Moving forward on transportation initiatives - Sarah Lucas

Click Here! BATA’s new Bayline is a huge step forward, giving us — and visitors — an easy-to-navigate, briskly-timed and low-stress way to get into and out of town.


Like it or not, many visitors — and would-be visitors — to our region have stories to tell about Traverse City that involve more than our cherries and beaches. If you talk about the town in other parts of the state, chances are pretty good that someone’s going to mention the traffic.

There are a lot of factors playing into it. Geography, for one: We have a lot of water that creates some interesting challenges for routing streets. Tourism, for another: The populations of our tiny villages and small cities balloon every summer with overnight guests and day-trippers. And for yet another, Traverse City is a regional destination: Many of residents from surrounding areas come not just for fun, but for medical appointments, work, school, and shopping. We can try to move people around Traverse City as best we can, but no matter what, we’re always going to have a steady stream of traffic into the city.

So what do we do with that traffic?

We’ve all heard lots of ideas for solutions. Tunnels, bypasses, bridges, highway re-routes, even ferries have all been on the table — and some still are.

But, as with any complex problem, there isn’t going to be a silver bullet — a single, simple solution that will fix everything. So it stands to reason that maybe everything should be on the table. Maybe even some things we haven’t yet considered. As technology disrupts system after system, we can expect more changes, and more questions — and maybe more solutions — for our transportation system. What impact will Uber and Lyft have on our transportation system? What about autonomous vehicles? Will they solve our transportation problem? Will they make it worse?

There are any number of futurists, entrepreneurs and innovators who have answers to those questions. But, long-term, it’s hard to predict exactly what’s coming next. In the meantime we can ask ourselves questions about what works, what doesn’t work and what absolutely needs to be fixed.

One clear, deceptively simple question is: If we want less traffic, we need fewer cars on the roads. How do we make that happen?

BATA’s new Bayline is a huge step forward, giving us — and visitors — an easy-to-navigate, briskly-timed and low-stress way to get into and out of town.

The Grand Traverse Road Commission meanwhile is leading an East-West Corridors Transportation Study to examine needs and options for ways “around” Traverse City, based on thorough analysis and thoughtful input from the public and stakeholders. And the Traverse Transportation Coordinating Initiative (TTCI) continues to bring Traverse City-area transportation stakeholders together to coordinate transportation improvements and look for long-term solutions.

Another current initiative will identify some of our transportation ways and means outside of cars and transit. The Northwest Michigan Community Health Innovation Region, a group that’s addressing community or “social” impacts on health, is leading an effort to better understand what “alternative” transportation services are providing rides for people without cars — giving us a leg up on some of those questions about Uber, Lyft and various innovative transportation ideas.

Outside of these bigger initiatives, though, our individual decisions about transportation can make a big difference on the amount of traffic.

As the saying goes, we are traffic. We can choose not to be — by taking the bus, or by walking or biking when we can. It’s healthy, both physically and mentally — the less time you spend in traffic, the less stressed and the happier you are. And as summer flies by, it gives us a chance to enjoy the weather — without dealing with traffic.

Sarah Lucas is community development director for Networks Northwest.