Monthly Archives: November 2013

In Michigan, Redesigning A Campus For People, Bikes And Cars

In our latest student-written story, Curbing Cars intern Matthew Varcak at Central Michigan University looks at plans to redesign the campus for every kind of transportation use.

By Matthew Varcak

If you say Mount Pleasant to anyone in Michigan, the first thing they might name is Central Michigan University – a university that nearly doubles the city’s population from September through May.

CMU is a public school, whose campus covers 871 acres, and has 17,771 undergraduate students. This year, CMU had the NFL’s No. 1 draft pick, Eric Fisher.

Mount Pleasant also has a sprawling casino, resort and water park run by the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, an ample public transportation system, and a picturesque small town atmosphere.

The city and the university, however, aren’t known for being bicycle or pedestrian friendly. But some people are trying to change this. They are redesigning the campus with an emphasis on how it will be used by people, bicycles and cars.

CMU’s 2013 Campus Master Plan, which sets the direction of the university for the next century, features plans to make the campus more accessible for bikes and pedestrians. (See the master plan at the end of this article.) Continue reading

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Filed under bicycling, cars, public transportation, student stories, walking

Do We Really Have To Get Rid Of All The Cars?

photo(14)By Micheline Maynard

For the past few days, I’ve been thinking about something I spotted on The Atlantic Monthly’s website. It’s called, “The Case Against Cars In 1 Utterly Entrancing GIF.” You can take a look at it here.

Basically, the animation shows a street full of cars, flashing to their drivers seated on the road. Then those people are grouped, and loaded onto a streetcar. The point of the GIF is to show how public transit reduces congestion.

Since Curbing Cars launched this summer, I’ve been struck by the polarization in the discussion over transportation use. At one end are people who think cars are evil and to be avoided at all costs. At the other end are those who love automobiles and think the people who despise them are crazy.

There’s very little discussion about the middle ground, which is where I think many Americans are heading, and will be heading in the next few years. That is, cars as part of a mix of personal transportation, but not the only option. It’s what the Livable Streets Coalition calls “driving light,” and which others call “living car light.”

That seems to make perfect sense, and yet, as with many moderate points of view, that thought seems to be getting overlooked. Continue reading

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Filed under cars, Curbing Cars, Driving, public transportation, walking

Downtown, Campus Town: Bike Sharing Shapes Up For Ann Arbor

By Micheline Maynard

Heather SeyfarthBike sharing is exploding across the United States, with new programs popping up all over the United States. The nation’s bike sharing fleet has already doubled in 2013, and it’s expected to double again in 2014.

One of those new programs will be in my home town, Ann Arbor, MI. It seems an ideal spot for bike sharing, because of an active bike community, tens of thousands of students from all over the world, and a lot of bike lanes already in place over its 27.7 square miles.

This past week, I got some details about what’s planned for Ann Arbor from Heather Seyfarth, program manager for the Clean Energy Coalition, which is spearheading the local program. She and I spoke to the annual meeting of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition (my talk focused on the Curbing Cars project).

Ann Arbor’s program, which is about to be named, will be similar to other bike sharing programs across North America, but it has one main difference: it isn’t associated with Bixi, which oversees the programs in Montreal, Toronto and New York, among other places, and which is on shaky financial ground. Continue reading

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Filed under bicycling, bike sharing, public transportation

Can’t Bikes And Cars Just Get Along? Apparently, Not Yet

Chicago's bike lanes still result in bike-car conflict.

Chicago’s bike lanes still result in bike-car conflict.

By Micheline Maynard

Motorists and cyclists each have their own stories to tell about each other. Drivers complain that cyclists don’t obey traffic laws and dart out of nowhere without any warning. Cyclists feel like they have targets painted on their backs every time they’re out on the road.

Writing in Sunday’s New York Times, Daniel Duane tackled the situation in his op-ed piece, “Is It O.K. To Kill Cyclists?” Of course, the headline stretched things a bit. But for many of us, Duane nailed the issue in his lede paragraph.

“Everybody who knows me knows I love cycling and that I’m also completely freaked out by it,” he wrote.

After listing a bushel basket full of bike-car accidents, Duane made a salient point.

“The social and legal culture of the American road, not to mention the road itself, hasn’t caught up,” he wrote. “Laws in most states do give bicycles full access to the road, but very few roads are designed to accommodate bicycles, and the speed and mass differentials — bikes sometimes slow traffic, only cyclists have much to fear from a crash — make sharing the road difficult to absorb at an emotional level.” Continue reading

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Filed under bicycling, bike sharing, Driving

Driving Less, But More Are Driving Alone

traffic-jamBy Micheline Maynard

It’s well established that Americans are driving less, and taking shorter trips when they get behind the wheel. Some people have given up driving completely.

But the vast majority of people who are still driving appear to be driving alone.

