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.
Boston’s population growth has brought congestion and parking problems. But, where are the cars coming from? Suburbanites commuting to work, or city folk who prefer driving to alternatives? A transportation study is coming out in late fall that should shed some light. But, local representatives aren’t waiting for the results to start talking about policy solutions to address parking congestion. Two weeks ago, Councilor Frank Baker called a hearing to discuss parking. At the hearing, Councilor Bill Linehan decried that transportation and parking availability “is one of the central issues facing Boston”. The discussion was heated as some officials want better parking enforcement to address issues such as the abuse of handicapped parking signs while others want to do away with parking in some areas to make room for bike and bus lanes. More details about the hearing are covered in the Boston Herald and the Boston Globe.
One proposal that does seem to generate consensus is increasing parking meter rates. Boston Chief of Streets, Chris Osgood, spoke of this proposal at the hearing and indicated it would include reinvesting parking revenue in the neighborhood where it was collected. Hopefully the revenue will be used for street and sidewalk improvements. Increasing meter rates is one solution. There are others to consider. Controlling and pricing residential parking permits is one. Providing drivers with real-time information about parking spot availability is a related and very important solution. With access to parking spot availability data and pricing, drivers will spend less time searching for parking, or may not bother to drive in the first place (if parking is expensive and hard to find at certain hours). According to MIT’s Senseable City Lab, the average American spends about 50 hours per year just looking for parking, wasting fuel while increasing air pollution and traffic congestion.
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.
Last week my husband and I went to a Patriots home game at Gillette stadium. I had a fun time eating popcorn, drinking ONE beer, and watching the Patriots clobber the Texans. Being there was fun, but driving there and back was not as pleasant. I know now that we could have taken the commuter rail that offers a special service from South Station to Gillette on Patriot home games only. The $20 round-trip ticket is worthwhile to avoid traffic, and feel less stressed and tired. In addition to the commuter rail, there is now another way to get to Patriots games, and, more critically, to get to events at Gillette stadium not conveniently serviced by public transportation. We can now use Skedaddle, an app-based crowdsourced travel service that matches groups of people seeking the same destination to luxurious buses. A simple download of the app and account registration allows members to find routes to join, or to set up their own pick-up address and destination. Happy Commutes blog readers get a $10 credit with code 3ca533.
Here’s how the service works. Individuals suggest routes and choose to make them public or private. Routes go live once an additional 9 people sign up. Buses can accommodate very large groups, depending on demand. Skedaddle is a simple concept that addresses multiple use cases:
- Planning an event / outing for a large group? Routes can be made private
- Feel like getting out of the city to explore nature. There’s a bus going to Great Blue Hill for a sunset hike on October 15, departing from Essex St. in Boston for $26. The organizer will provide snacks and hot cider.
- Trips also go out of state. If you have tickets to see the Patriots vs. Cleveland Browns game on October 7, there is a possible bus route going to the stadium in Cleveland from Boston for $166.
- Skedaddle is also available to New Yorkers and there are several New York/Boston bus routes organized. Planning to attend The Head of the Charles?, I just saw a return trip from Cambridge to New York for $37.
The route options are diverse and the service is clever about motivating people to post new trips by giving a free ride to the route creator. So, if you set up a route to a popular destination, you will likely ride for free. I love this service for its flexibility, convenience and for the adventures now possible to city dwellers.
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.
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
This week I was a research participant in an MIT Media Lab project with the Persuasive Urban Mobility team of the The Changing Places Group. A key goal of the research is driving adoption of environmentally friendly behaviors in cities through persuasive environmental and social factors as well as through technologies that make adopting these behaviors easier. One of the key researchers on the team, Agnis Stibe, describes the concept of persuasive cities in depth in his recent TEDx Beacon Street talk. One example of environmental and social persuasion that he uses in his talk involves posting stats about bicycle commuters crossing the Harvard bridge. If you knew that 2,500 bikers crossed the bridge today (instead of staring at the 5 bikers out your window), that might persuade more car commuters to give biking a try. Commuting by bike would then be viewed as a more normal activity and not something that a weird minority engages in.
The project I participated in was about testing a mobile app protype that hopes to turn skittish / reticent cyclists into more confident urban cyclists through a voice-based coaching app. Eager to improve my own cycling and to mix up my kickscooter routine with some bigger wheels, I signed up to test out the prototype. Project team member Matthias Wunsch greeted me outside the Media Lab and handed me a smartphone and some basic Apple headphones. At first, the coach told me to practice rapid braking. Once I had mastered this move, I was ready to start my urban ride on the busy streets of Kendall Square.
We’re all hooked on navigation apps and can’t remember what life was like without‘em. For the direction challenged, apps that give you turn-by-turn instructions are saviors. Their up-to-date travel time estimates increase the predictability of commutes. Without a doubt, these apps reduce commuting stress and bring happier commutes. But, while their benefits are significant, they have also made driving easier.
The decision to drive usually makes sense when minimizing commute time is the key goal. But, if your goal is to maximize enjoyment during the trip (whatever that means for you), or minimize travel costs, the fastest option may not be the answer. Maybe you can allot 30 minutes to a trip, so getting there in 15 minutes is not necessarily ideal. Future navigation apps should be able to help commuters optimize their route based on multiple goals, not just travel time.