Is your workplace looking for an employee rewards program that encourages healthy/sustainable commuting? I’ve looked into different rewards programs in search of a partner and Green Streets Initiative’s (GSI) Walk/Ride Day Workplace Challenge is, by far, my favorite. Before I share why I think they’re superior to comparable programs, know that GSI runs a seven month Workplace Challenge whereby employees “check-in”, or record, their commute (modes and duration) on the last Friday of the month, between April and October. Participants are rewarded online, monthly, through raffles, discounts, and incentives offered by some participating employers.
A change in Boston’s default speed limit and increases in parking meter rates should improve commuting conditions for pedestrians, bikers, and drivers who need parking.
On January 9th, the default speed limit drops to 25 mph from 30mph. This change should have a meaningful impact on pedestrian and biker safety. Based on WalkBoston, pedestrians have a 40% chance of getting killed when hit by a vehicle driving at 30 mph. That probability decreases to under 10% at 20mph. The Transportation Department will also be looking at areas due for a 10mph drop to 20mph.
Boston’s goal is to achieve zero fatalities on its city streets from traffic crashes. This initiative, only first announced by Boston Mayor Walsh in 2015, will be modeled off a program born in Sweden in the late 90s known as Vision Zero. In 2016 the number of fatalities due to traffic crashes, including pedestrians, bikers and drivers, is at the same level as it was in 2014 (at about 17 according to a Boston Globe article). Slowing down cars and improving biking and walking pedestrian infrastructure should help.
As a Boston resident, I’ve frequently visited the Falmouth area of Cape Cod. As a New York native, I am in the Hamptons every summer for a week or two. In both cases, we visit family and don’t have a place of our own. We don’t want the hassle of owning a second home, but, occasionally, I might day dream about the type of location I would pick for a “country home”. I would start to think about the activities I would want to fill my leisure time with. Hiking, biking, or skiing would lead me to the mountains or the forests. Sun bathing, sailing and swimming would require water and a beach or shore. Another critical choice that is not well considered is how to commute to those leisurely activities. Researchers have shown that people underestimate the cost of long commutes to their well-being when selecting a house (See this Science Blog article). I would guess that individuals who make second home decisions spend little time thinking about how they will get around, unless their main sport is biking.
Last week I attended a fascinating conference on the future of transportation organized by Transportation for Massachusetts or T4MA. The organizers assembled an impressive list of speakers, including Robin Chase, CEO of ZipCar, Jackie DeWolf, Director of Sustainable Mobility at MassDOT, and Julian Agyeman, Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts. Robin shared her thoughts on autonomous vehicles or AVs (they’ll be tested in Boston at year end!) and how cities can ensure they don’t deliver hell, or more congestion and more pollution. Her opinions and predictions were particularly intriguing, and they are nicely summarized in this Back Channel post and in her cool You Tube video. I also share her most important comments here:
- The arrival of AVs will have a profound social, economic and environmental impact. Regulators need to make drastic changes to current regulation across a broad range of policy areas to ensure AVs benefit people and don’t lead to more congestion, pollution and unemployment.
- “If we allow the introduction of autonomous vehicles to be guided by existing regulations we’ll end up with more congestion, millions of unemployed drivers, and a huge deficit in how we fund our transportation infrastructure. We will also miss an opportunity to fix transportation’s hereto intractable reliance on liquid fossil fuels (and their associated pollution)”
- Robin believes the solution to our woes lies in AVs that are electric and shareable, including the rides. The economics of a trip on a ride sharing AV will be too attractive for people to pass up (cheaper than a bus ticket) and car ownership will decline rapidly in cities.
- Side note: I don’t see why we even need AVs to be cars. Why not introduce self-driving electric buses for even less congestion.
- With fewer cars on the road, there will be less need for parking and cities can convert ugly parking lots into parks or affordable housing units
- Shareable AVs will address congestion, pollution, safety and beautify the urban landscape, but what about taxes and jobs?
- We need a revamp of how we collect tax revenues from the transportation sector. The gas tax must disappear and be replaced by road user fees based on fuel type, distance traveled and time of travel with the introduction of peak hour pricing. Cars that are roaming the block in search of parking or to wait for a passenger would get taxed more (the technical term is “zombie cars”)
- This shift also requires a massive change in our employment system. Automation will lead to unemployment. Robin advocates for a minimum income, and the portability of benefits.
- Furthermore, to ensure the arrival of AVs don’t lead to an increase in car ownership by wealthy individuals who can afford a third car, Robin believes governments should be requiring a moratorium on personal AV car ownership for five years. This will give shareable AVs a head start on being used and known as a shareable and green mode of transportation.
Wow! Implementing these massive changes over the course of the next five years will require policy makers to ignore a lot of other important issues and to work like investment bankers. What are the chances of that? These proposals are bold but necessary to build a cleaner, quieter and more just city.
