Integrating TDM into Arts and Culture

Note:  TDM stands for Transportation Demand Management.  I sometimes get wrapped up on my acronyms.

This summer, I’ll be presenting on this topic – Integrating TDM into Arts and Culture – at the International Conference of the Association of Commuter Transportation in Chicago (you can find me in the last breakout session of the last day of the conference, so I’ve got the feeling I’ll be speaking to a much-diminished audience).  The abstract for my presentation is this:

Working with employers and local governments is the best way to get TDM programs implemented, but working with arts and cultural groups can be a powerful way to bring relevance, awareness, and community support to those same TDM efforts, as well as building a broad base of volunteers and citizen activists to take on promotional efforts and events. RIDE Solutions in Roanoke, Virginia, has worked with a number of artists, art groups, projects, and other creative efforts to build awareness and support for TDM activities in the community at-large. Attendees will get a sense of where to start looking to get involved in arts groups, working with artists and creative types, and how to leverage successful programs to improve their brand image.

Sounds nice, but there’s only one problem:  I’m not sure where to go from here.

Opening day at the Car Less Brit Museum | Photo by Jeremy Holmes

The impetus for this presentation comes from three major sources.  The first was the Car Less Brit Experiment, for which I credit its progenitor, River Laker, with a lot of the flowering of local bike culture we’ve seen in the last three years.  I think the strength River brought to his experiment with carlessness was not merely his position in the community and his willingness to undertake and heavily promote the experiment, but his close relationship with area artists and creatives through the Emerging Artists program at the Roanoke Libraries (the link goes to the program’s Facebook Group).    My sense is that this helped reinforce bicycling for transportation as not merely a mode choice, but also something of a creative endeavor.  Certainly, River was creative about the way he introduced people to cycling through things like the Car Less Brit Party and its attendant fashion show, the Manif Spaciale, the Car Less Brit Museum, and other events.  He promoted cycling not by talking about the benefits we all know about (though those came up, of course), but by turning his carlessness into an act of creativity and inspiring others to do the same.  There have been many factors in play, and a whole range of players, that has led to the increase in cyclists in Roanoke over the past couple of years, but I can’t help but to think that River’s particular approach helped lay the foundation for other efforts by drastically increasing cycling’s cool factor, and helping to make it acceptable to do other weird and wonderful things with bicycling, like riding very tiny ones very fast down mountains.

William Fleming Bus Shelter

Bus shelter at William Fleming High School | Photo by Jeremy Holmes

The second was the Roanoke Arts Commission program which led to two artistic bus shelters in the City, one at each high school.  I’ve written about each of them on this blog, one favorably here and the other much less favorably here.   Though I wasn’t pleased with the design of one of the shelters, it was invaluable to have a discussion about transit that wasn’t solely about the operation or financial issues surrounding the service, but about how transit infrastructure could serve as a way to beautify a community, to turn something eminently drab – a bench, a roof, a route sign –  into something unique, interesting, and discussion-worthy.

The last is in a similar vein, an upcoming installation of an artistic bike rack in the Grandin Village this Saturday, May 21st, at 10:00 A.M., a joint effort of RIDE Solutions and the Arts Commission.  Like the shelter, this will provide a piece of useful TDM support infrastructure (safe bicycle parking in a dense, multi-use neighborhood) that also doubles as interesting public art that, I hope, the community will embrace in a way they wouldn’t embrace a simple series of U-shaped bike racks.  Another element of the bike rack unveiling will be an Art by Bike Tour, a guided tour of some of Roanoke’s public art pieces entirely on bicycle, utilizing both greenways and on-road accommodations.

I’ve got a sense from these three efforts that TDM can benefit enormously from these kinds of partnerships.  In part, I think this is because TDM – as a transportation strategy that challenges the dominant drive-yourself-by-yourself-absolutely-everywhere idea – has a natural affinity with artists and creative subcultures who simply enjoy challenging the status quo for the heck of it.  I also think that Roanoke is in a unique position to capitalize on this because we have some strong leaders and lofty goals for our region as a place where arts and culture (particularly music), the outdoors, and the environment all coalesce.  TDM is a bridge between all of these, supporting environmental goals and maintaining our outdoor amenities through clean transportation, and encouraging multiple safe, convenient transportation modes that increase mobility and access to cultural centers and venues.

