Air Quality

Published on July 6th, 2013 | by James Ayre


Cars Outlawed On Mackinac Island Since 1898

July 6th, 2013 by  

Can you imagine what it would be like if there weren’t noisy cars everywhere spewing out smelly exhaust? Sounds nice, right? Well, apparently, there is a place that is just like that, and even located within the US — Mackinac Island, located in Lake Huron, has been car-free since all the way back in 1898.

Image Credit: Mackinac Island Street via Wikimedia Commons

Image Credit: Mackinac Island Street via Wikimedia Commons

While most people nowadays are used to the presence of cars — and all the noise and pollution that accompanies them — when they first came on the scene more than a hundred years ago, there was actually quite a lot of opposition to them. They were even completely banned within some cities/towns. Over time, of course, priorities have shifted and those in power have relaxed the restrictions, but not everywhere.

Mackinac Island — located offshore of mainland Michigan, in Lake Huron — never rescinded the ban on automobiles, or as one resident at the time called them, “mechanical monsters.” The residents at the time apparently objected to the noise and exhaust — in short, they wanted a cleaner, healthier, quieter environment. Pretty easy to relate to, no?

–> Continue reading about Mackinac Island and its outlaw on cars over on Bikocity.

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About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.

  • Breath on the Wind

    When I hear of a car-less location in our modern world my first thoughts
    wonder at the technological alternatives that are used. Also, is it a
    car-less wonder for show only like a well laid out meal from an
    unmentionable restaurant kitchen? What is the substitute? The Swiss
    town of Zermatt’s car-less plans from 1947 included an electric vehicle
    manufacturing plant. Zermatt also has a few service vehicles that are
    petrol powered.

    Machinac seems to use horses for its deliveries
    rather than electric vehicles, but this article about them (
    ) refers to the whine of the snowplow in winter along with snowmobiles
    and airplanes.

    Both of these places are car-less as a way to
    promote tourist income. If we want to examine more closely what it
    means in human values to “shun” fossil fuels then we have to turn our
    gaze to the Amish communities.

    • Corbin Holland

      Funny you that because I am an expert on this island and the Amish and the Mennonites (I lived in Lancaster, Pa. for seven years and spent all of my summers in Northern Michigan). If you have ever been to the island you would see that the island actually operates better without cars when it comes to traffic. It is 8 miles in circumference with a limited population and has horse and buggy carriage for taxi if you are lazy and or old (I don’t see being old as an excuse though because my grandmother and I biked around the island every time we were there and she did that at the age of 75!). You can bike around the entire island in less than an hour if need be. The winters in Northern Michigan are very rough so I can see them using snowmobiles to remove the massive amounts of snow they get every year(seriously though I’ve never seen it snow like it does up there anywhere in my life). Airplanes would be logical travel for goods or people that want to travel between Mackinac and mainland Michigan in the winter. It is hard for ferries to get to the island during the winter because of the ice. Cheboygan, Michigan has an ice breaker that is operated by the Coast Guard that goes out and breaks up the ice or rescue boats that got stuck. There is one big town that people commute into on the island, which is where the ferries dock and having no cars there makes the commute very easy for the bikers because all you have to do is dodge the small number of horse carriages. The Amish do not own cars, but can drive in them. Mennonites can own and drive cars. So if you see an “Amish” person driving a car the car is probably black or grey and they are a Mennonite. The main source of transportation for both communities revolves around horses. The difference between the two is that there are people all around the Amish and Mennonites with cars so there is no real way to study the effects that not having cars has on the environment.

      One problem I see with horses being the main means of transportation is that horses poop a lot. In Lancaster, and the surrounding areas, there is a problem with animal poop entering waterways and destroying the fishing (check out the Chesapeake Bay initiative). One way to combat this problem is using waste to energy generation plants. In Harrisburg, about a 45 minute drive from Lancaster, the local community college, Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC), has a waste to energy generation plant that takes the animal waste and turns it into energy. After the process, what’s left is carbon that can be used for fertilizer. I am interested to see what the end consumer price would be for this electricity. I think people in the area would be willing to pay a little more to know that there isn’t excess animal waste in their waterways.

      Maybe someone could answer this question I have in regards to means of generation like waste to energy. Obviously pollution is a negative by-product of economic growth. Seeing as this means of generation eliminates other negative effects on the environment of the area as well as producing electricity (replacing the emissions of fossil fuels) do you guys think that there is room for growth in this market. Obviously, it would need to be a place with a lot of animal waste, but I think this could be a good thing for niche markets.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Before cars came on the scene Chicago had 30,000 horses employed in the public transportation/”taxi” business. Add in a large number of private owned horses.

