The Bicycle Commute: Hurdles and Hope

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Commuting to work via bicycle is a lovely choice. It helps the environment, saves commuters a ton of money, helps people get fit and brings communities together.

But it is not without its challenges. There are fears about traffic and safety to overcome. A bike commute also presents certain logistical challenges as well. Those challenges can range from arriving at work looking presentable to figuring out where to leave the bike during the day.

Nevertheless, Greenville, South Carolina appears to be experiencing an increase in the number of people who are choosing to commute to work via bicycle. The city has seen an 80% increase in the number of bicycle commuters between 2000 and 2011 according to US Census Data.

What's the takeaway for us back here in Idaho? It's this: people are starting to see the value in this form of transportation. So now, more than ever, we need to make sure that we find ways to eliminate or mitigate the hurdles to going car-free.

What does that mean? It means creating safe bike routes. It means encouraging businesses to include bike racks in their parking lots. It means educating people on how they can overcome some of the hurdles on their own, using methods that dedicated bike commuters are already using in the absence of any support. It also means smart planning that links bike routes to bus and rail routes in intelligent, intuitive ways. 

Unfortunately, none of this is really optional. The price of gas alone may soon put a traditional car commute out of reach for many families. Encouraging bicycle commuting is a simple move that can have a sustainable positive impact on our communities for decades to come.

The Rise of Multi-Modal

Monday, June 10, 2013
by: Vanassa Fry - District 4 Mobility Manager

As part of the US Department of Transportation’s Strategic Plan 2012-2016 former DOT Secretary Ray LaHood steered the nation towards a course of multimodal transportation that supports livable communities.  Not only does multimodal transportation offer safer, more convenient travel it also will help the US move away from our reliance on foreign oil.  Sounds like a good plan, right?  Well, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

For decades transportation modes have acted independently of one another in the way they’ve been managed and funded. Main Street could have a state highway bisecting it with only a few safe places to cross for the entire stretch through town.  A county’s road and bridge department rarely communicated with local public transportation entities and vice versa.  Now, with funding getting tighter for everyone and funders requesting collaboration on projects we’re seeing unusual partnerships form with successful outcomes.

Hailey, Idaho is one such success.  When the federal government released TIGER II funding Hailey partnered with Idaho Transportation Department, Mountain Rides Transportation Authority, Blaine County Recreation District, College of Southern Idaho and others to garner $3.5M in funds for the Woodside Boulevard Complete Streets Initiative.  Prior to the project, Woodside Boulevard, the thoroughfare through the densest part of town, offered little in the way of pedestrian and bicycle amenities, exposing riders and walkers to fast-moving traffic on the narrow street.  Drivers were challenged by the lack of traffic signals enabling access to the state highway.

Now sidewalks line both sides of the street, bike lanes allow riders to safely maneuver through the neighborhood, and cars and buses are able to make protected turns onto the state highway. This project and others across Idaho prove that Complete Streets projects are safer, promote economic vitality, are more convenient and offer transportation choices by not singling out one mode as more important than others.

Interested in learning more about how you can form collaborative relationships and pursue a Complete Streets project?  Contact your local mobility manager.  To learn more about other transportation options in Idaho visit I-way.org.  I-way can help you find an accessible and efficient transportation option to get you to your destination.

Organic Transit Re-Images the Electric Bike

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

They're called Organic Transit Vehicles, or OTVs. They're like bikes, only better.

OTVs are pedal-solar-electric vehicles. They get about 1,800 miles to the gallon. 

You can see them in action by visiting this Tech Crunch video.

There are two models. The ELF commuter version weighs about 95 pounds and can handle about 350 pounds of cargo. If you choose the "truck" version you can haul 800 pounds of cargo. 

Both models include electric-assist features that can get drivers up tough hills with their haul and which can spare bicycle commuters the stress over sweat.

The OTVs also include other car-like features such as headlights, tail lights, turn signals, adjustable seats, and breaks. You can ride them anywhere that a bike is legal.

Recharging them takes about 2 hours of parked, uninterrupted sunlight. Take one to work and it will be more than ready for you by the time you're done with your day.

As the founder said in the video, there's no license, title, or insurance to worry about. There's also no gas to contend with, which means that using an OTV will mitigate about 20,000 pounds of CO2 every single year.

These little vehicles are available for pre-order. The Kickstarter campaign ended at the end of December 2012, which means the OTVs will be available for delivery very soon. You'll need a $500 deposit to pre-order.

The OTVs cost about as much as a used car, but without the monthly upkeep costs. You might have to repair a bike tire every now and then, but that's about it.

This might just be the "gap" vehicle for people who have avoided a bike commute due to concerns about getting sweaty or being exposed to the elements. It's also great for people who have avoided bikes primarily because of a need to haul stuff around. 

