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

Photo: Foxx and 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.1 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.1

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

Photo by Paul Goddin of Mobility Lab

Cross-posted on Mobility Lab October 23, 2014

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