        Think of the problems moving these many bushels of road apples to biodigesters.

        Electrify transportation. It’s a perfect solution for most of our surface travel. We can power it with 100% renewable electricity and because battery charging times can be controlled by grid managers it makes the job of creating a renewable grid easier.

        • Corbin Holland

          I do not think it would be a problem to move animal waste to a biodigester on Mackinac Island. You need to remove the animal waste from roads daily and the island and private businesses employ people to do so. I do not know where they store it, but considering the island is about 3 or 4 square miles I do not think it would be an issue getting the waste there. If most automobiles have been outlawed since 1898, the only foreseeable means of electric transportation around the island would be a golf cart or electric scooter. The electricity being generated and transmitted to this island is not strictly from renewable energy so the electric scooters and golf carts would not be 100% renewable. This island relies on tourism for income. It has a population of 492 people and thousands of people go to the island everyday in the summertime. People like to go to the island for a variety of reasons, but personally I liked going there because it was a beautiful place with a lot of history. I believe that if this island was modernized it would lose most of its tourism. If you guys ever visit you will quickly realize what I mean. I support a clean society and renewable energy and would love for this island to be powered by 100% renewable energy. But when it comes to keeping the ban on automobiles (besides emergency vehicles and snowmobiles), I fully support it. I strongly recommend visiting the island if anyone wants a good weekend vacation. There are a couple large wind turbines within a couple miles from Mackinaw City too!

          • Bob_Wallace

            A –

            “The electricity being generated and transmitted to this island is not strictly from renewable energy so the electric scooters and golf carts would not be 100% renewable.”

            “There are a couple large wind turbines within a couple miles from Mackinaw City too!”

            A + B = build more renewable generation.

          • Corbin Holland

            Wouldn’t turning horse poop into electricity and carbon fertilizer be renewable energy and promoting sustainability?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Yes. And it would probably be workable at small scale, in a restricted area where the horse population is high.

            Horses pulling vehicles can be fitted out with ‘apple baskets’. You’ve seen them in urban areas. Provide places for horse owners to dump the poop and move it to a digester.

            Add it to the sewage system output and collect the methane from as many inputs as possible. We should be tapping all our sewage systems and landfills. That would let us cut back on natural gas use.

    • Bob_Wallace

      There are islands on the SE coast which ban cars. People use battery powered golf carts. I suspect some NEVs (speed limited EVs – Neighborhood EVs) will make their way there if they haven’t already.

      There’s no reason to live like the Amish in order to shun fossil fuels. As we switch from fossil fuels to renewables most people won’t even be aware of anything changing. Their lights and TVs will work exactly as they did when we got 57% of our electricity from coal. Have they noticed any difference now that we’re down to 37%?

      Do you think driving a 200 mile range EV with rapid chargers readily available would be like living Amish-style? You wouldn’t even hear the clip-clops and horse farts….

  • Corbin Holland

    Let me start off by saying I spent my summers in Northern Michigan and this island is amazing. So many great memories of time spent with my grandmother come to mind when I think about this place. It is a historical island that’s main means of transportation on the island usually consist of of a bicycle or horse and carriage. I would be interested to learn the effects that horse manure has on the air around it. When you are getting into dock you can smell the mixture of horse poop and freshly baked fudge blended into one weird smell that after awhile strangely enough.

    On another note the island is in between the lower and upper peninsula of Michigan. The article says the island is in Lake Huron and I guess you could technically say it’s located in Lake Huron, but it is in the area where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron, also known as the Straights of Mackinac.

    • “When you are getting into dock you can smell the mixture of horse poop and freshly baked fudge blended into one weird smell that after awhile strangely enough.” -Haha, that must be interesting.

      • Corbin Holland

        Haha it is! It’s an amazing place with a lot of history. I would recommend visiting the island to anyone. I am going to find out if they have a waste to energy power plant on the island because with all of that horse poop I’m sure they could generate a good amount of energy and stop the run off from hurting the fishing in the straights

        • Corbin Holland

          There are two gasoline powered automobiles on the island. An ambulance and firetruck. But I’m sure all of us can understand why that is

  • Ivor O’Connor

    “mechanical monsters”! Perfect description. Now how are they on renewable energies?

  • I want to see a public health study comparing Mackinac City to a similar area with cars to see the difference.

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