Cut Your Commute to Downtown Detroit

Photograph of a colorful sunrise in downtown Detroit.

Each morning, about 1.8 million people wake up and commute to work in the Metro Detroit area. Of those, 84% (about 1.5 million people) drive to work alone, and another 8.5% (about 150,000 people) carpool — with both groups spending an average of 26 minutes commuting. Only 1.6% of Metro Detroit workers take public transportation, and their average commute is over 50 minutes. In 2008, Forbes rated Detroit as the second worst city in the country for commuting, based on factors like traffic delays and insufficient infrastructure.

I didn’t know all these statistics when I joined Atomic Object’s Detroit office this past summer and began planning my move. I just knew that I did not want to drive to work each day. Besides the lost personal time, the expense of fuel and parking, and the environmental impact of driving in general, I emphatically dislike driving in and near big cities. Spending an hour a day surrounded by dozens of tired, distracted, impatient people in two-ton blocks of metal moving at high speeds is not my idea of fun.

So instead of living out in the suburbs, I made the deliberate decision to live right in the heart of downtown Detroit, within walking distance of the office. Instead of being stuck in rush hour traffic, I take a 10-minute stroll past shops, restaurants, and pubs. The weather this past summer and autumn was perfect, and the heavy snow and wind last month only reaffirmed my decision. I’d rather bundle up and face the winter weather on foot than play bumper cars on the freeway!

Panoramic photo of the downtown Detroit skyline on a foggy night.

There are, of course, some downsides to living downtown. The city noise (traffic, misfired car alarms, crowds of party-goers on weekends, and sports fans on game nights) made it difficult to sleep at first, although I have mostly gotten used to it now. And the wide expanses of concrete, brick, and asphalt sometimes make me long for the ubiquitous trees, gardens, and critters of my home town. (There are a number of parks in the city, and the riverfront is lovely, but it’s just not the same.)

But there are some definite perks to living downtown, too — like being a stone’s throw away from many places of interest: parks and the riverfront; the theatres and music halls; a wide variety of clubs, pubs, and restaurants; and, for the sports fans, Comerica Park, Ford Field, and Joe Louis Arena. There are a variety of free outdoor events held downtown, especially in the summer: festivals, live concerts, outdoor movie screenings, and more. And it’s pretty exciting to watch and be a part of the revitalization of Detroit.

Christmas Tree and lights at Campus Martius in downtown Detroit on a wet night.It occurred to me recently that, living in downtown Detroit 24/7, my view of the city is quite different than that of the throngs of daily commuters. There are moments of intrigue, awe, and even beauty that you would never see if you only visited the city from 9 to 5. Lately, I’ve begun capturing photographs of the most visually-striking moments to share with my workmates and the world.

Living downtown may not be right for everyone, but it has worked out wonderfully for me. If you are planning to move for a new job in one of the many downtown offices, or if you’re tired of your current daily commute into the city, consider moving downtown. You’ll spend less time stuck in traffic, save money on fuel, generate less pollution, and have tons of fun stuff to do within walking distance.

Finally, I want to give a shout-out to the Freshwater Rail project. They have developed a plan for a modern, usable, and efficient public rail and bus system to serve Metro Detroit, and they’re looking for your support to make it happen. Even if you can’t live downtown and enjoy a commute-free workday like I do, hopefully you will some day at least have a convenient alternative to driving in (and contributing to) that crazy rush hour traffic.

A flock of birds flying at sunrise in downtown Detroit.