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Posts from the "Commuting" Category

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Apple Transportation Program Stuck in the Past

Tom Fairchild is the director of Mobility Lab. This article was originally published by METRO Magazine.

Apple

Apple’s new Cupertino HQ will force its thousands of employees into long commutes, many of which will undoubtedly be made by driving alone. Photo: Chris/flickr

As an avid iPhone user, I have bought into the sense that Apple could literally peer into the future and deliver me technology that I never realized I would so desperately need.

For years, Steve Jobs and company seem to have been our reliable guides to a better tomorrow. For new technology, Apple’s vision towards the future seems nearly flawless. But for corporate responsibility? Well, that’s a different story.

Apple’s decision to build a mammoth new headquarters in Cupertino, California — miles from public transportation and adequate housing — amounts to a corporate denunciation of sustainability and a giant corporate shrug to Mother Earth.

Leadership for the tech giant maintains that the new campus will offer “a serene environment reflecting Apple’s values of innovation, ease of use, and beauty.” But the simple fact is that many of Apple’s 13,000 employees will now be commuting to an isolated location 45 miles south of San Francisco.

This reality seems a world apart from Apple’s corporate communications, which state:

Our commute programs reduce traffic, smog, and GHG emissions by providing incentives for biking, using public transportation, and reducing the use of single-occupancy vehicles.

How exactly is this possible when the new headquarters is being built on a location without any existing public-transportation options?

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Five Ways Colleges Are Coaxing Students Out of Their Cars

104 colleges and universities around the United States provide free or reduced-price transit service to students. Map: U.S. PIRG

The University of Wisconsin-Madison provides bike valet at its football games. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill supports free transit for everyone in the region. The University of California, Irvine launched a bike-share system in 2009, long before any major city in California had done so.

American colleges and universities are leaders in reducing driving and promoting sustainable transportation. It allows colleges to make good on their commitments to protecting the environment. It makes life easier for students and staff. And, perhaps most critically, it’s saving schools big money on parking. Stanford University estimates its efforts to reduce solo car commuting have saved the school from sinking $100 million into the construction and maintenance of parking facilities.

Here are some of the smart ways universities have been able to reduce solo car travel, according to a new report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. PIRG is recommending cities hurry up and follow their lead.

1. Discounted or free transit passes

Among the most common and effective strategies colleges employ to reduce driving to campus is providing free or reduced transit fares. PIRG reports 104 universities around the country offer this perk, often called “U-Pass,” to students and/or staff. Universities typically fund the program with fees collected from students or with revenue from parking permit sales.

After the University of Missouri at Kansas City adopted a U-Pass program in 2011, transit use by students climbed 9 percent. Now other universities in the Kansas City region are looking to replicate that success, PIRG reports.

Chapel Hill took it one step further and made transit free for everyone. As a result, transit use by students more than doubled between 1997 and 2011, from 21 to 53 percent.

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Study: All Across America, Car Commuting Is Dropping

Driving is declining and non-driving transportation is increasing in urbanized areas. Image: U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group

Since 2000, car commuting has dropped across the board while other forms of travel have tended to increase in America’s 100 biggest urban areas. Image: U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group

U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group are on a mission to explore the downward trend in driving. In a series of reports, they point to evidence that it isn’t just a temporary blip, but a long-term shift in how Americans get around. Today, the two organizations released a new report, “Transportation in Transition: A Look at Changing Travel Patterns in America’s Biggest Cities,” which shows that these changes are happening in regions all over the country.

In 99 of the nation’s 100 largest regions — the cities and suburbs that are home to more than half the U.S. population — fewer people got to work in a private vehicle in 2010 than in 2000. In the vast majority of those areas, households are shedding cars while more people are getting on the bus and taking up biking. These 100 regions are the engines of the U.S. economy and where most of the nation’s population growth is happening.

Since state DOT data collection leaves much to be desired, PIRG and Frontier Group encountered some situations where they couldn’t do an apples-to-apples comparison. As a result, they examined vehicle miles traveled trends in only 74 of the 100 largest urbanized areas. In 54 of those, VMT had dropped. Across the country, mileage is down 7.6 percent per capita since 2004.

“Each city has a different story,” U.S. PIRG’s Phineas Baxandall said in an email. “Sometimes the stories are hard to see because the data is messy, but the overall picture suggests real changes in how people get around.”

The report kicks off with a lovely tale about one city’s fight to keep a highway from destroying downtown:

When Madison, Wisconsin, was given the opportunity to bring the interstate into the city in the 1960s, local officials decided to keep its downtown highway-free — they believed that a highway running through Madison’s narrow downtown isthmus would make the city less attractive. But without the Interstate, city officials needed to make sure that residents had access to other modes of transportation to travel down-town. So city planners sought to build a multimodal transportation network that promoted bicycling, public transit and walking.

