirlwind bus stop romance.  This spurs a discussion from my fellow bus riders about workplace bonding, and everyone generally feels bad for those on the scavenger hunt. We all agreed that cocktails with coworker is the best way to bond - and to get business done. Truth!

The bus ride is fairly uneventful but the bus is most definitely packed. I'm getting ready to get off the bus at 8 Mile & Woodward, and another woman is waiting to get off the bus with me. There is a man with a shopping cart at the bus stop, presumably waiting for the bus. He instead, right as we get off the bus, takes the shopping cart and proceeds to ram the cart into another man walking by, while yelling 'THAT'S WHAT YOU GET!!'. The passerby exclaims in shock/confusion and we proceed to get off the bus in the middle of all this bus stop drama. The fellow bus rider and I fall into stop together, believing in 'safety in numbers' and the bus driver tells us to be careful. She proceeds to drive the bus slowly next to us with the door open, while we walk by the man with the cart, who is now in his own but clearly still angered. I truly felt bad for both parties in the shopping cart smackdown, but I so appreciated our thoughtful bus escort through it all. Bus drivers are amazing & considerate individuals - so any bus drivers that are reading this post - we want you to know how much we appreciate you!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Throwback Thursday: My First Transit Experience

It's time for kind of a fun post, don't you think?! I know we're all transit funding and RTA and what is SMART/DDOT/M-1/DPM doing and let's increase bus service all of the time. Let's take a break!

With the mass popularity of 'Throwback Thursday', we decided to share My First Transit Experience - and would love you to do the same. Was there a turning point in your life where you realized that transit was amazing!? If you grew up in the metro Detroit post-trolley system (and with the advent of our suburban sprawl), you most likely had to travel out of the state or out of the country in order to experience transit in any sort of real way.

When I was a student at the University of Michigan, I had the very lucky opportunity to study abroad in Paris, France for three months. At the ripe old age of 19, I had never traveled away from my family, had never traveled abroad, and definitely had never experienced any sort of transit system. Sink or swim, right?

 The organizers of the study program gave us a map of the Metro, which honestly looked to me like a tangled web of colorful spider legs/WTF. Do people actually use this thing!?

See exhibit A:

I made the decision that I'd walk everywhere - this system just looked too scary to operate, and I'd totally get in urban workout shape. After taking a few VERY long walks, I decided to give myself plenty of time one day to get to school. This cannot be that hard, right? I had to travel along the gold line from the La Motte Piquet Grenelle stop, directly to La Sorbonne. Seemed easy. I gave myself an hour as I swear it was going to take me that long/I'd miss all the trains/it would totally break down and I'd miss class. I had to be at class by 8am, so I was solidly rolling with the morning commuters.

It took me SEVEN minutes. For the entire trip. I had plenty of time for a pre-class hot chocolate and pain au chocolat. YES. And as I relaxed before class - I realized this Metro-thing was less of a mystery and more of an opportunity. I could get a monthly pass - a Carte Orange - which could give me unlimited access to this amazing city (single farecard whaaaat). I took on the subway transfers with gusto and even got to a point where I didn't have to refer to the map much. This was a key turning point in my life - I always felt that I was able to figure out metro and bus systems other cities. And I started to wonder: why can't we have this in metro Detroit?

And setting me up for my future with 2 Women 4 Wheels, I started documenting the people that I met during these transit trips in my journal. These fine folks included a woman that I would see on the Metro a few times per month - and each time, she would say something quickly in French and give me a flower. Um, why not? There were also numerous people who would would stand on upside down buckets giving lectures to the entire train - one of the favorite topics were various points about "Beel Cleenton" (that's Bill Clinton for those unfamiliar with a French accent).

So, how about you, dear readers? What was your first transit experience?! #tbt