Chris Hamilton to speak at Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health (UD/MH)

Meet our speakers: Chris Hamilton

Chris Hamilton is the President of Active Transport for Cities. Previously Bureau Chief of Commuter Services for Arlington Department of Transport, he has been called an ‘active transport guru’. He will be speaking at our launch event on 7/7/15. Learn more and register here.

Where are you originally from, and where do you now live and work?

I was born in Washington, D.C., raised in its suburbs, and currently live in the Bloomingdale Neighborhood near U Street in the District. I just finished 23 years with Arlington Department of Transportation and am embarking upon private practice in my new hometown of Key West.

Which is your favorite city in the world, and why?

I love traveling and my favorite cities include Heidelberg, Vienna, Montreal, San Francisco, Seattle, the District and Key West. I’m moving to Key West in the fall because it’s compact, vibrant and historical. It’s very walkable and bikeable. And you can eat and play outside twelve months a year. We don’t own a car in D.C. and won’t in Key West.

What sort of work do you do around the intersection of urban design and mental health?

I help cities make it easy to use active transport options like bike, walk and transit instead of driving. This makes individuals, companies and places more green, healthy, prosperous and happy.

How did you end up working at this intersection?

In looking for hooks to change people’s behavior from driving cars to instead using transit, biking and walking for commutes and everyday trips, research tells us that people who use these options to car driving are healthier and happier and less stressed. So we use these facts (among others) to market these options.

What particularly interests you about the link between urban design and mental health?

The world is becoming more urban. As the population expands in the coming decades, this will only become more so. We can’t repeat the mistakes of our most recent past where here in North America we built dispersed, environmentally and economically unsustainable, un-healthy car-dependant places. We can reverse this trend. And change is starting to occur in some progressive cities. Recent work and research points out that our physical environment can influence our mental and physical health. City governments have a huge influence over that built environment. Cities control the development approval process and so can influence what and where the private sector builds. And cities control a quarter to a half of our land, depending upon how you measure it, when you account for streets, parks and rights of way. As the emerging mental health research gets better, there’s an amazing opportunity to use this data to help us retrofit and build healthier places.

Can you describe an example of good urban design that positively impacts mental health?

Streets that are built for people. That means streets that prioritize people who walk, bike and use transit rather than cars. It looks like wide sidewalks and protected bike lanes. It means prioritizing public space for plazas, small to large, where we can eat, shop and congregate. These streets are less stressful and more healthy and happy places than car-centric streets. My favorite examples here in the District, because I use them a lot, include the 14th Street Corridor and 17th Street in Dupont Circle.

What sort of challenges do you see in urban design for mental health?

Changing the status quo can be difficult. Especially if that change is seen as taking something away from people who are use to the way life use to be. So every time we prioritize people and take away on-street parking or take away a traffic lane to replace it with a parklet or plaza or for walk-bike-transit space, someone will cry foul. The biggest challenge is the political will to make these changes.

Why do you think people don’t focus enough on the link between urban design and mental health?

I don’t think people focus on it because it’s an emerging science. It has only been recently that planners have realized the connection between the built environment and physical health.

What would you like to see the Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health achieve?

That’s why it’s so exciting to see the Center for Urban Design and Mental Health come onto the scene. This new think tank can contribute to making the places we live better by getting us to consider more than the bottom line. In the end, we’ll all be healthier.

Follow Chris on Twitter @chrisrhamilton

Cross-posted from Meet our speakers: Chris Hamilton, Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health (UD/MH), June 26, 2015

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10 steps to take 100,000 cars off DC’s roads

Originally posted on the Greater Greater Washington blog on May 6, 2015.

Want to reduce the number of cars driving around DC each day? The fastest way to do it may be a relatively cheap and non-controversial set of marketing and incentive programs, collectively called Transportation Demand Management (TDM).

Image from Mobility Lab.

