White House Transportation “Champions” Didn’t Get There By Car

Every week, the White House honors leaders and innovators in a chosen field, and yesterday was transportation’s turn. Their choices of honorees spoke volumes about this administration’s principles around transportation.

“We’re not talking about the past,” Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood said at yesterday’s ceremony. “We’re not talking about building more roads and bridges. We’re talking about building new and creative communities with innovative and creative ways of getting people around those communities.”

Each one wrote an entry on the White House blog, excerpted below. It’s a good opportunity to get to know some heroes you might not have known existed.

Jason Roberts is the Founder of the Oak Cliff Transit Authority.

Photo: The White House

I began studying maps of my inner city neighborhood and realized that many of the vacant historic buildings in my community were built along street car lines that traversed the city. After WWII the streetcars were removed, and streets grew bigger while sidewalks became smaller… By removing the streetcars, widening the streets and changing our zoning to focus on auto centric development, we eliminated the local neighborhood deli, flower shop and tavern. Kids no longer had safe places to walk. Seniors became prisoners in their own homes and relied on family and friends to transport them for basic needs. Beyond this, what we really learned was that these businesses were much more than commercial enterprises – they were the community gathering places where neighbors shared theirs stories, joys, sorrows, hopes, and dreams. Also, shop owners provided extra eyes on the street, and residents had many of their needs within walking distance from their homes.

In 2006 I began studying and meeting with transportation experts throughout the nation. I started the Oak Cliff Transit Authority which brought together civil engineers, residents and property owners to return the streetcar as a means to revitalize our community. Streetcars were already proving themselves to be vital economic catalysts in cities that were bringing back their rails.

While the streetcar effort was in place I began to focus my attention on the buildings and streets themselves. A team of artists, residents, and property owners helped begin our first Better Block project, an effort to temporarily revitalize a single blighted block with any means at our disposal… We took our wide streets and thinned them by creating bike lanes and outdoor café seating so children and families could more easily access the area and seniors could have a comfortable place to sit. We brought in historic lighting and shade trees, and began converting the vacant buildings into pop-up business such as local cafes, markets, flower shops and art studios for kids. We filled the sidewalks with fruit stands and life!

Veronica Davis is the Principal Planning Manager at Nspiregreen LLC (and founder of Black Women Bike DC).

Photo: The White House

As a result of many casual discussions with others about transportation options in my community, Black Women Bike DC was founded. Although it started as a twitter hash tag (BlackWomenBike), it grew into a movement within the District of Columbia. I have always been an advocate of sustainable transportation but after noticing the absence of black women on two wheels Nse Ufot, Najeema Washington and I founded Black Women Bike in May 2011. The organization has grown to over 550 African American women in Washington, DC ranging in age from late 20’s to late 60’s. The news spread to women via word of mouth and social media. Although the group takes a monthly group recreation ride to help novice riders get prepared for riding on the road, we encourage the women to use biking as an alternative form of transportation for running small errands and getting to work. Biking is an important form of transportation and recreation in the community because it allows people to have fun while receiving benefits of exercise at the same time. Black Women Bike is building a community of women who bike in the District.

My advice to people is to live your life in alignment. If you can convince one person to make better transportation choices it can be the catalyst for a movement that engages communities and sparks progressive change.

By 2011, it appeared that High Speed Rail was struggling in California, facing several criticisms in the Legislature and a public that was turning away from the idea in the midst of a deep recession. Yet Governor Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown, Jr. declared his support for the idea and brought in new leadership for the project.

In the past year, we have worked hard to rebuild public support. The key to moving the project forward lay in forging partnerships and showing that High Speed Rail could and must be part of an integrated transportation system for the state. We have also focused on re-establishing communication with farmers, businesses and communities who could be adversely affected by the project, treating their concerns with respect and empathy…

This summer, the California Legislature voted to move the project forward. Construction will begin soon, putting Californians to work building an integrated transportation network that will be the foundation of our economic success in the 21st Century.

Bob Sloane is a Senior Planner at WalkBoston.

Photo: The White House

To inspire and motivate people to walk, WalkBoston began creating detailed, easy to use, self-guided maps in 1995. Early maps focused on historic sites, stopping points and views that could be included in relatively short walking tours. We prepared maps on single sheets and published a book of walks in 30 neighborhoods in and near Boston.

In 2006, we made a significant change. In that year, a section of tunnel ceiling in Boston’s Big Dig collapsed and killed a passenger in a car, and the City’s roadway network was seriously disrupted. WalkBoston staff brainstormed how to be helpful during this traumatic episode and decided to create a map to show how easy it is to avoid driving and get around downtown Boston on foot.

The new map was innovative in showing timed walking routes broken into segments of five-minutes between key transit stations, intersections and attractions in Boston. Our new maps recognized that people often think of distance in terms of travel times, yet most maps don’t provide this information. Walks comprised of five-minute segments to convey the walkability of an area. With information more easily understood by the reader, our maps became more effective in encouraging people to walk.

Jacque Whitsitt is Mayor of Basalt, Colorado.