And guess what? Those investments are still paying off. As attitudes about transportation and urban living shifted over the past decade and more people decided to explore life outside the automobile, Madisonians had lots of good options to choose from. On average, each city resident drove 18 percent fewer miles in 2011 than in 2006 — from 8,900 miles down to 7,300. Meanwhile, biking to work soared 88 percent in the last 11 years, and bus ridership is way up.

U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group encourage other places to follow Madison’s lead. Madison started investing in multi-modalism in the 1960s and 70s, when driving was still ascendant. Today, as Americans embrace transit and active transportation in greater numbers, driving declines, and new roads become increasingly poor investments, those same strategies should seem like ordinary common sense.

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Talking Headways: A Streetsblog Podcast, Episode 3

This week, Jeff and Tanya take on the Atlanta Braves’ terrible, no-good, very bad decision to move their stadium to Cobb County, Georgia. We discuss cities that are (and are not) shaped like wedding cakes, and whether that means you need to smoosh your spouse’s face in it. Tanya makes a pedestrian-rights argument against high-heeled shoes (and Jeff abstains from taking sides). We parse the differences between “shared streets” — without marked-out space for cars, bikes, and people on foot — and vehicular cycling.

In between, we speculate on what DC would look like without height limits, make fun of neighborhood parking bullies, pity the mega-commuters, and most importantly, shame the transit riders who fail to cede their seats to those who need them because they have their heads stuck in Angry Birds.

By the way, if you don’t subscribe yet to Jeff’s daily headline roundup, The Other Side of the Tracks (also known as The Direct Transfer), you’re missing a lot. Sign up here.

And PS — I promised we would have an iTunes RSS feed available for you by now and we are this close. Soon, I promise.

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Study: For Americans With Lower Incomes, Long Commutes Sap Will to Vote

For decades, researchers going back to Robert Putnam have drawn connections between total leisure time and individuals’ level of political and community involvement. New findings published in American Politics Research say the amount of time spent commuting is especially important in determining whether Americans vote, take part in political campaigns, and otherwise engage in politics.

Long commutes impact voting behavior, a new study finds. Image: ##http://journalistsresource.org/studies/environment/transportation/commuting-distance-fitness-metabolic-risk## Journalist's Resource##

Long commutes impact voting behavior, a new study finds. Photo: Journalist’s Resource

Researchers Benjamin Newman, Joshua Johnson, and Patrick Lown examined survey data from 590 working adults. Overall leisure time, they found, was actually not a very good determinant of political involvement. For example, part-time workers were no more likely to vote or otherwise participate in politics than those who worked full time. In fact, those who worked the longest hours were among the most likely to be politically engaged.

Rather than focus on what activities take the most time, researchers explored which activities drain individuals of the most energy that might otherwise be devoted to political behavior. They found that long commutes were actually far more exhausting than working.

“Time spent commuting,” they wrote, “involves a higher degree of depletion of psychological resources and incurrence of negative emotions than time spent on the job.”

The results were not consistent across socioeconomic groups. Newman and his research team found that the effect was most pronounced in workers who make less money. Those who earned higher incomes actually skewed the opposite direction: They were more likely to vote and participate in politics the longer they commuted.

Researchers theorize that higher-earning workers were better able to shake off the stress of long commutes. They might have more comfortable cars. They can eat out if they get home late. And they’re more likely to listen to the news while commuting — a factor that might have something to do with their increased political involvement.

The researchers speculated that higher transit use among people with lower incomes might add stressors like overcrowding and noise — but, they noted, “higher-income commuters are no less dissatisfied or frustrated with their commuting than low-income commuters.”

Newman and his team say their findings should worry us as a society. Lower political and civic engagement among people who make less money and have long commutes translates to less political power for those who already have too little. It means that job sprawl and poor transportation options end up costing them a voice in their own communities. And their lower participation rates could very well have an impact on who ends up getting elected to public office.

Wrote the researchers: “The societal processes increasingly forcing commuting on individuals, and leading to longer commuting times, are working to further distance an already weakly active and often marginalized segment of the populace from the democratic process.”

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Streetsblog’s Brand-New Podcast: Episode 1

Behold, Streetsblog’s brand-new podcast! In what we aim to turn into a recurring feature, Reconnecting America’s Jeff Wood and I recently chatted about the week’s news in livable streets, urbanism, and sustainable transportation. The topics are drawn from Jeff’s excellent daily compendium of transportation and planning links, The Direct Transfer, and from stories we’re tracking at Streetsblog Capitol Hill. It’s a treat for me to get back to producing audio — I was a radio reporter before joining Streetsblog.

This podcast is still very much in beta — we haven’t even settled on a name for it yet (suggestions welcome). But we want to share it with you and get your feedback and ideas about where to take it.