TDM isn’t infrastructure. Rather, it’s a set of dedicated information, encouragement, and incentives that help people use existing infrastructure more easily and efficiently.

And boy, does it work.

For only about $10 million annually, Arlington’s robust TDM program converts about 42,000 car trips to alternative modes on Arlington’s roads every day. If DC had a similarly robust program, it might be even more successful. 100,000 cars a day would be a totally achievable goal.

DC already has a nascent TDM program called goDCgo. Right now goDCgo is too small to make much difference, but moveDC calls for a big expansion “based upon the model of Arlington.” Here are ten steps to actually get there:

1) Reach commuters through their employers

Nobody drives during rush hour because of a heartfelt love for congestion. Most people do it because that’s when their employer demands they arrive at work. Thus, employers have tremendous power over transportation. Leveraging that power can produce big results.

Rather than just offering free parking, employers can offer transit passes, Capital Bikeshare memberships, or any number of other things that would help their staffs to commute some way other than driving alone.

But business owners need hand-holding to know what sort of incentives work. That’s where a TDM staff team comes in. The TDM team works with businesses and property managers to set up a custom commuter benefit program for each one.

That’s the single most important part of a TDM program. In Arlington that team is called Arlington Transportation Partners (ATP). DC’s goDCgo employer services team should be double the size of Arlington’s, instead of a fraction of it.

2) Open transportation “genius bars”

Apple’s genius bars are the go-to spots for owners of Apple products who need tech support. The same model can work for transportation.

Research shows that even in the smartphone age, many people prefer to get information from live people. Arlington’s five Commuter Stores are one-stop shops that provide information and sell tickets for every transportation system in the region.

Put transportation stores in high traffic places like outside Metro station entrances, and let people talk about their commutes with an expert, face to face.

Ballston Commuter Store. Photo by Arlington County on Flickr.

3) Teach people it’s OK to bike

About 60% of the population would be willing to bicycle, if it were easier and safer to do so. So teach them to make it easy and safe!

DC is doing well building new bike infrastructure, but that’s only half the answer. You also need to educate people about it and encourage them to use it, and that’s largely missing from DC’s TDM program. Bike Arlington staff attends major community events, offers confident city cycling classes, and uses social media to connect with people and get them on bikes more often.

4) Stop scaring people

It’s legitimately important to teach people how to share the road safely, but too many safety campaigns scare people away from walking or biking by making them seem more dangerous than they really are.

Safety campaigns should focus on teaching people how to do things right, rather than chiding them for what they do wrong. Arlington’s PAL campaign is a great example.

Don’t blame the victim. Photo from MWCOG.

5) Treat marketing as equally important with infrastructure

Before anyone changes their commuting behavior, they must know alternatives exist, and must be confident those alternatives are reliable.

Marketing isn’t fluff. It’s the necessary grease that smooths the wheels of infrastructure. Every TDM program needs an umbrella marketing campaign that ties everything together, and gets the word out to travelers.

Arlington’s Car-Free Diet combines advertising, social media, street teams, events, and retail partners in order to get the word out about transit, biking, and everything else under the sun.

6) Make the internet and open data work for you

Smartphones and the internet are revolutionizing more than how we hail taxicabs. Invest in high-tech tools that make getting information easy, and open your data so third parties can make apps for you, for free.

Arlington’s Transit Tech Initiative fosters and helps produce websites like CarFreeAtoZ, a multimodal trip planner that’s prettier, includes more information, and is easier to use than single-agency trip planners like WMATA’s.

CarFreeAtoZ travel app. Image from Mobility Lab.

7) Do more than translate: Transcreate

We aren’t a monolithic people. Different groups perceive information in different ways. To reach them effectively, you can’t just translate the words of existing materials into multiple languages. Rather, materials need to be transcreated, so each audience gets the message in terms that will be most meaningful to them. ACCS has a Hispanic marketing unit that does this. So should goDCgo.