An Easy Way to Prevent Teenage Driving Deaths

Thursday, May 16, 2013

According to Sarah Goodyear of The Atlantic Cities magazine, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of teenage deaths in America. Putting a teen behind the wheel of a car also opens them up to a host of other secondary consequences--consequences that manifest primarily in the types of behavior that teen drivers display when they're plugged into "car culture."

These consequences include "physical inactivity, obesity, alcohol use, drug use, poorer grades and sexually transmitted diseases." In short, teens typically display exactly the sort of reckless, impulsive behavior that one might expect to see from them when they have the power to easily drive out from under the eyes of any adult.

Yet many teens don't have any option but to get behind the wheel of a car. Just like adults, teens often have jobs or other responsibilities to tackle--and parents don't always have time to play taxi.

So teens need, as the article described, the option to avoid driving altogether. This option saves lives while helping teens continue to receive access to transportation options that they need as they work towards their goals or enjoy their social lives.

These options encompass more than extended bus lines. There is a "total transportation management strategy" that needs to be worked out if we're going to reduce teenage driving deaths.

"This strategy encourages people to use more efficient and beneficial travel modes...through a holistic, integrated set of policies ranging from parking prices to transit improvements to traffic calming. This combined approach, according to its advocates, can shape the way people make travel choices over time. Having a bike-share system, for instance, combined with traffic-calmed streets, will make people more likely to bike rather than drive, thus reducing congestion and emissions. And the person gets some exercise, too...Kids need to be able to make fully informed choices and not be forced into driving simply because the society doesn't offer alternatives or make them useful and accessible."

Given today's teens would rather own a smartphone than a car, it's safe to say that these measures would be more than effective at saving teen lives and reducing parental worries. 

Sustainability through Public Transit

Monday, May 06, 2013
By: Dave Doran, CTAI District 5 Mobility Manager

Many consider public transit to be a cost effective and practical alternative to driving. Indeed, public transit services provide citizens with an economical choice on how to move about their community, but these services also provide significant values in terms of sustainability. Public transit use increases both short and long-term sustainability in multiple sectors of our economy including business, personal and regional health and the environment. 

The use of public transit can free up financial resources individuals might otherwise have dedicated to the operation and maintenance of a personal vehicle. This has the potential to create more economic stability within the individual’s family / household and ultimately less stress for resources. In the long term, increased use of transit also creates jobs -generating more economic prosperity in a progressive industry and reducing American consumption and dependence on non-renewable and foreign energy sources.  The use of other forms of transit, like shuttles and vanpools, is also good for employers and their business development. Having a vanpool or another transportation choice to get employees to work can allow employers to draw a more competitive workforce from beyond the immediate vicinity and from the greater region. It can also increase safety and punctuality to the worksite, and reduce absenteeism and stress in the workforce; all of which increase productivity and generate added corporate revenue. This industry potential can also draw more businesses to Idaho communities creating increased regional economic prosperity.

By taking cars off the road, public transit also reduces carbon dioxide and other harmful particulate matter emitted into the atmosphere through vehicle emissions, which improves regional air quality and citizen health. In addition, most public transit trips begin and end with a pedestrian or bicycle trip to and from the transit stop. Consequently, those who use transit as a regular source of transportation are more likely to be physically active than their single-occupancy-vehicle driving counterparts. This is a critical thought when you consider that in 2011, 27% of Idaho adults were considered obese and that over $320 million dollars was spent in Idaho in 2010 on related health concerns (Landis Nov. 9, 12). Having a more physically active society will ultimately reduce obesity rates and expenditures on other health related concerns, sustaining a healthier environment on multiple planes. 

Public transportation services also provide a sustainable contribution to communities by ultimately preserving tax-based infrastructure and departmental expenditures dedicated to maintaining roads and bridges. This is essential for states like Idaho who have large transportation networks covering many miles of roads, with a small population base to adequately support such infrastructure.

Additionally, public transportation industries are becoming more sustainable in and of themselves. Through the incorporation of intermodal transit facilities,and moving one step further by implementing architecturally certified Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards for those facilities, transit agencies like Pocatello Regional Transit (PRT) are paving the way for sustaining public transit services in a strained national economic state. With the utility cost savings PRT will soon realize in their LEED –Silver certified intermodal transit facility, public funds can potentially be dedicated to expand and improve service operations. Additionally,considering technological advancements in alternative fuel sources like compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquid propane auto-gas, transit agencies have additional opportunities to increase their already dedicated involvement in sustaining the health, environment and economic stability of our country. 

*Landis, Bruce W. “The Dollars and Sense of Bicycling and Walking: Idaho’s Statewide Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan Stakeholders Groups’ Kick-off” Roadshow.”  Nov. 9, 2012.