Celebrate Clean Commuting in Blacksburg

We’ll be celebrating in Blacksburg on May 20 to thank those who have taken the clean commute pledge. Stop by, say hello, and enjoy a cup of coffee and a pastry.

Clean Commute participants pledge to use a cleaner commute mode – biking, walking, riding the bus, carpooling – during May. Each trip pledged is an entry for the prize drawings. There’s a Commute Team of the Year competition open to any group (workplace, clubs, informal groups), too.

You can still join the Clean Commute Challenge!

Carpooling and Economic Development – Part 2

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In the previous blog concerning economic development, I argued that carpooling plays an “unsung hero” role in economic development by facilitating face-to-face conversation between professionals in the same industry cluster.  This is an internal opportunity to improve information exchange and coordination within our regional economy and industry structure.  This blog extends that argument and asserts that there are also external opportunities, related to reputation and regional brand, for carpooling, vanpooling and transit to further contribute to our economic development.

The Roanoke Regional Partnership, through its RoanokeOutside.com site, has made great strides in positioning the region’s spectacular outdoor amenities in its regional economic development marketing mix.  Likewise the Roanoke Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau touts outdoor adventures as part of its tourism marketing message.  Clearly, the natural environment and outdoor amenities are key to our regional reputation and our regional brand.

There is one cloud on the horizon that could tarnish our external reputation (external brand) and set back our recent progress.  We could become air-quality non-attainment, with regards to federal standards, for ground level Ozone.  It is important to note that our regional air-quality has consistently improved since the late 1990s.  However, the federal standards have gotten progressively stricter over time.  The national standard is up for a new review this year.

The last time that we were in danger of becoming non-attainment, the local governments entered into a voluntary program to reduce emissions that was successful in keeping us in attainment.  This time the private sector can pro-actively join in and voluntarily help reduce vehicle emissions through carpooling, vanpooling or transit.  If we become air-quality non-attainment it will hurt our reputation, brand and regional economy, through increased state level emissions regulation.  Our clear regional strategy is to proactively ensure that our air remains clean enough to meet the new standard.

There are three simple actions that you can do to help us avoid losing our regional brand equity:

  1. Sign up for RIDE Solutions and carpool, bike, walk or take the bus to work at least one time a week, and become eligible for the Guaranteed Ride Home program in case of emergency.
  2. Refer the HR Department at your work to the RIDE Solutions Workplace (free) program.
  3. If you are already a RIDE Solutions Workplace refer one of your suppliers, partners or customers to RIDE Solutions so that we can get that industry cluster based communication benefit that was the subject of the first blog.

It is that simple.  Together we can have clean air and avoid becoming non-attainment.

Can Carpooling help with Economic Development?

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From “Cluster Analysis for NewVA Region (2004)”

The concept of industry clusters and cluster based strategy has been a vibrant topic in economic development circles over the past couple of decades.  Specific cluster related studies or profiles that cover the combined New River and Roanoke Valleys, Alleghany Highlands and Region 2000 (Lynchburg) have been completed in the past decade and have been useful in regional economic development initiatives.

The famous Harvard Business School professor Michael E. Porter defines clusters in “On Competition” as:

[A] geographically proximate group of interconnected companies and associated institutions in a particular field, linked by commonalities and complementarities.”

He goes on to say that:

Many of the competitive advantages of clusters depend on the free flow of information, the discovery of value-adding exchanges or transactions, the willingness to align agendas and to work across organizations …networks, and a sense of common interest undergird these circumstances. The social structure of clusters thus takes on central importance.

It is precisely in helping to improve the free flow of information, and to solidify professional relationships that carpooling, vanpooling and transit use can make a surprising, and often overlooked contribution to regional economic development.  In a recent blog it was argued that carpooling and vanpooling help facilitate the person-to-person conversations that generate ideas and facilitate teamwork in organizations.  This same effect can be multiplied when carpool, vanpool or transit commuters are from the same industry clusters, but not necessarily the same companies.  The potential for serendipitous discovery of innovative ideas via face-to-face conversations shouldn’t be underestimated.  Carpooling, vanpooling and transit may provide the only opportunities for in person conversations with certain other professionals in the same cluster that otherwise wouldn’t cross your path during your busy workday.  This networking effect was even observed at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. CNN did a story on the Davos shuttles being the ultimate networking tool at the Forum in some cases even more so than the sessions and events themselves.  If even the world’s business, economic and political elite find value by having face-to-face conversations while sharing a ride, just imagine the hidden potential for regional economic development in our part of Virginia.

Unsung Reason to try Ridesharing

Carpooling can break down barriers within organizations and foster networking and information sharing.

Carpooling can break down barriers within organizations and foster networking and information sharing.

Those who encourage ridesharing often focus on cost saving or environmental arguments to persuade people to try ridesharing. While these are important benefits of ridesharing, one very important benefit often goes unheralded. Ridesharing can be beneficial in improving organizational and team communication and effectiveness.