8) Follow through on good ideas with a strong ground game

Smartphones and apps are great, but lots of people still rely on paper. TDM agencies need strong distribution and logistics teams, to make sure everyone in town gets the message. Mail schedules and maps to individual homes, and use trucks to deliver “take-one” boxes directly to companies, hotels, and stores, for businesses to make available to their customers.

A dedicated logistics team lets others concentrate on what they do best.

Info kiosk with a take-one box inside an office building. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

9) Make transportation options part of the building code

Want to make buildings safe from fire? Design them with sprinklers and other safety features. Want to make it easy to drive? Incorporate a parking garage. Want to get people onto transit, bikes, and sidewalks? Embed convenient and attractive bus stops, bike infrastructure, and street entrances into your buildings.

Just like zoning specialists review new development for compliance with the zoning code, TDM specialists should review new development for transportation. Arlington’s TDM for site plan unit helps review new development, writes enforceable conditions into the approvals for new buildings, and follows up each year to ensure compliance.

10) Track progress with real data

Transportation agencies revolve around data, but it has to be good data. Historically they’ve focused on highway traffic counts, and have been slow to recognize changes. To get highway engineers thinking about pedestrians and bicyclists, gather objective data to show them how important those other modes really are.

A TDM research program measures the impacts of multimodal services in ways that go beyond counting cars. Arlington’s program has grown into a research and development think tank called Mobility Lab that generates reams of hard data, which officials use to make the case for everything from bike lanes to bus stops. If DC partnered with Arlington on Mobility Lab, the benefits would magnify.

DC’s paltry TDM program is a missed opportunity

Arlington ‘s ACCS spends $10 million annually on its base TDM program. That money converts 42,000 daily single-occupant car trips to transit, bike, walk, and shared rides. DC can and should have a program that’s even more effective.

But despite its much larger population and employment base, the District’s budget for TDM is less than 20% of Arlington’s. If Mayor Bowser ramped-up DC’s TDM budget to be commensurate with Arlington’s, it would be a totally realistic goal to get 100,000 car trips off the streets every day.

The Move DC Implementation Plan identifies nearly $2 billion in annual DC spending on capital investments in the coming years. Surely it’s worth spending $15 million of that each year to make it all work better.

Cities Must Understand Bikeshare Is Transit

Mayor Vincent Gray

Bikeshare systems either have to make it on their own or be subsidized like the rest of the transportation system.

This difference of opinion within the bikeshare industry was recently brought to light by an article at NextCity.orgentitled San Antonio Bikeshare Threatens to Close Without Major Sponsor. But it isn’t such a black or white issue.

Bikeshare exits in cities across North America along a continuum from totally private funding (Citi Bike in New York City) to mostly public funding (Capital Bikeshare in the Washington D.C. region).

But if bikeshare is going to take its rightful place as a bonafide transportation option in more and more of our cities, advocates have got to stop selling the notion that you can build and operate a robust bikeshare system at no cost. It just isn’t so, and selling it as such sets everyone up for failure. Witness what’s going on in San Antonio.

Chris H and others

Like with buses, trains, parking, street lights, and streets themselves, there’s capital infrastructure in the form of stations and bikes to consider. While relatively inexpensive compared to investment in other modes, there is a substantial cost. Other than New York City, there are few, if any, cities that have put bikeshare systems on their streets without the help of federal, state, or local public dollars paying for most of the cost. And the jury is still out on whether or not the Citi Bike can expand to all five boroughs without financial assistance from the city.

With operating costs, most bikeshare systems are doing a little better. Daily and annual users can end up paying a substantial share of costs. Sponsorships and advertising can help further close the gap.

For example, in Arlington, Virginia’s share of the Capital Bikeshare system, the cost recovery ratio – taking into account user and sponsor income – was 63 percent last year. The local Arlington DOT paid for the difference. Compare the recovery ratio to that of our own local Arlington Transit bus system of 30 percent and bikeshare stacks up well versus bus. Like with buses, capital costs were already considered “sunk”– meaning already incurred and unable to recover – and mostly paid for with dedicated federal, state, or local transportation dollars.