Its Clean Air week in Massachusetts, a week during which we should think harder about our personal transportation choices and try out environmentally friendly modes. Among my circle of friends and acquaintances, no one seems to know much about this special week. There are personal benefits to obtain from participating in the Clean Air challenge: check out http://www.commute.com/CleanAir for more info. If you log your green rides through the site www.NuRide.com, you are eligible to earn a $100 Amazon gift card each day, through September 27. NuRide is also an easy and fun way to get discounts from retailers, restaurants, museums, and theaters year-round. For bikers, there is also another cool rewards program called Bicycle Benefits that gets you discounts when you bike to participating retail stores using a simple “sticker on the helmet” system.
So what efforts have I made so far to travel green this week? Aside from my usual four-block walk to take my kids to school, I chose green modes for two relatively long, 15-mile, round-trip jaunts this week. For my first trip I went from Back Bay to Alewife (Bus 1 to Central Square, then the Red line to Alewife). My second trip was more adventurous and fun as I rode my kick/electric scooter (the eMicro) from Back Bay to Newton, following the Charles River bike paths. Check out the picture I took below of an area of the Charles River Parkway that is completely hidden by trees; a pleasant escape from the sections adjacent to Storrow drive. For these commutes I get points from NuRide that I will be redeeming soon. For example, I plan to get tickets to an ImprovBoston show.
While these commutes can be done by car in 30% to 40% of the time I took using transit/walking/scootering, I enjoyed these trips more than a car trip; I got some exercise, I did some reading on the train, I got some points in NuRide, I made a donation to a non-profit after chatting with a representative on Mass. Ave (I am still trying to decide how I feel about that detour). But, are all of these benefits enough to change behavior? For most people, a 20-minute commute will almost always win out over a 50 minute one. Until public transportation gets faster in Boston, convincing many to leave their cars at home will be a challenge. Because of this reality, the Clean Air challenge is also open to drivers as long as they carpool. As an interesting side note, MassRides is looking for a ride matching service provider to partner with.
Did you get a chance to participate in the Clean Air challenge this week? Please share your thoughts about any changes you made to your transportation choices lately and what motivated you to make them.
The technology industry is abuzz with new companies promising to remove the friction of traditional ways. Transportation tech is no different. Uber and Lyft reduce the hassle of hunting down a taxi. Paying is automatic and requires no time wasted entering a credit card or managing change. New technology-based transportation services are reducing obstacles in our way of getting from A to B, but it’s important to remember that not all transportation challenges require a high-tech response. We seem to forget that walking can often get us to a destination as fast as driving during rush hour, in city centers. Kick scooters provide a faster and, I would argue, more fun way to travel within a 1 to 2-mile radius.
Relative to cars or bikes, kick scooters are likely to get you out on the street and on your way faster (assuming you have to get a bike or car out of a garage). Kick scooters are the ultimate grab and go transport. Because they can be folded and weigh only 9 to 13 pounds (referring to adult scooters), you can take them with you on trains, planes and automobiles. The ultimate in frictionless transport are light electric scooters that can be stored in an apartment and walked up and down flights of stairs without a strain (see electric scooters weighing less than 20 pounds like the eMicro). But, electric scooters are significantly more expensive than manual kick scooters, ranging from $800 to $2,000+. Adult Kick scooters, by contrast, typically cost between $100 and $300.
So, if you want to add control, speed and fun to your commute, whether walking or public-transportation focused, try out a kick scooter. Even drivers may be able to use one to avoid paying steep garage parking rates in downtown centers; park further away and use a kick scooter for the last mile. Introducing: Park and Scoot, the unofficial sister to Mass DOT’s Park and Ride program.
Not all kick scooters are created equal. So, trying them out on your city pavement is recommended. For adults and teens, I suggest purchasing a scooter with polyurethane, 200mm wheels (aka big wheel scooters). Within that category, there are choices (a quick search on Amazon will make your head spin). The decision often comes down to a Razor A5 versus a higher quality, Swiss-made, Micro scooter.
After experimenting with a few scooters, I have chosen Micro scooters to power my rides. While adult Razor scooters are great for the price ($99 and sometimes less), Micro scooters will provide a more comfortable, smoother, and durable ride. Micros’ heavier material, more comfortable handle bars, and high-quality bearings make a difference. Boston-area readers can contact me to demo Micro products, including the eMicro, the Pedalflow, and Micro Samsonite Luggage. Their new Suspension Scooter is receiving rave reviews from Boston friends for its speed, comfort and adaptability to rough and cracked surfaces.
If you use a kick scooter, please share which one and for what purpose. Thanks for reading!
Commuting is often stressful and we want it to go by as quickly as possible to get to work, school, home etc. We may see other travelers around us as obstacles in our way. In the evening, after a day’s work, it’s often difficult to start unwinding until we get home. The pressure we feel to get to our destination drains the energy we need to do the work, or be an attentive colleague, parent or partner. These negative feelings can be reduced if we can change our attitude about commuting and use the time to practice living in the present. If you can delegate the driving to someone else or if you walk, bike, or kick scoot, consider practicing meditation during the journey. Headspace – meditation & mindfulness, an excellent meditation app full of meditation exercises and insightful lessons about the mind, can help. The service even provides a special session dedicated to commuting (check it out here). Note that there are also modules focused on walking and cycling. Continue reading