Saturday, November 23, 2013

Transforming our transit system

As a part of our exciting week in rolling out this blog with the Urbane Life, we were invited to join a

Transportation For Michigan (Trans4M) Legislative Update Dinner at Atwater Brewery downtown. We decided to make a transit adventure out of it (of COURSE) and decided on the following bus/bike plan:

1. Meet up at a bus stop where we’d have a good chance of both getting our bikes on the bike rack (11 & Woodward). Note amazing bus stop art.

2. Bike over to Atwater after work

3. Bike back to Campus Martius to get to bus stop (beautiful views of the city & bike lanes on Atwater = whoo hooo!)

4. Take DDOT home – the Woodward 53 as far as the State Fairgrounds

5. Bike home from there (7 miles from the State Fairgrounds to home in Royal Oak)

So you can see – with our current system, surgical-level precision, planning and timing is key!

We were also very curious to see what this dinner would include. And no – we don’t mean the food (but it was catered by Slow’s and HELLO mac & cheese sent from heaven).

We arrive before the program starts and have the wonderful opportunity of being greeted by some fans of 2 Women 4 Wheels – and yes, there even was a fan photo. It was great to see all these awesome advocates of transit in one place, and to be a part of this community.

Onto the program peice of the agenda. Senator Bert Johnson and Representative Gretchen Driskell gave a legislative update, RTA Board Member R. Murphey discussed what’s going on with the RTA, Woodward Avenue Action Association gave an update on the Woodward Avenue Complete Streets Master Plan, MDOT discussed their study around the future of I-375, and M-1 Rail discussed progress on their public/private streetcar project.

Sounds really good, right? At a certain point, though, something hit us. We were listening to a question about how pedestrians were going to cross Woodward when the M-1 Rail is complete. This is a great question, no doubt. But the M-1 is slated to be complete…in 2016. And it’s a 3 mile start of (hopefully) a larger streetcar system up Woodward. All of these are great improvements, and we should be focused on progress & the big picture. One area of the big picture that we didn’t see presented in this meeting was the current system. What are some of the improvements that we can make NOW to the system? If the RTA could just navigate the politics between DDOT & SMART, working out those inefficiencies, we would have thought we’d died and gone to heaven (and there’d be Slow’s mac & cheese!).

We were also very tempted to ask the question – who here is planning on taking the bus home tonight? We were, but only because we had planned to do it in a very detailed way, as we highlighted. It involved a 7 mile bike-ride home from the State Fairgrounds, not ideal for everyone – but for us – biking is awesome & great exercise & worth it. Anyone else? Some folks were from Lansing and had a longer commute and, of course, in many instances, the system just doesn’t make sense. But, are there some things we can start working on today to help it make sense?

We think so. And these are the kind of incremental changes that are often the catalysts for bigger change.

Current bus route efficiencies.

SMART & DDOT become friends – or better yet – merge (that’s very specifically a ‘merge’ not an acquisition on either side. That wouldn’t be very friendly, right?!)

Round-the-clock service from DDOT/SMART (no more “peak”/”off-peak” hours).

Safety enhancements at the bus terminals – specifically the State Fairgrounds.

Regional transit pass.

These are the kinds of changes that would allow more people that were at that Trans4M meeting to ride the bus home with ease. More riders, more demand, ever BETTER service.

And then let’s start talking about how people will cross Woodward in 2016.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Bike Helmets - Do you really need to wear them?

I’ll be honest - wearing a bike helmet is not the most exciting accessory to wear; however it’s probably the most important one. While it may be annoying, it saves lives, right?! Seriously, it really does. And although I’ve never been in a serious bike accident, I wear my helmet every time I ride, even if it’s a really short ride.

I recently learned that I should replace my helmet every three years even if I wasn’t involved in any bike accidents. Did you know that? I had no idea. Naturally, this led me to visit Macomb Bike & Fitness for some bike helmet shopping (especially since I had a gift certificate).

Jim, who works at the bike shop, helped me select my new helmet and offered some advice: 1) It’s important to have a helmet that fits your head. 2) Make sure the color of the helmet is a lighter or brighter color so people will see you when you’re riding.

I also learned from Jim the proper way to wear a helmet. The straps should be joined just under each ear at the jawbone and the buckle or clasp should fit snugly under your chin. The helmet should fit flat on your head about two-fingers width above your eyebrows. If that’s hard to understand, check out this video made by the City of Chicago for a quick demonstration. You can also check out the dorky pictures of me trying to demonstrate this below.

Incorrect Bike Helmet!
Correct Bike Helmet!

In addition to having a bike helmet, I also learned that practicing safe-riding skills is just as important as riding with a helmet. Check out this pretty comprehensive guide by the League of Michigan Bicyclists, “What Every Michigan Bicyclist Must Know.” Basically, be alert and follow the rules of the road! 

Lastly, I know I mentioned earlier that the bike helmet is not my favorite accessory; however check out this new invisible helmet that was invented. It looks promising (when the price decreases).

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Crash Course in Metro-Detroit Transit

How do you use and support public transportation to move around metro-Detroit? Well, grab a snack and get comfy while you read this "crash course" on transit in the region.

