Our region is getting rave reviews for its natural beauty and culinary scene, and now it looks like we’re jumping out in front on the public transit front. The Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA) has a new Bike-n-Ride program that is one of a handful in the nation and the first in Michigan. The service encourages groups of recreational riders to pedal 17 miles on the paved Leelanau Trail between Traverse City and Suttons Bay and return on one of two retrofitted school buses with capacity for 11 bicycles and child trailers.
Doug Dowdy, Manager of Transportation Services for BATA, says that the “important spoke” of the success of the Bike-n-Ride initiative is its ability to move families and riders of varying abilities, like Judy Walter, a senior rider from Suttons Bay. She loves that the Bike-n-Ride service allows her to ride her bike in to Traverse City on the Leelanau Trail, access the amenities downtown, including spending time with her grandchildren, and ride the bus back a couple hours later, which to her is “truly a gift.”
Walter is not the only cyclist who thinks the Bike-n-Ride program answers a need. Because the Bike-n-Ride service “enriches the experience” of locals and tourists alike with “more ways to enjoy all that is wonderful about northern Michigan including active access to farms, water, restaurants and the towns,” posits Lee Maynard of Traverse Area Recreational Trails (TART), the project collaborators see growth potential and more economic impact on the region. They are eyeing other trails, connections with other municipalities (like the Village of Suttons Bay) and seasonal opportunities for service growth to fulfill the transit need in line with organizational missions.
Organizers expected the service to be successful after they saw an increase in the use of the Leelanau Trail after the final paving was completed. A 68% increase in ridership along the route, however, has facilitated unexpected local economic impact as well.
“We have really been feeling the boost to business here in Suttons Bay. I’ve been hearing from a lot of people that this is their best season ever. Half of all our guests have been grabbing bikes and completing the trip,” shares Nick Wierzba, owner of Suttons Bay Bikes. “The Bike-n-Ride program makes it more accessible for all ages.” The service provides a “safety net” that encourages riders to experience the scenic trail and know they can ride the bus back if desired. 45th Parallel, a café in Suttons Bay, has also experienced increased restaurant traffic. Owner Tim Lambdin, exclaims “with doubled or more bike traffic, we’ve experienced a phenomenal summer.”