I’ve also got a sense that this is where TDM can really compete with traditional transportation.  After all, part of our competition is not merely the practical matter of bike/bus/carpool/telework vs. drive alone – its a matter of image, and car companies have done a fantastic job of telling you that buying an expensive car and driving fast with the stereo blaring will make you very, very happy.  Truth be told, some cars can also be amazingly beautiful machines.  It’s tough to say that of a bus.

But I don’t think it needs to be.

I think that examples like the bus shelters, like (I hope) the bike rack, show that making TDM interesting and creative and beautiful will help it compete.  Make a bus shelter that people want to stand under, a rack that people want to bike their bikes in, and they are likely to use it.  I think there’s an enormous value in making these things so interesting they become destinations that encourage you to use the mode they support.  They become elements of a community that hold a lot more pride than a parking lot.  I think River’s example show that approaching mode choice as something fun, exciting, and creative also helped it compete against a mode of transportation that more and more means expensive refueling, slogging traffic lines, ongoing debt, and environmental damage.

I don’t know if there’s enough here for an hour-long presentation, though.  Am I crazy?  Is there anything really here?  I’d be curious how other communities have seen the arts and TDM interact, particularly where venues have really embraced encouraging alternative modes (I’ve begun that discussion here in Roanoke, but we’ve still got a long ways to go – the Taubman Museum, for example, has a list of nearby parking garages but doesn’t say anything about the much more convenient bike parking under the nearby Pedestrian Bridge, or the fact that the Campbell Court Transportation Center – just a block away – provides easy bus access to the museum via both Valley Metro and Smart Way Buses, and that the Star Line Trolley has a stop less than a block from the museum entrance).  Do you see TDM as being in a position to take more advantage of a community’s artistic and creative impulses more than than traditional transportation modes?  And, finally, how does arts and culture influence the way a community develops that naturally supports TDM – I wonder, for example, if the City’s Arts and Cultural plan will reinforce ideas of density and mixed-use development, and if there’s anything to the fact that the urban City is pursuing an Arts and Culture Plan while the suburban County does not?

UPDATE:    Something else I had intended to add but forgot (chalk it up to writing most of this late last night way past my bedtime):  One of my goals in thinking through this is, really, to consider our marketing strategy and how we grow program awareness.  Since arts and cultural organizations and efforts are almost always focused on the community in which they serve in a way that goes beyond just doing business, those kinds of partnerships also seem natural connections for TDM, which is also a very local, community-focused activity.  The RIDE Solutions sponsorship of/partnership with The Shadowbox Community Microcinema is one manifestation of that.  We do get our name in front of the Shadowbox’s audience, which is, I think, an important group for us to reach; but by supporting an organization that supports local filmmakers and other artists, we contribute to growing a cultural venue that makes downtown Roanoke a more attractive place and, therefore, supports the kind of urban density that’s an important part of the success of TDM.

Such a Short Distance to Get There from Here

Yes, this is a Clif bar commercial, but it has all the right facts and figures and it’s pretty slick (and I’m very pleased to see they brought parking into their analysis):

A comment on the original YouTube video points out that Clif fails to mention the health benefits of bicycling; to that, I would add that the benefits of saving time and stress (or reducing stress through exercise) are also important secondary benefits.

It’s really staggering to think that so many trips we take are so short.  It’s also worth thinking about how many of those trips are duplicates – that is, a trip to the store for milk, and a trip back for bread because you forgot it the first time, and a third trip to the gas station because of the first several trips you made.

A downside of the use of sustainable transportation options is actually an upside in this regard:  biking, taking the bus, etc., do take some planning.  It’s not necessarily as easy as just hopping in your car and going (not at first, at least; eventually, it will feel more natural to hop on your bike), but the act of planning can help make sure your trip is as efficient as possible.  Here, I don’t mean efficient in the sense of being green (though it is that, too) but in the sense of using your time well, and having more time to enjoy yourself rather than driving around town running errands.

River Laker, at the halfway point of his Car Less Brit Experiment, did a quick analysis of the number of miles he had ridden at that point and was surprised to find the total so low – not only had he replaced car trips with bike trips, but he had significantly reduced the total number of trips he had to take.  A lot of that came as the result of better planning and making better decisions about whether a trip was absolutely necessary.

Two miles is really a very, very short distance from here to a more sustainable Roanoke region.

Monday Linkpool

Between Facebook, a ton of RSS feeds, and general internet wandering, I tend to collect a lot of interesting transportation- and energy-related links, which I keep in a “blogfodder” bookmark folder, having the best of intentions to write something up them and give them some Roanoke-area context.  As you can tell from my recent blog output (sorry, preparing for Bike Month has taken up most of my time), this simply isn’t happening.

