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Fresh to TC: Experiencing Smart Commute WeekPrint

Thriving Communities | June 30, 2014 | By Rebecca Fisher

I was lucky that my first week working for MLUI in Traverse City coincided with Smart Commute Week. I was able to attend lots of events where I could meet really interesting community members and see in a tangible way the energy that exists in this area around smart commuting.

As someone from the Philadelphia area, biking isn’t always a particularly safe or even convenient way to get around. Growing up in the suburbs, my family and I drove EVERYWHERE, without exception. There weren’t many sidewalks, and no bike lanes to be found. As I’ve gotten older and my family moved into the city, I’ve started using public transportation much more, but biking hasn’t been easy due to safety concerns.

So coming to northern Michigan, Traverse City’s bike-friendly nature is really one of my favorite things about the region. There is so much enthusiasm around the idea of smart commuting, and providing the infrastructure to make it happen with bike lanes, trails, bike parking, cycling groups—even just the number of places to buy bikes!

Seeing how many people came out to the Smart Commute Week events made me wonder how this event came about and its place in the Traverse City community. I had the opportunity to sit down with Arianne Whittaker from TART Trails, which organizes the week, and ask her some questions.

Arianne said Smart Commute Week is an opportunity for people to “try smart commuting and then continue to smart commute when the week was over.” For the many folks who already smart commute, it’s a chance to meet like-minded individuals and have some fun.  

I asked her about any obstacles that exist preventing more people from smart commuting. Arianne said safety is a big issue, and that some people “don’t feel safe biking around town.” Others have a lot to carry, or don’t like sweating in their professional clothes. Some need to drop their kids off at school, or live too far from work.

Her advice? “Do it long enough to make it habitual so that it stops being work.” You get the rain gear, and the snow gear, and then “you get used to it and it becomes like brushing your teeth.”

There are plenty of benefits to smart commuting—from financial, to health, to time—but Arianne mentioned one that didn’t immediately come to my mind. She said it’s easier to engage with the world when you aren’t confined inside the car.

“Just yesterday, I was riding home from work…and within one block I saw one of my co-workers. Then the next block up, I saw one of the TART volunteers riding, so I rode with her for a while. Then when riding through the Civic Center, I saw more people I knew.

“You just feel more connected to the community when you’re not just driving alone in your car,” she said. “You see cool places that you never noticed before.”

As for the future of Smart Commute Week, Arianne has hopes for more involvement, growth, and momentum around idea of smart commuting. She hopes more organizations encourage people to bike or walk to work, and to focus “attention on the infrastructure portion, and providing education with classes and programs to help people be comfortable riding around town.”

Smart Commute Week is a time the community can come together and enjoy some new ways to get to work or school. It benefits the environment, not to mention your “waistline, wallet, and social life.”