I think we’re all familiar with the unspoken “rules” of getting around Ann Arbor:

1) If you’re driving a car, pedestrians are your worst enemy — they will walk in front of traffic without the slightest hesitation, owning the streets and avoiding crosswalks, “hit me, car, I dare you.” Also, other cars are your enemy, as you wait in awful traffic and arrive to your destination late after struggling to find parking.

2) If you’re walking around Ann Arbor, cars are your worst enemy. As they impatiently wait for you to cross an intersection, they inch closer and closer (nearly hitting you), congest the streets and produce awful exhaust fumes for you to breathe.

3) If you’re bicycling around Ann Arbor, everyone is your enemy: oblivious walkers swaying all over the sidewalk while they text, aggressive cars, poorly laid-out bike lanes, potholes, left turns — even the squirrels! Clearly, Ann Arbor’s transportation system needs some work.

If driving, walking and biking are unsatisfying modes of travel, the next viable option would be using the public transportation system. As we all know, the University has its own bus system for those commuting around campus, and Ann Arbor’s “TheRide” has bus routes to get around more destinations of the city. Unfortunately, this mode of transportation is equally unsatisfying.

I’m bitter about spending my freshman year on North Campus for several reasons, but dealing with the bus system was potentially the most frustrating aspect. These buses still have to navigate in the midst of daily Ann Arbor traffic, making it difficult to get around in a timely manner. Buses, both University and public, are extremely crowded (game day, anyone?) and difficult to navigate. Currently, it’s impossible for buses, walkers, bikers and drivers to cooperate and partake in using the roads in a smooth, efficient manner. Neither students nor Ann Arbor locals deserve this daily frustration. So, what can we do about this?

As a current student of an RC social science class, “History Goes Green,” I’ve had the opportunity to discover that practical, sustainable solutions aren’t always created by new, cutting edge technology. Moving into the future without looking into the past is irresponsible, because we ignore important ideas that have already worked well in our history. Many students and Ann Arbor locals would be surprised to hear that for over 50 years, from about 1890 to 1930, Ann Arbor and surrounding communities had a successful streetcar and interurban railway system. Streetcars were electric trolleys running through the center of the street, and interurban railways were streetcar lines that extended from one town to another. This system provided low fares, frequent service, convenient stops and generally was extremely successful and favored by locals.

There are several directions to take when rethinking Ann Arbor’s transportation system. Personally, I find it most important to prioritize encouraging walking and biking. We like to think of Ann Arbor as bike friendly, but it’s unsettling, if not dangerous, to bike on several main streets, such as State Street and Packard. I’ve noticed bike-share stations popping up around campus, but further improvements need to be made. Bike lanes should be improved with tangible road barriers, and parking and driving over bike lanes should be restricted. Ann Arbor could also use bike shelters to protect bikes during cold weather (this would encourage biking year-round). Also, prohibiting motor vehicles in congested areas of downtown Ann Arbor certain times of the day and week may help encourage more walking in public areas, especially during busy times such as game days.

Another solution that may be controversial is installing a high-capacity transit system connecting Northeast Ann Arbor, downtown, both the North and South campuses, the Medical campus and commercial areas. This could exist in the form of a light rail system, a separate bus lane (bus rapid transit) or sticking with the past and reintroducing the streetcar. For those still inclined to drive, there should be incentives for carpooling, such as offering lower rates at parking garages to vehicles with more than three people in the car, which could potentially minimize the number of vehicles downtown. These solutions would benefit everyone moving around Ann Arbor: young professionals, students, business owners and Ann Arbor locals.

I understand that I can’t romanticize the past too much. I understand the appeal of having a car and the feeling of independence, being in control of where you go. However, Ann Arbor continues to grow in population and employment, and we need to start preparing for future growth. Having everyone travel individually by car is unsustainable, and I’d hate to see intimate, well known spaces in our town sacrificed and crowded by more parking structures. Re-thinking our transportation system gives us the opportunity to connect to our past and to improve our future.

Courtney Smeenge is an LSA junior.

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