Flying Cars Instead of Bikes? Let’s Talk Real Solutions. Now.

Foxx and Garcetti

Mary Jordan, editor of Washington Post Live, interviews U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti.

I really enjoyed this week’s “Fix My Commute,” the inaugural forum in the Washington Post’s America Answers series.

It was a first-class event that brought together a fascinating array of national experts and progressive mayors focused on solving the problems of increasing traffic congestion.

TDM Takeaway Cutting-edge, affordable transportation programs focused on people must play more of a supporting role as we plan for our infrastructure needs.

And while it was acknowledged again and again that our infrastructure is often operating at third-world levels, one major way to “fix” our commutes was sorely missing from the conversation.

Transportation demand management (TDM) is the “people” side of the equation to infrastructure’s “operational” or supply side. TDM is about coming up with multimodal transportation strategies that successfully change the mindsets of people and how they think about their commuting habits.

That said, among the event takeaways for me, from a TDM perspective, include:

  • The bureau I lead, Arlington County Commuter Services (ACCS), is uniquely poised to take advantage of the converging meta-opportunities of increasing urbanism and less space with which to accommodate vehicles. In other words, we are well positioned to help our community and add value through our many programs and initiatives like Arlington Transportation Partners and BikeArlington, to name just two.
  • The action and innovation in transportation is taking place at the local level, not at the state or national levels. We are lucky that, at ACCS, we operate in the space where we can help individuals, local businesses, and neighborhoods.
  • The new normal in the transportation field is one of choice and options. Multi-modal is in. Uni-modal (in other words, the car) is out. Think about it: most of our trips incorporate something like walk to Metro or to bus and walk, or Uber to bikeshare to walk. And then something different on the return trip. Many people agreed at the conference that the new role of city government is “mobility management.”
  • Providing choices to consumers depends on infrastructure and technology. While the private sector is innovating in some terrific ways, America’s infrastructure is failing. Vice-President Joe Biden was the most impassioned speaker on this topic, saying, “It’s just not acceptable that the greatest nation in the world does not have, across-the-board, the single most sophisticated infrastructure in the entire world.”
  • While TDM was largely absent from the conversation, a few people did try to make the conversation about people. Open data was discussed as a means to provide information about transportation choices. What we know in ACCS is that building and providing options isn’t enough. To get the most efficiency out of our transportation infrastructure (at a time when this is most important), we need to make it easy for people to make the choice to use transit, to bike, to walk, or to share a ride. There’s a big opportunity through our Mobility Lab to get TDM included in the conversation as a proven solution to these issues.
  • Emily Badger’s wonderful five-minute talk on “The War on Cars” notwithstanding, I thought the event missed the boat on the promise of biking as a way to improve our cities. There was more time on flying cars than on bikes. With 40 percent of trips less than two miles, biking can be a solution. Especially if we build more protected bike lanes and bike parking. Much more work needs to be done here.

I came away from “Fix My Commute” energized and feeling lucky to be working in a field, in a place, and at a time when what we do is building strength on the national agenda. Cutting-edge, affordable TDM programs can play a supporting role in helping our nation get a grip on our many infrastructure ailments.

We look forward to more chances to make that case and give TDM its due respect.

Photo by Paul Goddin of Mobility Lab

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Rick Rybeck

Chris Hamilton provides a good synopsis of the “Fix My Commute” forum. Although Chris and his colleagues at Arlington County Commuter Services provide some of the best TDM strategies and programs in the country, the TDM discussion was largely ignored in favor of “gee whiz” technologies like car-planes and driverless cars. Hopefully, the next forum will tap ACCS for their TDM expertise.

Another area that needs more attention is achieving the right balance between “user fees” and “access fees.” “User fees” include mileage-based and congestion-based fees for driving and parking, transit fares, etc. “Access fees” (sometimes referred to as “value capture”) are related to increases in land values near transportation facilities and services. In other words, a landowner near an interchange might never drive on the adjacent highway and a landowner near a transit station might never ride transit. Yet, if these facilities are well-designed and well-implemented, they will increase the value of nearby land, conferring a windfall on the owners.

User fees and access fees are important for two reasons. First, they provide an understandable and fair source of funding for transportation. Second, they can create favorable incentives for better travel and land use decisions.

For more information, see “Funding Infrastructure for Growth, Sustainability and Equity” at http://media.wix.com/ugd/ddda66_d46304b5437c178e2f092319a6f30364.pdf

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Mr Rober DeD

It is in our collective human nature to be drawn to sexy sounding technology. That makes it difficult for solid solutions that lack flair to gain much attention at all. So that could be expressed as a natural bias toward the exotic. Less obvious, but also part of our psyche, is an unwillingness to part from mainstream thinking. Many just cannot fathom how to operate without a car, but that is not the only bias. Alternatives to car operation are more than those that are under general consideration. For instance, much focus is put on how to move people without cars. Also, attention is given on how best to move freight. When it comes to considering moving small payloads by means other than car though, too many are either entirely dismissive of the problem or deeply vested in delivery by people (by any means other than car). When the idea of building and operating a physical internet utility for automated, driverless, invisible movement of anything fitting into a small standard container is brought up, it is simply too foreign a concept for far too many. Does it srike you as odd that this would be the response from us as a society, when we routinely draw water from the tap in lieu of trekking to the well? That concludes my whining, and now I apologize for that, but hopefully the message is not missed. We can build a physical internet, and stop driving 2 a ton car to retrieve an 8 pound gallon of milk (or what have you). Please look into CargoFish Physical Internet on the web and/or Facebook, and let me know what you think.
Thank you,
Robert DeDomenico

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