Bottom line: vendors and advocates shouldn’t sell bikeshare as free or it won’t work.

Research is increasingly showing that bikeshare can be an important part of a city’s transportation mix. And so cities must ante up for getting the bikes and stations into a locality’s capital-improvement budget and find sources of public revenue to cover the operating difference between user fees, sponsors, and ads.

Cities and bikeshare systems must indeed maximize their revenues. Any public utility should. But these systems will only succeed when freed of the unrealistic expectations.

Cross posted on April 17, 2015

Photos by DDOT DC and M.V. Jantzen

Energizing People to Reimagine Our Cities

Cross-posted from Mobility Lab – March 10, 2015

Infrastructure Money Tight? Do Better Bus Marketing

Cross posted on on March 6, 2015.

If cities want to reduce the need for expensive infrastructure improvements, they should brand and market their buses better, according to New York Times conservative commentator Josh Barro.

Citing a 2009 report from the Federal Transit Administration, he notes there is evidence to believe that transit agencies could attract more discretionary or choice riders if they “spruce up the buses and tell riders they’re faster than they think.”

This resonates with our experience in Arlington, Virginia, and in other progressive communities around the country.

To be sure, there is no substitute for offering high-quality bus or rail transit service, but many transit agencies skimp when it comes to marketing, outreach, and education and, as a result, the public often has no idea how good the service may actually be. Buses also have an image problem in many communities, which proper marketing could help address. Witness the huge sums spent by automakers in crafting the image of their automobiles.

Our experience in Arlington shows that transit agencies could indeed gain ridership if they did a better job on marketing basics, we call it “Making It Easy,” including:

  • branding buses better,
  • spending time to do good marketing and sales,
  • puting information at the stops, and
  • providing great real-time apps and other information tools.

We should do these relatively inexpensive things first, to maximize the use of the existing system and possibly forestall having to invest large sums in additional infrastructure.

In Arlington, our Commuter Services bureau markets all modes of transportation through a variety of means. Our research shows this marketing causes a substantial lift in transit usage as well as a shift from driving to other modes. In concert with good development planning and transportation services, our efforts provide better mobility without more traffic, at a relatively insubstantial cost as compared to infrastructure.


Barro contends that we should spruce up buses and let consumers know they are faster than you think. This isn’t a bad start.

In Arlington we’ve worked on some other ideas as well.

  • We are developing a technology product called CarFreeAtoZ that will combat the car bias inherent in most current mapping software systems, and produce travel results more akin to real-world conditions across multiple modes.
  • We’ve had success marketing the Metrobus 38B as the “Orange Line with a view,” and our Car-Free Diet marketing platform emphasizes how letting someone else behind the wheel can alleviate stress, among other things.
  • We’ve worked on distinctive, colorful branding on our ART series of buses. (The same technique has been utilized on Washington D.C.’s successful Circulator buses.)
  • And last but not least, we’ve taken deliberate action in improving the customer service provided by bus drivers. Our most recent survey shows that we’re succeeding, not only in terms of customer satisfaction, but, significantly, in terms of the numbers of Millennials using the service.

Yes, we need to think deliberately about the way we market buses in this country. And we can’t skimp on these efforts. If conservative writers like Barro can get on board with this concept, that’s good news.

CarFree map

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

Demand Side Strategies Are Secret to Arlington’s Success

Cross posted at on July 7, 2014

Two recent headlines really sum it up nicely for Arlington County, Virginia.

As Arlington Booms, Traffic Drops was written by Canaan Merchant in Greater Greater Washington and The Suburb of the Future is Here – How one city avoided the worst of suburbanization and revealed the path toward sustainable urban development was by Henry Grabar in Salon.