This week, Jeff and I discussed whether regional planning matters, the odd timing of Florida Governor Rick Scott’s decision to reject federal high-speed rail funds, and drawing fantasy maps for the transit and bike infrastructure your city needs. Have a listen, let us know what you think, and join the conversation in the comments.

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Commuting Tips for the Incrementalist: Small Changes, Big Savings

Rural commuters drive much more than their fair share of miles. Could a few small changes have a big impact? Image: NRDC via the 2009 National Household Travel Survey.

Rob Perks couldn’t understand why his friend, Megan, drove to work every day instead of taking public transportation. She said driving was cheaper and more convenient, but Perks had almost an identical commute and he was pretty confident he was saving a lot by taking transit. A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation of all Megan’s driving costs showed that even paying $6.00 for the park-and-ride was cheaper than driving all the way in to the office. (Just imagine how much she could save if, like Perks, she could walk to the metro!)

Still, Megan wasn’t ready to lay down her car keys and embrace the transit commuter lifestyle altogether. She wanted to start slow, a couple days a week. That’s great, Perks said: Even a couple days a week can save a lot of money, not to mention greenhouse gas emissions.

But how much would she save? It’s a good thing Perks works for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which allowed him to research the question. His findings, released this week in a study called “Driving Commuter Choice in America,” attempt to quantify how much people can save by making modest changes in their commuting habits.

The report is at times is more confusing than enlightening. First, Perks and his co-author, Craig Raborn, categorize commuters by where they live: urban, rural, and suburban. They also looked at non-urban non-commuters — those who don’t travel to a job every day. Then they looked at a few different ideas for reducing driving — carpooling, taking transit, trip-chaining, telecommuting, and moving closer to work. And they attempted to arrive at a dollar figure for how much any of those four types of commuters would save if they supplanted various amounts of driving with various alternatives.

“We originally, in doing this project, wanted to build out some sort of a calculator to mix and match whatever their preferences were,” Perks told Streetsblog. “Somebody could say, ‘I’m going to work from home once a week, and I’m going to take transit twice a week, and I’m going to drive the rest of the time.” He’s still hoping they’ll have funding to do something like that in the future, but for now they were stuck with more static estimates.

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Millennials Will Drive More As They Age, But Still Less Than Their Parents

At some point over the past few years, a lot of my friends started moving to Silver Spring and Takoma Park and Falls Church. These inner-ring, transit-connected suburbs of DC are still far less compact and walkable than the neighborhoods my friends moved from. So they bought cars.

Many young people opt for urban living in walkable, compact neighborhoods -- even once they have kids. Photo: Let's Save Michigan

Why did they do this? They’re entering peak driving age, which is historically between 35 and 54. They have more money than they did in their early 20s. But mostly, they had kids. Of all my friends, I now have exactly one that is still proudly car-free with kids.

In light of the new U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group report on changing driving habits, led by young people, the question arises: Won’t those young people also drive more as they get older?

Reports of diminished interest in driving focus on two groups: baby boomers, the generation that came of age with the automobile and settled in car-dependent suburbs, who are now retiring and driving less; and millennials, the oldest of whom are in their early thirties now and the youngest of whom aren’t even old enough to drive.

Millennials’ shift away from automobile travel is well documented, especially in last year’s report, “Transportation and the New Generation,” by U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group. That report found that between 2001 and 2009, annual driving by the 16-to-34 age cohort decreased 23 percent, from 10,300 miles to 7,900 miles per capita. The same age group also made 24 percent more trips by bike and 40 percent more trips by public transit.

With more people having children later in life, the vast majority of millennials are still childless. They also haven’t hit their prime earning years, which tend to be prime driving years.

That’s true, said U.S. PIRG’s Phineas Baxandall, co-author of the new report on driving trends, but the expected increase in driving by millennials had already been factored into the reports forecasts — all of which entail far less driving than government models predict. “Our scenarios all assume that millenials will drive more when they get older,” Baxandall told Streetsblog. “The real question isn’t, ‘Will millennials drive more as they get older?’ It’s, ‘Will they drive more than their parents as they get older?’”

There are persuasive reasons to think they won’t.
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Commuter Idyll Winner Jake Williams Tells His Dramatic Story of Salvation

Jake's girlfriend and her co-worker at Sam Schwartz Engineering were so excited that he won Streetsblog's "Commuter Idyll" challenge that they created this "infographic" of his commutes.

When we saw that Washington’s news-traffic-weather radio station, WTOP, was holding a ”Commuter Idle” contest for the worst commute in the DC area — and rewarding it with $1,000 in gas money — we couldn’t resist. We went looking for the best “Commuter Idyll” — the trips to work that made people happy, got them fresh air, helped them fit exercise into their day, gave them some extra time to sleep or read, and brought them to work more clear-headed and ready to tackle the day. And Streetsblog readers had lots of great stories to share of ditching long car commutes for transit, biking, or walking. We shared some of them yesterday.