As you know, we live in the Royal Oak area and work in Detroit, so it is convenient for us to bike to Woodward or the Royal Oak Transit Center to hop on any of the SMART Woodward buses to head south at $2 per ride. The 450 and 460 have multiple stops and bike racks. As do the 445 and the 475, which are “Limited” buses - that means less stops and quicker travel time. SMART services Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne Counties.

Julie gets on the bus!
Unfortunately, a big challenge with SMART buses is that they ONLY travel in and out of Detroit during “peak” hours. What are peak hours? In the morning from 6 to 9am and in the evening from 3 to 6pm. As you can imagine, this greatly complicates happy hour for us. What happens if you need to get to Detroit during an off-peak time? You can take SMART south to the last stop on Woodward, which is at the State Fairgrounds. From there, you can pick up a DDOT bus and head south. Vice versa for heading north during an off peak time. (Special note - the buses are not linked very well so expect a 30 minute wait at the Fairgrounds. Check out a previous post where we we learned about this first hand.)

The Detroit Department of Transportation services buses that run only in the city at the cost of $1.50 per ride for adults (slightly cheaper than SMART). We usually take the 53 bus up and down Woodward. It has bike racks (important note - not all buses have racks for bikes - boo!).

DDOT does have a unique “Text My Bus” campaign. That’s right - all you have to do is text 50464 the cross streets and you receive a fairly quick text back with times that the bus will arrive. Unfortunately, as we have learned by experience, the buses don’t have any tracking mechanism to provide accurate information of when it will actually arrive at the stop. Missed opportunity, right?! So for now, you get a text with the time that bus is *supposed* to arrive according to the bus schedule, which often is not the case.

People Mover
We don’t really use the People Mover but wanted to make sure to include it, as it is indeed referred to as public transit in the Motor City. Its three mile track circles downtown for just $0.75 per ride. For fun, check out this video as “Zelda and the Unibrows” test whether it’s faster to walk or take the People Mover. While it’s not the most appealing form of transit, it is helpful - especially during the cold winter months when you’re traveling downtown and just want to stay warm (however, moving the body and walking usually keeps you warm, too).

M-1 Rail
Another three miles of tracks are being built along Woodward Avenue to create a new form of transit, the M-1 Rail. What sets this rail project apart from the People Mover is that it’s linear and on the street with other traffic. The hope is that it will be the start of something bigger that hopefully in the future extends all the way north to Pontiac. Unfortunately, there are a number of concerns regarding this project including connectivity, bike accessibility on Woodward, and placement of the tracks on the sides rather than the middle (check out this video that explains why it might be better to have rail in the middle lane).

Why can't all the public transit options work together? Well, about a year ago, the Michigan State Legislature created the Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority (RTA). One of the focal points is to facilitate that communication. However, it's been almost a year and we're not quite sure what is happening. We had it in our schedule to attend their board meeting earlier this week, but it was cancelled. We did recently learn that there is discussion of one single transit pass that could be used universally with SMART, DDOT, People Mover, and M-1. It's a start but we expect more as this region desperately needs a public transportation system that works!!!. (Stay tuned for future updates as Julie is on the RTA Citizen Advisory Council.)

Okay... this concludes your crash course on public transit in metro-Detroit. Are you still awake?! Keep a look out for future 2 Women 4 Wheels events inviting you to ride the bus with us! In the meantime, join us for our launch party with Urbane Media on Thursday, November 21 from 6 to 8pm.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Attention 2 Women 4 Wheels Fans! We've got some exciting news!!!

Put the kickstand down. Grab your seat on the bus. 2 Women 4 Wheels has exciting news to share! After almost three years of “walking and rolling” in the metro-Detroit area, we are happy to partner with Urbane Media to share our “real world” adventures in biking and busing. What does it mean? With the additional support, we will be able to share more adventures in a pretty regular way by providing new blog posts every few days instead of every few weeks. It doesn’t stop there, either. You will also see more cross-postings from our blog and Urbane Media’s blog PLUS there’s going to be a pretty kick ass launch party on Thursday, November 21 (stay tuned for more details). Keep your eyes open for #transitkardashians, as it might become a new and appropriate hash tag. HAHA!

On a more serious note, we've never been more excited to write about transit than now. As you know, this is a critical time for our region as the “Regional Transit Authority (RTA)” begins to take shape. Unfortunately, you also know the evolution of public not one of the Motor City’s finest moments. Keeping our eyes and ears wide open will be important if this is to be the time in our region’s history that we see change. Fortunately, 2 Women 4 Wheels has representation on the RTA’s Citizen Advisory Council (shout out to Julie!). In the next few months, we will do our best to keep you informed on what’s happening and what you can do to support this effort.

We also hope to inspire you to take a transit adventure of your own! While it’s important to have an RTA, we also need to see improvements to the service. However, we won’t see improvements until demand for public transit increases. That means we need you to ride the bus. And before you tell yourself it’s too hard, check out some of our previous blog posts. Taking the bus and riding your bike can be fun! In fact, one of the reasons we started riding the bus was to enjoy our happy hours together without the worry of driving (some of those drink specials are too good to pass up!). Stay tuned for some 2 Women 4 Wheels organized bus pub crawls, scavenger hunts, and much more!  We’re going to do our best to show how much fun you can have!