They highlight Arlington’s ability to remake itself – in little more than a generation – from an aging suburban bedroom community into a thriving urban place that has grown by tens of thousands of residents and workers. All the while, auto-traffic and congestion have been kept at bay because people have adopted transit, walking, and biking as a way of life.

Both stories discuss how Arlington’s well-documented smart-growth planning strategies – that have provided for mixed-use (jobs and residents) densification along its transit corridors and an ongoing investment in transit-walk-bike infrastructure – have resulted in growth, prosperity, and less traffic.

The lesser-known part of this good story is the TDM (transportation demand management) strategies that my bureau, Arlington County Commuter Services, has provided over the last 20 years. These have helped ensure that people use the place the way the planners intended. And the ACCS programs that have truly done the work include:

Research shows Arlington gets greater utility out of its transportation system because of this collective TDM effort. ACCS programs remove more than 40,000 single-occupant vehicle trips per day from the D.C. region’s roads by shifting them to other modes. For a comparison of scale, consider that I-395 and I-66 carry a combined total of 37,000 passenger vehicles in eight inbound lanes during the three-hour morning rush period.

Arlington has committed to TDM on a scale that is almost un-matched in North America. And this commitment leverages the investment in planning and infrastructure by creating greater efficiency in that system.

It’s the smart-growth/land-use planning, the investment in transportation infrastructure,and the TDM strategies of ACCS that altogether create the transportation success propelling Arlington, Virginia’s story of transformation into such a great and prosperous community.

Photo by M.V. Jantzen

I-66 Doesn’t Need More Lanes Or Expensive Infrastructure

Yes, Virginia Interstate 66 is a mess. Commuters are right to decry the congestion along this stretch of interstate, where travel times from Northern Virginia into D.C. are the longest in the region.

But reports from Dr. Gridlock in the Washington Post that the state and federal governments are considering plans to add additional lanes onto I-66 are not only maddening, but they fly in the face of everything we’ve learned about induced demand.

With years of evidence to back it up, induced demand was defined beautifully in a recent story in Wired, which explained that because “increasing the supply of something (like roads) makes people want that thing even more … the ways we traditionally go about trying to mitigate jams are essentially fruitless.”

In other words, it’s impossible to build ourselves out of congestion because the roads themselves cause traffic.

While the Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT’s) plan to implement “Active Traffic Demand” along the interstate is a better plan, VDOT’s request for proposals from private corporations indicates that the agency is also considering large, engineering- and infrastructure-intensive solutions to I-66’s problems.

Instead, why not entertain these much cheaper (and probably more reliable) solutions:transportation demand management (TDM) and use of high-occupancy vehicle lanes?

VDOT has been very good at congestion management when it has done big projects. Think back to the Mixing Bowl project, the Wilson Bridge Project, and the Mega Projects. VDOT pours money into transportation management programs (TMPs) that are designed to communicate about the problem and encourage people to share the ride, use transit, or avoid the area at peak times.

Yet at the end of each project, VDOT packs up its bag of tricks and leaves thinking that the job is done. Imagine if the kind of intensive effort VDOT gives as projects unfold were also applied to a corridor day in and day out, year after year. Could results be achieved? I think so. VDOT could spend $5 million to $10 million per year – not a lot for the agency – and do some really sophisticated TDM marketing and incentives.

VDOT could work with employers in D.C., Arlington, and Fairfax. It could promote carpooling and transit. It could provide incentives. It could provide real-time vanpool and commuter bus information. This stuff works. We’ve proven it in Arlington.

One could couple these TDM programs with HOV-3 both ways during the rush and HOV-2 at all other times to ensure that road use on I-66 is maximized. Getting the best use out of the existing facility (demand management) is what VDOT should concentrate on, not continually trying to increase the supply. It doesn’t work.

HOV-3 and TDM will work, will be more cost efficient, and are better long-term solutions for everyone.

Photo by Virginia Department of Transportation

Cross posted on on July 3, 2014