Meanwhile, check out the painful stories of soul-sucking commutes of WTOP’s 10 finalists. Some are out of the house by 4:00 a.m., drive 80 miles each way, are stuck in their car for six hours a day. Imagine all the better ways they could use that time and money!

Our “Commuter Idyll” winner — Jake Williams of Chicago — had a hellish commute too. He made big changes to get control over his time, his health, and his happiness. Here’s Jake’s story.

Upon graduating from college at UCLA, I moved back home to Chicago to start my working career as an engineer. I had commuted to internships before, one in Kenosha, WI and one in Melrose Park, IL, so I was already exposed and accustomed to the solo commute by automobile. I was looking for work anywhere in the metro area, and when I was offered a job in Lincolnshire, a suburb of Chicago 26 miles from my apartment, I was not fazed. Little did I know that the next four years would at times literally “drive” me crazy.

The guts of Jake's old ride.

The commute affected my whole life and actually made me dread going to and from work. I tried waking up early in the morning, and while it was nice seeing the sunrise, it was not a sustainable schedule. I worked longer hours, and although the morning commute was somewhat more tolerable, the commute home was about as awful. I tried breaking up the afternoon commute by heading straight to the gym and then going home. The result was that I was gone 14 hours a day and exhausted, constantly.

I would become angry and irritable. I needed a “cool-off” period when I got home. I stalked the roads religiously on traffic sites and on the various radio stations, but knowing never changed what was coming. I realized that the commute had completely conquered me when I left work one snowy winter day and got so frustrated with the stagnation on the road that I turned around and went back to work, for hours.

So, when times got rough and I was laid off from work, the strange, overwhelming feeling was of relief. Ironically, I was supposed to be laid off a day earlier, but I had to call off work because my car had broken down. I was disenchanted with my career choice and lifestyle choice, and I realized after a couple of months that I had the power to change all of that. I decided that I had one of many new goals: to walk to work.

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Dreamy Routines: Some of Our Readers’ Best “Commuter Idylls”

Some of you have some fabulous commutes. Rather than watch the stress-filled minutes and hours tick by stuck in traffic, you go outside, get exercise, and connect with your community.

Think car-free parenting is a drag? Babies like smiling at other passengers on the bus way more than they like being restrained in a rear-facing car seat. Photo: Mommy Bluebird

I’ve had the pleasure of reading many of your commuter tales over the last few days, since we launched our Commuter Idyll contest. It’s our response to WTOP’s “Commuter Idle” contest for the worst commute in the DC area, with its prize of $1,000 in gas money. We’d rather focus on the positive: the wonderful daily transportation routines you can have when you get out of your car.

We did have one overall favorite, which we’ll post tomorrow, but there were so many that deserve mention. Here are some ancillary awards:

Most Family-Friendly

Katie from the DC suburbs won my heart with her story of taking her 10-month-old son to daycare on the bus. “He loves the bus, and despite the fact that he can’t talk yet, he manages to make lots of friends,” she writes. “As soon as he sees the bus coming down the road, he starts squealing and kicking his legs, and once we get on, he just charms everyone on the bus by smiling and chattering away at all of them.”

“The other day, someone started snapping out a beat, and my little guy was just dancing along,” she said. “I seriously thought maybe someone was about to break into song, like we were in a musical or something.” Sure beats strapping him in to a car seat in the back where you can’t even see him.

Plus, waiting at the stop gives them some nice outdoor time. After dropping her son off at daycare, Katie continues on to work on the bus or walks – a healthy 30 minutes of exercise.

Runner-Up: Most Family-Friendly

Parents of young children will also appreciate this story from reader “TalF.” He had been driving his commute from Riverdale, New York, to his job in New Jersey, but that could take anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours. The transit connections weren’t great either. Then last summer, he started cycling 45 minutes down the Hudson River Greenway to the 39th Street ferry, where it was 10 minutes across the river to New Jersey. He even biked the commute through the winter.

“So far it has been great!” TalF wrote. “I’ve lost weight and, paradoxically, feel like I have more energy for dealing with a newborn at night.”

Best of all, he and his wife have been able to sell one of their cars, saving them a bundle they can now spend on their little bundle.

Best Use of Rational Transportation Economics

We’ve got to hand it to Pancake for making his decisions based on rational economics. The Center for Neighborhood Technology has pioneered the H+T model for evaluating household expenses – Housing + Transportation, that is. Pancake says he pays more to live in the city because the cost of owning a car or taking public transportation into the city every day can erase the savings of marginally cheaper housing in the suburbs. He walks or bike-shares to his job that’s just over a mile from home. “Some days, I even come home for lunch for a nap,” Pancake writes. “That availability alone makes my form of transportation (my legs) well worth the extra money expelled in rent.”

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