Some of these links are just too good to let fall by the wayside, however, so I thought I’d collect a few every once in a while, stick them all together in the same post (linkpool – get it?), and send them out to see what discussion they might inspire.

So, without further ado, here’s my inaugural linkpool:

  • This article on parking prices in Downtown Roanoke from last December is notable because of its framing:  Empty spaces in downtown are a bad thing.  Lot owners reacted by lowering prices.  It seems like the City could have used the opportunity to prepare for the upsurge by considering transit improvements or looking at carsharing.  One of the most important numbers in the article is that there are more than 7,000 spaces in downtown Roanoke.  Think of that next time someone complains about not being able to find a space.  Is it that there’s no space available, or that there’s no space right in front of their destination that’s available?
  • This Collegiate Times commentary relates the experience of two students going carless.  Their perspective on the social implications of alternative transportation (it’s much easier to meet other people on a bus or on a bike when you’re not encased in steel) is an interesting one.
  • Dan Casey blogged about the failed “3 Feet to Pass” legislation offered in Richmond about a month ago.  I have a comment at the very end of the comments section, so I won’t offer anything further here, but it’s always interesting to see how the drivers vs. cyclists discussion plays out on public forums like this.  It’s obvious there’s still a long way to go.
  • The Urbanophile offers his thoughts on fareless transit in small cities.  I’ve always found it interesting that transit is considered “subsidized” while roads aren’t, since road construction, maintenance, and expansion is rarely accompanied by a user fee in the same way buses are.  If adding a lane to a highway (as a recent planning exercise recommends for Route 419) or adding a bus/increasing a frequency of a bus could both meet the same demands, why would we expect the bus to recover some of its costs while not expecting the same of the new lane via a toll?

You’re Not the Boss of Me

As one might imagine, I get into discussions of public funding for alternative transportation infrastructure quite a bit – online and offline, though the online conversations tend to be some of the most frustrating (and perversely amusing).  As the debate moves back and forth and I make my case for funneling dollars towards bike lanes, transit service, park-and-rides, or whatnot, I am amazed at how often and how quickly the opposing argument boils down to, “Well, you just want to control my life.”

Take, for example, a recent thread on Facebook, where River Laker (Roanoke’s Car Less Brit) shared this Roanoke Times article about a VDOT plan, currently unfunded, to spend $20 million adding travel and turning lanes to the Elm Avenue Bridge, Roanoke’s hotspot for congestion (as modest as that congestion is).  A few folks, myself included, commented that $20 million to alleviate congestion for a small number of drivers during rush hour on one tiny span of road might not be the wisest use of money, particularly when the same $20 million could complete the entire span of unfinished Greenway between Green Hill Park and Explore Park.  Yes, I understand that, in reality, government spending doesn’t work that way – the money is broken up into pots and can’t be transferred from project to project, but it’s the principle that’s the point here.

A proponent of VDOT’s plan (we’ll call him K.B.) stepped in to argue against the cyclists and others who were criticizing the proposal, and after engaging him in discussion it took only 7 posts before K.B. shot back, “What you’re really trying to do is force your way of life on me, admit it.”

This response amazes me on several levels.  First, it’s just a dumb argument (I’d like to be more diplomatic than that, but I just can’t):  not funding a road improvement does not equate to denying someone the ability to keep driving as they always have.  At worst, it reinforces the consequences of their choice  – choose drive alone everyday, deal with the traffic.  To be fair, the same can be applied to cyclists and bus riders – choose to ride a bicycle, accept that the trip is going to be more dangerous.  Not providing additional service does not equal taking away service.

Second, I don’t get how providing a bike lane for someone else to use forces the driver to change his behavior.  Now, TDM professionals like myself would love if this were actually true – if putting down a bike lane forced drivers to switch to bicycles (or to adding buses forced them to ride, or HOV lanes to carpool), then our jobs would be much easier.  We’d all be engineers instead of marketers.  Of course, that’s not how it works:  building out accommodations serves as one piece of a complex puzzle of infrastructure improvements, incentives, market pressures, and education to get people to use them.  Almost always, though, there is a built in audience – maybe small, maybe large – who would use the accommodation with little to no prodding.

