Home > Tips & Tricks > Car advocates, beginning to rally

Car advocates, beginning to rally

The following is inspired by commentary by Ron Jolly for the Traverse City Business News‘ May issue titled ‘The Politics of Bicycling‘. You may want to read it first; it’s full of inspiration, so don’t be surprised to see it come up again.


When I was 16 I inherited a Chrysler New Yorker. It was a beast; one night I had 17 friends packed inside of it and we still had room for more. A mobile party machine. I drove it 7 days a week to school, work, play. My family was some of the first suburbanites near Lake Ann. It was 18 miles to the big city.

That car got around 16 miles per gallon, gas fluctuated between $1.00-$2.00 a gallon and I made $3.35 an hour. When I was 15, I was working the same job and didn’t have a car. I usually rode my Ross 12-speed. I made more money when I was 15.

That math made an impact. Although, it did take many oil changes, car repairs, insurance payments, new cars and an accident for it to sink in. I eventually realized, that bicycling wasn’t just for kids. It is good transportation. Difficult sometimes, but efficient. As a Reagan child, I’d say ‘fiscally conservative’.

My first beast looked something like this, with more rust.

I grew up

Now, I’m what some like to label “an activist bike rider” as if that somehow separates me from normal society (and I don’t even own any Lycra…yet).

I also talk a lot about walkable communities. I dare to suggest that we design roads so that when I’m driving my little Honda I know that’s it shared space and I’m forced to go the speed limit by use of street calming measures and devices. I’m like most humans; traffic signs aren’t the most effective way to get me to do something. We need engineering & infrastructure to help us realize community values.

I can be serious about all this. I get offended easily by the dominate ideology that ties social status to vehicle ownership–although I do really like my little Honda. I get offended at the assumption that the constructed landscape of highways, roads, parking spaces and parking decks somehow doesn’t represent the result of an advocacy campaign. The last 50 year’s of infrastructure development has been dominated by car advocates who seem hell-bent on cutting and dicing up communities so that they can drive through at unnecessarily high speeds. Yet they love Mackinaw Island; go figure.

As more car advocates move into Traverse City, they bring with them their ideology of bigger, wider, straighter and faster roads and they don’t want to raise taxes to pay for them. We need to attract another demographic by designing a city that accommodates some car use, but that isn’t car dependent. We need to create a city designed for what many of us desire: safe, quiet, clean, beautiful and socially vibrant.

Why is 8th Street so emotional? It’s representative of our worst streets and it’s right in the middle of the city. From Lake St. to Garfield Ave it is about one mile. It is mixed use, including residential, and it is posted 25-mph. Yet, it is designed for people to drive 45-mph and they often do. I go the speed limit and after they pass me I pull up behind them at every light. “It’s a mile! Slow down. We will all get there faster if you do!” Traffic engineering supports me on this as the optimal speed to move the most amount of cars is 25-30 mph. Let’s design it and stop paying cops to babysit people in cars.

8th Street is also the prime east west corridor for ‘people’ to cross town. There is no other option as convenient as 8th street. That fact doesn’t change depending on whether I am in a car or on a bike. Yes, for walking it has sidewalks, but with the added noise and safety concerns of higher than necessary speeds, it’s typically neither convenient nor comfortable. I think every street within a small town like Traverse City should be pleasant for all users. We’re special; we live in Traverse City. Spoil the people, not their motorized toys.

Public discussion

The priorities for our public right of ways is a public discussion that I invite. I wish more people would stand up for what they believe and say it strongly.

  • If someone wants to advocate for continued subsidizing of a very inefficient mode of transportation, the single occupant car, then I invite that discussion.
  • If someone wants to advocate for higher speeds through the city, please stand up and say it loud and proud. I will argue with the facts that it is not the best thing for the city and is the slowest way for all of us to get across town-delivery trucks included.
  • If someone wants our taxes to continue to serve one-dimensional use, stand up and say it. Currently, we pay about $.03 a mile in fuel-tax to drive our cars. For the average driver that’s $450/year. It’s hardly a user paid road system by those numbers alone, but our roads are mainly subsidized by ALL of us through all kinds of taxes; it doesn’t matter if you drive or not. This argument that only car advocates pay for the roads should have died in the 1950’s.

My vision for Northern Michigan is for it to have more walkable, bikable and more vibrant public right of ways. People should be encouraged to walk the 20 minutes to the store through the sheer attraction of enjoying our public spaces. It is walking and biking that should be automatic, not the burning of fossil fuels to go buy a gallon of milk. We can no longer afford to subsidize the lazy, inequitable and destructive automobile habits that I, someone born in the 1970’s, inherited from the previous generation.

The American Dream has changed. Let’s move on and grow up.



  1. aastricker
    May 12, 2010 at 8:08 pm

    No Lycra. Please.

  2. May 13, 2010 at 8:25 am

    Angela, I’m too sexy for my Lycra.

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