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Working without Wheels

It took more than two weeks, but I finally got my beloved Saturn Vue back. It may be a White Elephant, but it's my White Elephant.

You may recall that I got into a car accident in early March, a mild fender-bender that my son still talks about on a daily basis. The bump shop did a great job putting the Old Vue back into service. But while we waited, I did a lot of walking and a little contemplating.

Living in the Motor Car Capital of the World without a motor car is miserable. This region needs more public transportation. And people need to be a little kinder to one another.

This is about Living in the D and trying to survive by bumming rides, borrowing vehicles, relying on a struggling bus system, walking to work, carrying groceries in a stroller basket and generally wishing Detroit was a more pedestrian friendly city.

Now, I'm not complaining. My family is a two-vehicle household, so I could still run errands and sneak in trips  downtown by borrowing my husband's car when he got home from work. So my suffering was pretty minimal. The worst thing I suffered was some embarrassment when the other Grosse Pointe Moms mocked my stroller-pushing self once or twice.

But when you think about the number of people going without...If in this city you cannot afford a car and its upkeep, you're a have-not. It's a dividing line. In other cities, you can survive without a vehicle. I don't want to be overly dramatic, but it's something like being illiterate: It puts a wall between you and everyone else. It's one more layer of humiliation in an already demoralizing situation.

We travel to Chicago on a regular basis because we have family there, and you can use the buses, taxis and trains to go pretty much everywhere. Yeah, Detroit has buses. We have some taxis cruising around the downtown area. We do have something called the People Mover, but that strange circular system is pretty limited. It gets you from one area of nightlife to another. For most people, it doesn't get to from work to home to stores and back again. Most of us who live outside of Detroit rely on a car – and that is how it has always been during my lifetime, and probably how it will stay during my kids' lives here.

During my two-week motor-vehicle hiatus, we got everywhere we needed to go in our old two-seater stroller: school, grocery store, friends' houses. Imagine if I had to go to an actual job – the hours it would have taken to get somewhere either by walking, taking the bus or paying a taxi would have been impossible. I would have lost any job or lost all of my wages for those two weeks because of the costs involved.

Mayor Dave Bing recently highlighted the city's commitment to new transportation options for city residents, including the M-1 rail that is slated to start later this year.

When I imagine Detroit's future, I see a city with vibrant neighborhoods, with retail and grocery stores, a city that's home to thriving small businesses, better mass transit and community parks and green space. But it will take all of us to make that happen and it's a process that will not happen overnight.

In the meantime, we'll continue to read and hear stories like mine and that of Oneita Jackson, whose blog is among my must reads in The Detroit Free Press. She too is going without a vehicle – but for much longer than I have, I'm sure. And I now understand her pleas to Bing for a working bus system more than ever before:

Instead of waiting for the next bus, I walked to work. It took 75 minutes. I thought about the people riding the bus. They are weary. We are weary.

I was hoping the mayor would say something about us, or about buses, rather, in his speech. When he said light-rail was coming soon, I wrote in my notebook, “Buses, Brother!”

He didn't talk about buses. The mayor said: “This administration is committed to working for you.”

Well, could you please, Mr. Mayor, make sure the buses work for us, too? I'm on the bus because my 317,000-mile car is sick, and I can't afford to get it repaired right now. But I've been enjoying my rides.

Now that's a good attitude.

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