Today’s rainy day has reminded me that I’m behind on a post I meant to write a few weeks ago. Back in October, we worked with the CityWorks (X)po to host a field trip on what turned out to be a rainy Saturday morning. The goal: to give attendees a first-hand experience of what it would be like to be car-free in Roanoke.
Here’s how it worked: we created a number of teams based on the profile of a fictional person who had, for whatever reason, lost access to a car. Each team had to complete a number of tasks specific to their fictional person. The challenge: they had to do it mostly on foot, with whatever limits to information their profile gave then, and everything had to be completed within the 2 1/2 hour time frame of the field trip. In addition to their character-specific tasks, they also had a general scavenger-hunt-style list of items to track down: things like curb cuts, bike lanes, waving neighbors, sharrows, bus shelters, and more.
We stopped in three locations in Roanoke: The West End neighborhood, Downtown, and Towers Mall. To get them from place to place we worked with CityWorks to provide a schoolbus we dubbed the “CityWorks (X)press,” emulating a transit system with specific stops and a schedule. Each team had to complete their tasks within the time allotted at each stop – about 20 minutes – and use their bus time between stops to plan.
Teams had a varying mix of benefits and limitations. Some teams could not use their smartphones. One team had to push a stroller the whole time – they had a very different opinion of some of the sidewalks they used than other teams who had no such limitation. Some teams were given a small budget for taxis and Uber to make some of their trips, others had no budget at all. One team had a virtual bicycle that halved the effective time it took to get from stop to stop. All of the teams had one stop – the DMV – that was impossible to reach in the allotted time without access to a vehicle, a fact that some of the Roanoke natives weren’t even aware of.
On the whole, and despite the rain that we suspect dampened attendance somewhat, the field trip seemed to be a valuable learning experience. One of the participants, Jacob Gonzalez – a transportation planner from Washington State – wrote about his experience on LinkedIn. Just the act of planning for trips seemed to be a challenge – folks who live in Roanoke and ostensible know where everything is located in relation to everything else sometimes had a hard time figuring out how to get there without a car. And the differences
in experience of the same piece of infrastructure by different characters was also instructive: as mentioned earlier, one team was impressed by the extensive presence of sidewalks in a neighborhood, while the team pushing the stroller (Jacob’s team, of which he writes about in his LinkedIn post) was less impressed with the quality of the sidewalks. Teams struggled with reading the intentionally-poorly-designed bus map to understand where the bus stops were and what time the bus was due to arrive, a challenge many people have working with system maps. Only two teams could make it to the DMV – one had enough of a budget to hire an Uber, the other could get a ride from their character’s grandkids.
These were just a few of the things we learned. Below, I’ll share the profiles of the characters that participated in the field trip, but I would love the opportunity to run this again with another group. I hope we’ll be able to work with CityWorks again in 2017, but in the meantime if you know anyone for whom this might be an interesting experience, please drop us a note!
Team 1: Rita Smith
Rita retired from a successful insurance career several years ago. Like many people her age, Rita is still very active in her community and family. However, her children have become concerned about her ability to drive after several near-missed and a fender-bender over the previous 12 months. They have asked Rita to explore ways to get around town without driving, but have offered to help her out from time to time when they can.
Team 2: William Goodie
William is a stay-at-home dad in a one-car family. While his wife is at work, he is taking their young daughter out for the day and to entertain her and run some errands.
Team 3: Sai Bahkta
Sai Bahkta is a student attending Jefferson College. He lives on a part-time job and student loans, but doesn’t feel he needs much as he takes advantage of hiking, greenways, and parks in his free time. He’s also big into the craft beer scene in the valley. A deep environmentalist, Sai prefers riding his bike to driving – both because It’s cheaper and because of its carbon footprint – and so chooses to live carless.
Team 4: Sarah Franks
Sarah works as a cashier at a local grocery store. Through an unfortunate series of events, she lost her license, leaving her unable to drive – though she is scheduled to reclaim it later this month along with paying a hefty fine. Her work schedule is inflexible; if she clocks in late, she is docked an hour’s pay. In the meantime, she has additional errands to run.
These two teams were developed but we didn’t have a chance to use them for the field trip:
Team 5: Beth Valencia
Beth is currently out of work and seeking a job. She lost her job as a result of an injury and is currently on crutches as she recovers. She’s not sure it’s entirely right she was fired over her injury, and so needs to take care of some legal issues today while she job hunts.
Team #6: Sam Baggs
Sam works in an office in downtown Roanoke. Today, his car is in the shop and he wasn’t able to obtain a loaner, so he’s experimenting with going carless. Fortunately, his schedule is pretty flexible. Besides checking in at the office and running a few errands, Sam is going to use the time to explore some spots along the bus route to learn more about his community.