Julie Funke may work in nonprofit finance, but her other passion – telling the story of what it’s like to navigate Detroit and southeast Michigan via bike and bus – piqued our interest here at Opportunity Detroit.
We caught up with Funke to learn more about 2 Women 4 Wheels, the blog site she maintains with friend, Melissa Damaschke, which talks about bus and bike adventures around the Motor City.
When did you decide biking and public transit were better options for you, and why?
In March of 2010, Melissa and I made a pact to navigate the bus bike racks and schedule together. It seemed daunting (and we’re here to tell you that it isn’t!), so two heads are better than one, right? After learning about the system, bus/bike commuting has just become part of the norm. It’s amazing how stress-free you arrive at work without having to sit in traffic for an hour! Not only that, but it gives you the space to be productive, set out your goals for the day or just relax before the busy day starts.
Why did you start 2 Women 4 Wheels, and what is your mission?
We started 2 Women 4 Wheels in order to enjoy happy hour without having to drive our cars. Our friends loved our stories of busing/biking, so we started the blog to share them. Our blog has evolved into not just a place to share stories, but to advocate for better public transit in the region.
Aren’t bus routes and schedules overwhelming to keep track of?
I wouldn’t necessarily use the word overwhelming, but there’s definitely some planning involved. Google Maps has been the best tool that we’ve used to track bus schedules using our smart phones. SMART is working on some new technology, which we hope will be public soon, because their current website isn’t very mobile-friendly. DDOT has a “text for the next bus schedule” feature, but we’ve seen that this system has some limitations too. It’s also important to think about planning what you need for your day of busing/biking. Is there rain in the forecast? Is it one of those Michigan days that is a high of 70 and a low of 32? It’s best to layer up and be prepared. Oh, and never forget snacks!
How about bike paths? How do cyclists know where it’s safe to ride?
Our biking experience has showed us that Detroit is one of the safest places for bikers as the city has dedicated over 150 miles to bike lanes and marked trails! In fact, Melissa has a marked bike lane to her office just north of the downtown area. We’d still definitely suggest that bikers be very cognizant of cars, as the metro Detroit biking community is still emerging. The more bikers we have out there on the streets and using the bike lanes though, the more drivers will be used to bikers, and the safer our shared streets will be!
You serve on the Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority’s Citizen’s Advisory Council. What role do they play in the community?
We are really getting started with the RTA’s CAC, and I’ve really learned that it’s a wonderful group of community members that are dedicated to public transit in our region. Our purpose is to advise the RTA on transit issues, make suggestions for improvements in transit service and advocate for greater funding for public transportation. Be sure to stay up to date with the RTA and the CAC as some of the transit plans for the region start to shape!
You’ve biked and bused in other countries … what are some differences you’ve experienced?
I’ve definitely had the opportunity to bus/bike in other countries and other cities in the U.S. What it’s really showed me is how behind we are in public transit and non-motorized infrastructure in the metro Detroit area. The great thing is that we have so many excellent examples to choose from, or to see how they’ve worked out in cities with rustbelt backgrounds similar to Detroit’s.
Do you think the perception of public transportation is changing in our region?
I’m not sure. Our individual perception of public transportation has changed over the years. Before 2 Women 4 Wheels got started, we didn’t know how to place our bikes on the rack in front of the bus. We also didn’t know the best way to pay for the bus or where to locate the bus stops. Slowly, as we learned more information and used the buses, we became more comfortable with using transit. Of course there are still frustrations with buses not running on time and having full bike racks, but at the end of the day, we remind ourselves that we don’t have to sit in a traffic jam on I-75 or Woodward. Instead, when we use public transit, we can chat with each other, read a book, check email or write a blog post.
How can people who are very dependent on their cars begin embracing other modes of transportation?
Challenge yourself and find a friend. That’s what we did. It will never be easy to use public transit when you have the convenience of a car, but it is hard to turn down meeting up with a friend. In fact, the first year we started taking the bus we almost always rode it together, which of course kept us riding the bus. Whether we knew it or not, checking in with a friend to match bus schedules also kept us accountable to each other to keep riding the bus. And that’s why four years later, we’re still riding the bus.
What are some resources you recommend to beginners?
2 Women 4 Wheels’ blog of course! The Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) has a number (506-64), where you text the cross streets of your location and they text you back with available buses according to the DDOT schedule. If you have a smart phone, the Google Maps app is pretty reliable for figuring out the best buses to use to plan your trip. You can also check out the Detroit Commuter Challenge.
Will you be taking advantage of the M-1 Rail once it’s completed?
We probably won’t use it for our daily commute. There’s no need to ride it since we will pick up a bus in Oakland County, where we live. The stop closest to where we live is a few miles away at Grand Boulevard and Woodward.
To learn more about biking and busing in Detroit and beyond, find Julie and Melissa here:
- Website: 2Women4Wheels.com
- Facebook: Facebook.com/2Women4Wheels
- Twitter: Twitter.com/2Women4Wheels
- Email: 2Women4Wheels@gmail.com