DC employers recognized for leadership in commute contests, transit benefits, and more

A little healthy competition led a bunch of architects to rethink the way they get to work each day.

It sounds so simple, but the science behind it was on display Wednesday at The Westin Georgetown, where goDCgo – an initiative of the District Department of Transportation – held its first Ambassador Awards ceremony. The event recognized D.C. employers for their industry-leading commuter benefits programs.

“There are a lot of examples of how people have changed their commutes,” said Lance Eubanks, who helps run an annual competition for ZGF Architects LLP, which took home the “Most Innovative Commuter Benefits Program Award.” “On average, about 25 percent each year say they are changing their commute based on the competition, based on our survey results.”

Those can add up to significant changes, helping to make traffic a little less awful.

Back in the early 2000s, Eubanks said an employee in ZGF’s D.C. office expressed being “tired of hearing about how green Portland was – where our headquarters is.” So the firm started the competition, which soon expanded to other D.C. architecture firms. Now ZGF actually runs two separate contests each year during the week of Bike to Work Day in the spring: one internally across the firm’s offices in D.C., New York, Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, and Vancouver, and another with about 40 non-ZGF offices in the D.C. area.

For the latter, dubbed the “Big Green Commute,” Eubanks added, “At first people heard about this and they didn’t really understand it. But when people understood what we were trying to do, they got really excited about it.”

He cited two examples. One employee went truly multimodal, riding his bike from home in Hyattsville, Md., kayaking down the Anacostia River to Capitol Hill, then finally riding to work on a stored bike. Another competitor who used to Metro every day from Columbia Heights to ZGF’s downtown office but “started walking and realized, wow, this is a much better commute … and had never thought to do that before.”

“The design/construction/real-estate industry is always focused on the future … looking forward and what it could be like, not what it’s like now,” Eubanks explained, noting why he thinks ZGF’s transportation efforts are working. He also said employees are excited that money raised through the competition benefits two causes close to the firm’s heart: the Coalition for Smarter Growth, a D.C.-based smart-growth advocacy group, and Community of Hope, which helps homeless families get healthcare, housing, and jobs.

Other winners at goDCgo’s Ambassador Awards 2017 included:

  • D.C. Commuter Benefits All-Star Award: Everybody Wins! DC, which promotes reading for children, extended pre-tax commuter benefits to its part-time employees, an act not required by D.C.’s commuter-benefits law.
  • Bike-Friendly Workplace Award: National Geographic boasts more than 300 bicycle commuters, fields a Climate Ride team each year, offers Capital Bikeshare corporate memberships, and provides extensive office bicycle facilities.
  • Best Telework Program Award: TCG is an IT and management consultant in which 74 percent of employees telework at least once per week, with nearly 50 percent teleworking full time. TCG estimates its “telework first” program saves 42,000 gallons of fuel in the D.C. area each year.
  • Best Carpool/Vanpool Program Award: The Inter-American Development Bank, which focuses on poverty and inequality issues, created a ridesharing app that is used by 300 employees.

Keynote speaker Robert Thomson, who is retiring this week from his job as The Washington Post’s Dr. Gridlock, laughed, “The 21st century is not going to be like the 20th century in how we get around the D.C. area. Each ambassador effort is valuable on its own, but collectively, they may inspire my [Dr. Gridlock] successor to change the name of the column.”

Photo: Attendees at the Ambassador Awards (photo by A. E. Landes Photography for goDCgo).

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