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Dan Knight's Soapbox

Michigan Time

Why Michigan should be in the Central Time Zone

Dan Knight
April 4, 2000

time zones in North AmericaIf it's 2:00 p.m. in Chicago, what time is it in Detroit or Grand Rapids? The same time it is in New York and Washington - 3:00 p.m.

Why is that?

Time Zones

Look at the map to the right, adapted from the world time zone map. The vertical black lines indicate the theoretical boundaries of time zones in North America.

Ideally, everything between the black lines to the right and left of New York City would be in the Eastern Time Zone; they would not only share the same clock time as New York City, but be as close to solar time as possible in our system of one hour time zones.

But that's not how it works. Look how much blue there is in the area that should be part of the Central Time Zone: All of Michigan and Indiana, half of Ohio, parts of Tennessee and Kentucky, the whole of Alabama, and the Florida panhandle.

Being beyond the western edge of the time zone means the sun rises later and sets later on the clock, giving residents of these areas darker mornings and longer evenings than they would otherwise have. It means there's noticeably more daylight after lunch than before it. It means kids get on school buses in the dark during much of the school year.

The annual switch to Daylight Saving Time (DST) only compounds the problem, although the Michigan tourism industry promotes it as a great thing - sunlight until 10:00 p.m. during the summer.

From my perspective as a Michigan resident, not to mention that of Indiana farmers (who have pretty much kept DST out of their state), it makes more sense for Michigan and Indiana to be on Central Time and in closer sync to the rising and setting of the sun. Not only that, it would put us in the same time zone as Chicago, which is the cultural center of this part of the United States.

Benefits of Central Time

For farmers and others tied to daylight, the advantage of moving Michigan and Indiana to Central Time is that it is closer to astronomical time. The sun would be directly overhead closer too noon than to 1:00 p.m., as it is now for these two states in the Eastern Time Zone.

Early risers would enjoy more hours of daylight; early sleepers would find it easier to get to sleep with the earlier (by the clock) sunset.

Vacationers from Chicago wouldn't need to reset their clocks or perform time zone gymnastics when calling home or office. People in Michigan and Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois, wouldn't have to worry about different clock time.

People in California would be that much closer to our time, giving us and them one more hour of workday overlap during which to transact business.

Other Solutions

There are other solutions to the problem with time zones. All of China, which straddles parts of five time zones, is on Beijing time. Almost all of Europe is in a single time zone. It would not be impossible to put the entire U.S. into a single time zone, although it might not be practical.

Of course, there would be a lot of adjustment issues. If the scheme included Hawaii and Alaska, we'd probably want to make Mountain Time the norm, which means sunrise on the East Coast would be at 4:00 a.m. Entire workdays would have to be rearranged. Instead of nine to five schedules, it might become seven to three on the East Coast and ten to six on the West.

It's not a practical solution in many ways. The only benefit would be that you'd always know the time anywhere else in the States.

Another idea that's been floated is dividing the continental U.S. into two time zones by combining Central and Eastern on one end of the country and Mountain and Pacific on the other. Again, I don't think it's practical, since we might have to deal with a two or three hour difference between the Eastern and Western time zone.

The Ideal Solution

In the best of all possible worlds, noon comes when the sun is overhead. But when every community had its own local time, it was almost impossible to manage train schedules (let alone the airline and TV schedules we have today). Thus, we have time zones.

Ideally each community would be in the time zone that puts solar noon closest to clock noon. In that case, Michigan and Indiana would be in the Central Time Zone.

But we have to temper ideals with reality. It's more convenient to have entire states in the same time zone (at least as a general rule). Some states, such as Tennessee and Kentucky, straddle the time zone line; they should be allowed to decide how they want to deal with it: one time zone or divide the state arbitrarily among two time zones.

I can't and won't address this to the rest of the country. Here in Michigan, there's a lot to be said for moving to Central Time. Not only would it better fit the solar clock, it would also bring the entire state into one time zone (the western Upper Peninsula is already on Central Time) and put our clocks in sync with those in Chicago.

It would also better balance daylight hours between morning and afternoon during non-DST months. For early risers (I count myself among them), it would mean we'd see more daylight in the early part of the day. I always find that rejuvenating.

Overall, I think moving Michigan and Indiana into the Central Time Zone just makes sense, both from the standpoint of solar time and proximity to Chicago.

For more on DST, see Daylight Saving Time?

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