Every year, Michigan’s political and business elite retreat to Mackinac Island, the principal island getaway of the Midwest – an island where bicycles, not automobiles, are the dominant vehicle of transportation. The takeaways broadcast from the 2015 Mackinac Policy Conferences were fairly predictable: “Comeback State” mantra, rumors of prospective candidacies, road funding, jobs, and education reform. While these are all worthy topics and causes, one thing has stuck out for me this year. If every year Michigan’s elite retreat to an island where the bicycle is king, why is Michigan not a more bikeable state?
According to the Five-Year American Community Survey estimates of 2013, approximately 45% of permanent residents of Mackinac Island primarily commute by bicycle. Automobiles were banned by the Village of Mackinac Island in 1898, a full decade before mass production of Ford’s Model T. With this ban, Mackinac Island is home to the only highway in the US that prohibits motor vehicles – M-185.
Last year, the Michigan Department of Transportation published a report that found $668 million in annual economic benefits in Michigan are attributable to bicycling. In Ann Arbor, $25.4 million in annual economic benefits are connected to bicycling. Phase Two of the report, released last month, reported $21.9 million of annual economic benefits alone come into Michigan from out-of-state participants partaking in Michigan bicycling events.
Mackinac Island’s ban of cars is widely known to Michiganders from Monroe to Copper Harbor, often regardless of whether or not they have been to the island. However the image, we Michiganders often associate with the island is this infamous photo so frequently retaken of the Grand Hotel.
An image less often portrayed is that of bike traffic and bike parking on the island, such as this one below.
While it is acknowledgeable that Mackinac Island’s bike policy is motivated primarily by historic preservation rather than accessibility, the island is not alone in offering bike infrastructure in place of car infrastructure for everyday commuting. Roads with prominent bicycling capacity can be found across the US in places like Seattle, Indianapolis, Memphis, and Chicago, among many others.
What if Michigan’s political and business elite brought home with them inspiration from their bike rides on M-185 and Cadotte Avenue? In 2012, Governor Rick Snyder proposed an idea for a 924-mile bike trail from Belle Isle to Ironwood, and along with developing a branding for Michigan as “The Trail State.” While related, this is still a separate matter from plugging commuter bike lanes into established roadways. Michigan has made great strides in bicycle infrastructure since the state’s Complete Streets Policy was enacted in 2010. Recently added bike lanes and paths can be found in places like Ann Arbor, Detroit, and Traverse City. The connectivity between the islands of bicycle infrastructure within these cities is however a key missing link; there is still much progress to be made. With cycle manufacturers Detroit Bikes, Shinola, and TerraTrike based in Michigan, bicycle infrastructure not only provides a safer way to cycle to work, school, and the grocery store – it supports Michigan businesses and Michigan jobs. With quality inspiration on Mackinac Island, data proving its economic value, and support from Governor Snyder, it’s hard not to ask: why is Michigan not a more bikeable state?