For most of the time that I have lived here in Detroit, I have not had a car. This seems to blow a lot of people’s minds who see this city as being the antithesis to the car-less lifestyle. After all, we are the Motor City, home of the Ford Model T and the Chevy Camaro. Modern Detroit gave life to the American Dream, a place where two and a half kids, a white picket fence, and a car in every garage are practically required for social acceptance.
Things changed a lot when I first moved here. During the first couple of months I started walking around Downtown, getting to know the lay of the land. Luckily we had a very mild winter, with very little snow. Most of the time a winter coat, hat, gloves and some insulated hiking boots were plenty enough protection to battle the elements. At some point I realized that I could get around a lot better if I had a bike, so I picked up my bike that had been stored at my parents’ house for nearly 15 years, fixed it up and started venturing further out.
After a while I realized that I didn’t really need my car very much, so I loaned it to my business partner. She lived in Royal Oak, she did not have a car, and we were trying to start a new business in Detroit, so she needed it more than I did. Every once in a while I would take it back for a weekend, but more and more I got used to not having to rely on a car to get around.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved my car. It was a ’98 Ford Taurus, with a tan leather interior and matching exterior. It was bought for my Mom back in late 1997, fully loaded with premium sound system, power locks and windows, and a combination sunroof/moonroof that was functional throughout every single one of the 200,000 miles we put on it. My sister then drove it while she was in college, and after that my dad drove it back and forth to work for a couple of years. Then the car was handed down to me. Everyone in my family drove it at some point. It was one of the best cars we’ve ever owned.
Around the time I moved to Detroit, the transmission in my Taurus started to die, and it finally gave up on me about a month ago. I do not have the money to buy another car, nor do I even want to have to deal with it. I settled on the reality that I would have to learn how to get around without it for the time being.
Around this time, a good friend of mine gave me a bike that had been sitting out on his balcony for a long time and he had never used. He was moving in a couple of weeks, so taking the bike meant he wouldn’t have to deal with it during the move, so it worked out quite well for me. Unlike my mountain bike, which I’ve had since I was a kid, this was a newer touring bike, which was somehow obtained through a police surplus auction, or something like that, with all the new features and the latest technology. All I had to do was put about $30 into it and it was road-ready, and it soon became my daily driver.
Get on the bus
I also bought a monthly, all-access bus pass that allows me to ride any DDOT or SMART bus in the region. These buses will take me within about 40-50 miles outside of the city to some of the popular locations and major intersections of the area. The great thing is that the buses all have bike racks on the front of them, which further extends the effective area that I can travel in. There are many drawbacks to using Metro Detroit’s public transportation system, but it’s not crippling to my mobility.
Furthermore, the Greyhound bus terminal is about three blocks from where I live, right here in Corktown. I have found that this is a great way to get outside of the city to places like Ann Arbor, Flint and Grand Rapids. It costs less than it would if I had to pay for the gas to drive there by myself, so I really can’t complain. I have some horror stories about some cross-country Greyhound trips I have taken in the past, but I find it to be a quick and comfortable ride to some of the local destinations that I frequent.
Being the transportation geek that I am, it actually excites me every time I have to work out a new route for a destination that I would have normally driven to in the past. I can bring my bike along and have the buses drop me off within three miles of where my parents live in Lake Orion, and about the same distance to Brian and Lincoln’s current house in Warren. Taking trips up to Ferndale and Royal Oak is very easy, and depending on where I’m going I don’t always have to take my bike with me up there to get around. Last weekend I took the Greyhound to Ann Arbor, where they have a much superior public transportation system to ours, and I found that getting around to see all my friends there was quite easy.
Corktown is a great place to live when you don’t have a car. There are more bike lanes here than anywhere else in the city. In fact, 95% of the one and a half mile path I take to Brian and Lincoln’s new house in Woodbridge has bike lanes. I also find that people are much more tolerant of bikers here in the city than they are in the suburbs. I get honked at and pestered a lot more in the suburbs by ignorant people who don’t realize that it’s illegal to ride your bike on the sidewalk. Here I find drivers to be more courteous, and more willing to work together to make sure we both are using the roads efficiently.
Biking to the club
I had a DJ gig a couple of weeks ago at MotorCity Casino Hotel. The club I played at already had most of the equipment I needed, so I packed up my laptop, headphones, needles and some records in my backpack and rode to the gig on my bike. The sound guy cracked up when he saw me walk in carrying my bike helmet. He swore I had to be the first performer in the casino’s history to arrive on a bicycle. He made me put the helmet on while I was spinning so he could take a picture.
Biking here has also helped me re-kindle my love for physical activity, which has helped me get into better shape without boring me to death. I hate gyms. I hate any workout that requires me to stay in one place. I remember back in my high school days I used to run 10 miles a day through Bald Mountain State Park and it always seemed like it was over too soon. Now my daily workout routine consists of a fifteen and a half mile bike ride down the riverfront, around Belle Isle and back. There are two large bridges, one at 6th street, and one at Belle Isle, and the climb up both ways really gets my legs working. It is both challenging and fun, and when I feel like it’s getting too easy, I just increase my speed. If I time it right, I can watch the sunset over the river the entire ride home.
My roommate has a car that he lets me borrow every once in a while, but I find myself depending on it less and less. We are currently working on bike trailers that we can use to carry our kayaks and paddle boards to Belle Isle. I don’t really miss my car—in fact, sometimes people offer to give me a lift somewhere and I find that I only agree to it because I don’t want to be rude. The trips are sometimes longer when I take the bus, but I like the time that I have to myself to read my Kindle. There is nothing about automobile commuting that I enjoy, and the money I’m saving on gas alone is enough to justify renting a car for the occasions which I want to take a road trip somewhere, the only form of driving that I actually do enjoy.
I would definitely like to see more improvements made to Detroit’s public transportation system, and more efforts to make Metro Detroit more bike-friendly. We need a rapid-transit solution for getting out to some of the further reaches of the Metro Detroit area. We need more buses that run past midnight as well, especially on the weekends. I’d also like to see more initiatives to help support people like me who, whether by choice or necessity, are living a car-less lifestyle in the city.
I plan to go as long as I possibly can without having to buy a car, and I hope that as my transportation needs increase, the city will have more and more provisions to support people like me. Please feel free to engage me here if you have any questions about the car-less lifestyle in Detroit, and let’s start a dialogue so we can all make Detroit a better place to live.