|An important part of Local Motion is partnership with area employers, including the Grand Traverse Resort.|
We seem to be stuck on our vision of flying cars. Ask anybody about the future of traffic, and they'll cite an old Hanna-Barbera cartoon from the early 1960s, said Jeffrey Tumlin, a principal at Nelson/Nygaard Consulting when he visited Traverse City for a commuter summit last month.
Yet, even on “The Jetsons,” hapless George would still get stuck in traffic jams on the way to work. Instead, says the Michigan Land Use Institute, what we need is a new vision for the future of commuting.
MLUI wants to begin with a program called Local Motion, a community effort with local businesses, and a new website.
"We want to be the one-stop hub for mobility management in this region," said James Bruckbauer, policy specialist at MLUI. "By 2020, our goal is for 25 percent of the workers in this region smart commuting—meaning they're carpooling, taking the bus, biking or walking to work. It's a 10 percent jump from 2010."
It's an ambitious goal, but not unrealistic. The MLUI recently surveyed 1,500 employees in the Traverse City area and found, among other things, that "people wanted to support smart transportation choices, but they weren't sure those choices were available to them," Bruckbauer said.
Half of the respondents said they'd use public transit if there were a financial incentive; more than half said they would take the bus if the schedule were more convenient; and a little under half said they might walk or bike more if there were a convenient network of sidewalks, bike lanes, and trails.
To provide commuters with answers to their concerns, the new website will soon let you plug in Point A and Point B to figure out how to get around the region. It’s similar to technology used by Google Transit and the Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA).
"In order to have the greatest impact on our transportation system, we want to focus on the most consistent trips that are being taken on a regular schedule. Those consistent trips are where we have the greatest opportunity to reduce the amount of traffic in the region," Bruckbauer said.
An important component of the program is partnership with area employers, including Grand Traverse Resort, Northwestern Michigan College, Hagerty Insurance, and Munson Medical Center, which alone employs more than 3,500 people.
John Bolde, Munson's director of loss prevention and safety, said the medical center has been encouraging commuters.
"We put about as many bike racks as we could possibly accommodate on our campus to encourage people to bike to work," Bolde said.
In addition, the hospital has been working with area bus services to find the best routes and times to pick up employees.
How successful has Munson been in its quest to ease congestion? "That question is a community question," Bolde said. "We've got a long road ahead of us in terms of a culture shift away from just convenience of getting to and from work, doing the right thing for the environment, adjusting and being more flexible with schedules, and making better use of the transportation systems."
It has helped that Munson has "decompressed" the Munson campus, meaning a lot of outpatient activities and office workers are housed off-site. That move took about 200 employees off the main campus.
Munson's next big project is a new $45 million cancer center. Bolde said the hospital is "doing our best to plan ahead" for increased traffic. It just makes more sense for the mission of the hospital, he said, to encourage more walking, biking, and carpooling to improve the environment and the health of workers.
That's an important part of Local Motion, said Bruckbauer—public awareness of the "impact our transportation habits have on our wallets, time, and our health."
Howard Lovy is a freelance journalist based in Traverse City.