Photo: The White House

Currently, theRoaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) is constructing VelociRFTA, the first rural Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system in the United States. The VelociRFTA BRT fleet will operate on compressed natural gas (CNG), an affordable, abundant, and domestically produced fuel that will help make RFTA a more energy-independent and sustainable transit organization. While other BRT systems operate in urban areas, which typically span 5-10 miles, VelociRFTA BRT will connect five towns from Glenwood Springs to Aspen, Colorado, along a 42-mile stretch of Colorado State Highway 82 (SH82). SH82 is one of the most congested rural highways in Colorado, and it serves as a critical travel artery for thousands of workers in our area who serve the resort communities of Aspen, Snowmass Village, and Glenwood Springs…

Our mountain resort communities swell with visitors during the peak winter and summer seasons and are plagued by auto congestion and the lack of parking. The majority of the resort employees live in bedroom communities, where housing is more affordable, and must commute many miles each day. The economic and employment activity created by these resort engines leads to unacceptable highway congestion conditions that are neither urban nor rural in nature, but which might best be described as “Urbal.” Due to its estimated $46.2 million price tag, BRT was selected as the most affordable transit alternative to address the region’s current and forecasted mobility and highway congestion challenges…

VelociRFTA will offer its riders urban-like transit convenience in a rural area. RFTA also anticipates that VelociRFTA will help guide future land use decisions, so that more housing and businesses will be developed within convenient walking and biking distance from BRT stations.

Beverly Scott is CEO of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority. [Note: the White House event took place the day before Atlanta’s transit funding referendum failed.]

In the Atlanta region and the State of Georgia, smart decisions on transportation investment have always been a game changer. It is also a space where the realities of race, class, economic prosperity and opportunity meet, and where important unfinished business remains to be completed.

Today is no different. The importance of transportation investment is absolutely front and center… At MARTA, we have done our level best over the past several years to be good regional partners; to be open and transparent in our decision-making; to take the actions needed to be responsible public stewards; and, to be respectful, but unafraid to make our case and speak truth to power.

Other White House honorees included:

  • Phillip A. Washington, General Manager of Denvers Regional Transportation District, who wrote, “As one of three transit agencies accepted into the Federal Transit Administration’s Public-Private Partnership Pilot Program (Penta P), and the only one that completed the program, RTD was able to leverage assets into a successful $2.1 billion P3 project.”
  • David Bennett, CEO of Proterra, who wrote, “Since its inception, Proterra has made strides that have taken transit bus technology from a platform mostly built in the 1950’s to a platform that today satisfies the environmental and efficiency goals that the U.S. Federal Transit Administration hoped to achieve in the year 2030. Think of it: the EcoRide achieves 23 miles per gallon diesel equivalent efficiency, carrying 68 passengers – five to six times greater than a diesel hybrid or CNG bus and potentially more efficient than the passenger car you drive today.”
  • David Barger, CEO of JetBlue Airways, who wrote, “NextGen is a joint private and public sector partnership that’s working together to upgrade our nation’s air transportation system so airlines can move more efficiently across the country and globe, including right here in the Northeast Corridor – the most congested airspace in the world that stretches from Boston through New York to Washington, DC.”
  • Jerry Enzler, CEO of RiverWorks Discovery, who wrote, “RWD engages the public with the role of rivers in our nation’s future and encourages people to develop a personal relationship with their local waterway. It widens community acceptance in support of safe, healthy, multi-use rivers in major metropolitan areas.”
  • Lowell Porter, National Law Enforcement Liaison Program Coordinator for the Governors Highway Safety Association, who wrote, “My leadership journey began as a Washington State Patrol (WSP) trooper in 1983, where I saw firsthand the significant loss of life resulting from dangerous and irresponsible driving. These experiences forged my commitment to change the future and prevent this senseless loss of life.”
  • Susan Martinovich, Director of the Nevada Department of Transportation, who wrote, “Nevada has launched a Zero Fatalities traffic safety goal… It is a way for all road users to recognize their own responsibilities in ensuring everyone on our roads returns home safely.”
  • Ellen Voie, CEO of the Women In Trucking Association, who wrote,When you hear the words ‘truck driver,’ you probably imagine a big, burly guy wearing a ball cap, with a tattoo below the sleeve of his t-shirt. While it is true that 95 percent of professional drivers are men, there are nearly 200,000 female big rig drivers in the United States.”
  • Rebecca M. Townsend, Ph.D., who teaches communication at Manchester Community College in Connecticut and wrote, “As a way to strengthen the connections students already had with their communities, and as a way for planners to receive the valuable involvement and ideas from people in those communities, the Partnership for Inclusive, Cost-Effective Public Participation (PICEP2) (funded by the Federal Transit Administration’s Public Transportation Participation Pilot Program) tested a model of public engagement to determine its effectiveness in reaching traditionally ‘hard-to-reach’ populations… Students have helped bring the voices of the public to the planning agency. And the planners found value in it: since its pilot test, the program was used in a Manchester Transit Enhancement study for the 2012 Knowledge Corridor Sustainability Grant.”