The Wall Street Journal reports that in 2012, about 76 percent of workers 16 years and older drove to work alone—just shy of the all-time peak of 77 percent in 2005, according to data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Here’s some more data. According to the Census Bureau, carpooling has fallen from about 20 percent of commutes in 1980 to under 10 percent in 2012. Public transportation accounted for just over six percent of daily commutes in 1980 and is now five percent. A category the Census Bureau calls “other means”—which includes biking—stands at two percent, largely unchanged over the past decade.

Those commuting trends seem a little puzzling, since there’s plenty of evidence that public transportation is seeing record demand. However, one development might help explain some of these shifts. Continue reading

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Filed under cars, Driving, public transportation

We Want To Hear Your Stories. Write For Curbing Cars

We've had student written stories from all over the country. Join our stable of writers,

We’ve had student written stories from all over the country. Join our stable of writers.

Curbing Cars is telling stories of how people are rethinking the way they get around. And who better to tell those stories than you?

We offer these opportunities for you to write for us. Send your ideas to curbingcars@gmail.com. All submissions should be 500 words or less. We welcome photos and video. Include a phone number in case we have questions.

Before you pitch us a story, read the Columbia Journalism Review cover story about us.  Also, take a look at our site so that you don’t duplicate a story we’ve already written. We also do not accept stories that you have written for other publications, except your own blog.

Here are the categories where you can write for us. (Note: we only pay for student-written stories.) Continue reading

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Filed under Bike Share Review, My Transportation Diary, student stories

Sinking Your Teeth Into The Transportation Beat

Andy Riga of the Montreal Gazette is a role model for transportation reporters. You read about him in the Columbia Journalism Review cover story. Today, we’re pleased to offer his guest post on how to cover the transportation beat.

Andy Riga

Andy Riga

 By Andy Riga

“How many times can I write about traffic jams and late buses?”

The question crossed my mind when my editor asked me if I wanted to be The Montreal Gazette’s first transportation reporter in 2009.

Despite misgivings, I accepted. Pretty soon it dawned on me that transport has the makings of the perfect beat.

It affects everyone — we all drive or take transit or cycle or walk or do all of the above. And everybody has opinions (and questions) about how we get around, the future of cars, improving transit, encouraging human-powered transport.

Want to be a transport reporter? Here’s my road map to a fulfilling (and fun) beat.

1) Make it practical. Help people get around, whatever their preferred mode. Major roadwork, transit interruptions, bike-path obstructions. I write ‘em up for the paper, online and/or Twitter and Facebook. I also write a weekly piece about traffic disruptions that affect drivers, transit users and cyclists. Continue reading

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It’s Not Car Culture Any More, It’s Phone Culture

By Micheline Maynard

The Columbia Journalism Review gave us a forum this month to talk about Curbing Cars. Its editors also weighed in on the way mainstream media covers the transportation story.

Curbing Cars is featured in the November/December issue of Columbia Journalism Review

Curbing Cars is featured in the November/December issue of Columbia Journalism Review

It notes that the automobile industry spends $14.8 billion (yes, with a “b”) on advertising last year, making it the second biggest category behind technology and communications. Cars are the single-biggest television category.

Given that, it’s no wonder that newspapers, magazines and TV networks lavish coverage on the car companies. But that’s happening at a time when the public is turning away from automobiles as a preoccupation to many other activities.

“Much of transportation coverage, meanwhile, remains stalled in the 20th century,” CJR writes in this editorial.

“We cover Detroit as though it were 1993, not 2013. A story about transportation infrastructure typically means the sorry condition of bridges and roadways. In 2011, Businessjournalism.org published a “How-to” column about covering transportation that could have been written 30 years ago.” Continue reading

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Curbing Cars Featured On The Cover Of Columbia Journalism Review

Curbing Cars is featured in the November/December issue of Columbia Journalism Review

Curbing Cars is featured in the November/December issue of Columbia Journalism Review

By Micheline Maynard

We all know rock stars want to be on the cover of Rolling Stone. But for journalists, the equivalent is to be on the cover of the Columbia Journalism Review.

Well, here we are. Curbing Cars is featured in the November/December issue of CJR, which is arriving with subscribers and appearing on newstands now.

Here’s how it came about, This summer, while Curbing Cars was in the middle of our Kickstarter campaign, I got a call from an editor at CJR. Would I be interested in writing a cover story for the magazine on the thesis behind our project, he asked?

The article  lays out the reasons I became interested in writing about why people are rethinking the way they get around. It also talks about how the story isn’t being covered in a comprehensive way by most mainstream media, although there are plenty of places to find information on the Web and from some smart journalists.

Think of this as the Curbing Cars Manifesto, a term I’m borrowing from my friend Barry Sorkin at Smoque BBQ in Chicago. (Barry’s uncle and Smoque partner Al Sherman was actually one of the first people to back our Kickstarter.) It touches on many of the topics we’ll be exploring in-depth in our upcoming eBook.

I’d love to get your thoughts about the cover, the ideas behind our project, and whether you’re rethinking the use of your car. Even if you still are a fan of automobiles, and can’t imagine your life without one, your ideas are most welcome, too. And if you’re so moved, click on the “Donate” button on the right side of our site and help us keep up our work.

You can read the cover story here.

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