Thursday, March 28, 2013

America's Next Top Commuter?

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Due to the academic prowess of my homeskillet, who got accepted to med school at Wayne State, and my own choice to start a Master's program in Urban Planning at the University of Michigan in the fall,  I'm faced with choices that extend beyond the range of my heretofore uber-walkable, extremely local existence.

One might ask, Carolyn, how did you ever manage in the metro Motor City for six years without a car? Well, a few answers. My life for nearly four of those years revolved entirely around the city of Ann Arbor, where everything - school, work, friends - was in walking, biking, or bussing distance. The only thing that lured me away was my family back in Redford, and they kindly provided shuttle service whenever we wanted to see each other.

Oh, uh, and I went to Spain for a bit. That's a good way to avoid driving. (¡Viva el tren!)

Even in the past year and a half as my life has become increasingly regional, I've patched together some semblance of mobility. Between zipcars, increasingly obnoxious carpool requests, car-sitting, car-borrowing, car-commandeering, bicycling when it doesn't freeze my face off, unreliable train rides, sleepovers, bribes, logistical finagling, and impressive stamina on foot, I've managed to be almost everywhere I need to be approximately when I need to be there.

I give up a lot doing all that, but I gain a lot, too.

This is a new game, though. Living in Detroit and going to school in Ann Arbor, I would be an all-out commuter, doing close to an hour each way, three to four days a week. I'm not worried about losing the Arborey college life - I had enough of that in undergrad. And I'm really looking forward to being a resident of the great city on whose fringes I grew up. But the driving - oh the driving!

Doing this, I'll get a much better sense of what people actually experience in the region. I'll be living proof of the need for a long-awaited project, the Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter rail. I'll live the early morning hot beverage cold frost on windshield turn up the NPR blink the blurry out of your eyes kind of thing. And I'll be contributing a lot more towards the destruction of the planet than I have for a while.

Regionalism is tough. That's because the region is tough. It's big and sprawling and has a long way to go to be friendly towards people who want to or need to travel in nontraditional ways. My travel patterns will mirror a very real dynamic - that Ann Arbor has the wealth and the jobs, and Detroit has the affordable housing and most of the people. If there's a way to bring the two (and everything in between) into greater harmony, it might be through the people who have strong ties to and need for both.

Tell me this, though: Is it possible to be creative about a commute? To not view it as two hours a day competing for asphalt?

(While still, you know, keeping my eyes on the road and my palms on the wheel. Safety first!)

1 comment:

  1. Author's note: I didn't end up living in Detroit after all. Commuting scared me just that much. Longing for the day when the train runs between 'em.