Carless highway

M-185 has been part of Michigan’s state highway system since 1933… but no cars drive on it. And it has still managed to have at least one crash.

M-185 state highway
Michael Barera, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In the United States, each state has a network of highways that are maintained by that state’s government. Designating something a “state highway” therefore has real implications for its funding and maintenance.

(The same is true of interstate highways, by the way. This leads to some amusing situations where an interstate highway does not lead between states, such as every interstate highway in Hawai’i, Alaska, and Puerto Rico.)

M-185 is a Michigan state highway. It has carried that designation since 1933, although the road itself has been around since the 19th century. M-185 does not connect to any other state highways because of one simple fact: it’s on an island. Mackinac Island sits in Lake Huron; the state highway circles the island and doesn’t go anywhere else. But that’s not the weird part of this story. This road is unique for another reason. It is carless.

The ban arose back in 1898. Apparently a doctor’s car startled some horses, and that was enough to see all motorised transport banned from the island. A hundred and twenty three years later, that ban still stands. M-185 is open to bicycles, to horses, to horse-drawn carriages, or you could just walk the 12km length – but no cars!

There are, of course, a few exceptions. Emergency vehicles like fire trucks and ambulances can use the road; Christopher Reeve drove a car on the road while filming a movie back in 1979; to commemorate the centenary of the ban a hundred-year-old steam car was allowed to do a circuit; when a vice president visited the island he got to bring his motorcade with him for some reason.

Despite all of this, the highway has had exactly one car crash. In 2005 the door of a fire truck responding to an emergency hit the door of a parked ambulance that was responding to the same emergency. The door of the fire truck was a little scuffed. Despite this, I believe that this road still holds the record as the safest highway in the United States.

[Thanks to Gareth E.]

Leave a Reply