I personally vow to carpool at least one time per week with another staff member. At first, this arrangement was mostly an effort to “practice what we preach” by making sure we carpooled every week. Over time it became increasingly apparent that carpooling was actually helping us become more effective in our jobs. Although we don’t have a large staff, 11 people, staff members are distributed among two floors in the same building. The effect of a “stairwell barrier” is alive and well even in a small organization. My carpool partner and I have offices on separate floors, and carpooling has been indispensable in fostering communication on joint projects and generating ideas for synergies between seemingly separate projects. It would be hard to estimate the level of economic value that unexpectedly comes from carpooling. I have no doubt that in our case it is real.

As organizations of all sizes flatten and cross-functional teams become the norm, carpooling and vanpooling may become surefire ways to ensure that adequate communication is taking place between workgroups. Likewise, technology has enabled new telework and hybrid distance working arrangements. On those days when part-time teleworkers are coming into the office, person-to-person conversations in carpools or vanpools may prove indispensable to team and workgroup effectiveness. Finally, employees involved in travel, telework or distance work often miss-out on the regular personal in-office networking opportunities that, despite rapidly changing technology, are necessary for effectiveness and career advancement. Carpooling or vanpooling, as little as once a week, could help employees keep up their personal professional relationships.

Readers of this blog who are employed in large organizations, or organizations that make extensive use of workgroups and teams, please encourage your employer to become a best workplace for commuters and to use carpooling or vanpooling to help strengthen team communication and effectiveness.

New Carpool Opportunities Week Ending 10/14

RIDE Solutions has registered the following new rideshare opportunities in the Roanoke and New River Valleys.  To see if you are a potential match, register online and we will send you a match letter with contact information for all potential carpool partners.  You can also view of map of all current carpool origins in the Carpool section of the RIDE Solutions website.

  • Forest to Roanoke 8am-9pm
  • Lynchburg to Roanoke 8am-6pm
  • Vinton to Clearbrook 7am-5pm
  • Within Roanoke (24015) 7:30am-4:30pm
  • Within Roanoke 8am-5pm
  • Forest to Roanoke 8am-9pm
  • Lynchburg to Roanoke 8am-6pm

RIDE Solutions offer free carpool matching and Guaranteed Ride Home benefits for everyone who carpoolsbikes, walkstakes the bus or telecommutes to work instead of driving alone.  We are a free public service of the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission and the New River Valley Planning District Commission.

By providing transportation alternatives in the Roanoke area, RIDE Solutions improves regional air quality, reduces traffic congestion, and helps create a sustainable transportation infrastructure.

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Thoughts on CityWorks (X)po and the Small Cities Movement

Conference organizer Ed Walker closes out CityWorks (X)po on Saturday | From CityWorks (X)po Facebook page

This past weekend I got to attend the CityWorks (X)po, held at Charter Hall and the renovated City Market Building (link goes to the event’s Facebook page, which I’m assuming will remain active in some form or another).  I really enjoyed it – an eclectic group of presenters of both national and local fame, and a variety of topics, all pointing back to the premise of the endeavor:  the small cities are the places where big ideas can happen, and where exciting things can be tested and implemented quickly.

Of course, I was particularly excited on the first full day of the event, which saw three presentations discussing the role of the bicycle in creating healthy communities – one of which came from Mia Birk, Principal of Alta Planning + Design and credited with making Portland what it is today.  Another came from Marin County, California, where they discussed how a community that grew a reputation for mountain biking parlayed that into a community where cycling became popular for transportation (also on mountain bike, as it happened, since many of the bike-friendly shortcuts throughout the county relied on taking off-road trails).  The mayor of Davis, California (a Platinum rated Bicycle Friendly Community) spoke via Skype and talked a little of the importance of cycling there.

There were a number of other presentations discussing various ways that small communities have done things to make themselves vital and thriving.  I came away from each of them with the germ of an idea, something to make the RIDE Solutions program better, or some way to rethink how transportation options can help spark activity in a locale.

Which is the problem with these things, isn’t it?  You come out with so many great ideas it’s hard to keep track of them, and then when getting back to the every day work sets in its easy to forget and let the energy fade.

One way the CityWorks folks (I think it’s them, at least) are trying to retain that energy is the Envision Roanoke project, a way to crowdsource great ideas.  I’d recommend checking it out (and maybe voting for the bike racks suggestion, hint, hint).

Another idea is the project of one of the presenters, the CommonPlace web community.  The platform looks like a great way to connect neighbors and neighborhoods.  Obviously, this would be great for things like carpool matching, finding bike buddies, and school walking groups.  There’s a place to nominate your community – I’d recommend doing so.

But in the spirit of soliciting Big Ideas, I’d like to ask for yours – what are some things RIDE Solutions could do better?  Who are some folks we should be partnering with but haven’t?  If you could change/fix/upgrade one thing about our transportation system in the region, what would it be?

Let’s keep the energy going!