More important is this:  TDM is about transportation choice – that is, we’re not against cars or driving alone, but we’re for using the right mode for the right trip and educating commuters about the benefits of doing so (significant dollar savings, environmental benefits, health benefits, and so forth).  In fact, surveys in Virginia have shown that commuters who choose to drive alone each day, or do so out of necessity, appreciate other commuters having the option to bike, walk, take the train or bus, etc., as it gets those cars off the road and allows the single-occupant-vehicle drivers to move along more efficiently.  Giving people the widest variety of choice helps the entire system move more efficiently.

In terms of where public money is spent, we take a view of investment equity; that is, public money should be spent in a way that benefits all users of all modes in some respect.  The idea that that spending money on bike lanes, greenways, and other accommodations now is a waste of tax dollars is a bit ridiculous given the number of cul-de-sacs, limited-access-highways and, yes, congestion mitigation projects that have been built over the last several generations.  If the measure of success is the number of people who use it, is a cul-de-sac really that much better of an investment?  Given the lopsided way we’ve spent transportation money the last few decades, we have a lot of catching up to do to reach some level of equity.

But let’s accept for a moment, just for the fun of it, this “you’re controlling my life” argument has some validity to it.  How, precisely, is the reverse not therefore true?  If adding a bike lane is controlling his life, isn’t adding additional driving lanes controlling mine?  So, even accepting that it’s got weight behind it the argument is pretty silly – the two cancel each other out, and we’re back to debating which is the better way to spend public money.

I’m not sure what causes drivers to retreat to this point – are they threatened?  Is it guilt?  Maybe they think they should be riding that bike to the store, but have rationalized not being able to do so because of the lack of a bike lane?  Whatever the case, it’s an unfortunate position that shuts down the important conversation we should be having about public investment in transportation infrastructure.

A Transportation Vision for Downtown Roanoke

Yesterday saw two interesting developments for downtown Roanoke.  The first was the welcome announcement that Ed Walker, father of the Cotton Mill Lofts and the Hancock Building, had purchased the redoubtable Patrick Henry Hotel.  Though the future is still a bit fuzzy for the redevelopment of the building, Walker made clear in his morning press conference that we could count on at least 100 new apartments being at the core of the project.   Downtown Roanoke continues to add to its residential offerings at a pleasing and exciting rate.

Second, The Roanoke Times offered a piece on upcoming construction in downtown’s core:  the Market Building, Farmer’s Market and Center in the Square.  The piece paints a grim picture of how the three massive construction projects could hurt the businesses that rely on them, even as they work to improve the buildings they are housed in.  Valley Business Front’s Dan Smith addressed this in a recent blog post, pointing out how the construction will result in “vanishing parking spaces in a place that is often a parking challenge.”

There are a few issues worth discussing in the context of these developments, and most of them have to do with parking.  The first is that, with downtown residential booming, attention must be paid to potential parking conflicts with existing commuters and shoppers.  I’m sure Walker has a sense of where those 100 apartment dwellers are going to put their cars, and it probably doesn’t involve building a new lot – maybe leasing space at the lot across the street or at Community Hospital.  Either way, it’s going to displace commuters.  The same thing happened a few years ago with the top level of the Market Square lot.

One way to address this is to make sure those 100 new apartment dwellers don’t need a car.  Downtown Roanoke is already one of the largest, if not the largest, trip generator in the region, particularly if you include Carilion Roanoke Memorial and the research complex/medical school.  Investments in express transit and bike connections could reinforce the idea that you’re supposed to get into and out of downtown in something other than your car.  In terms of development, attracting basic amenities like a grocery story and pharmacy would reduce the need for urban dwellers to have to drive to Towers or Crystal Spring or anywhere else to do their shopping, further encouraging them to ditch the car altogether.  If that were compounded with the introduction of carsharing – through Zipcar or some local start-up – that would seal the deal.  Not only would downtown residents be able to do without a car, but downtown employees would have access to a Zipcar for meetings and other day trips, allowing them to ride the bus, carpool, bike or walk to work.

It seems that the vision of Downtown Roanoke as a bustling, vital, and thriving urban center is not going to come to fruition unless we anticipate the transportation impacts and avoid the pitfalls of traffic and parking congestion that go with them.  I’d hate to see Walker or other developers have to turn grand old buildings into unproductive parking decks.  To be clear, I don’t think Ed Walker would do that, but at some point, if we’re not smart about this, someone else might.

Downtown employers and city government have a responsibility in this, too.  A careful review of parking regulations and rates need to be made.  We need to decide if the current structure of rates is incentivizing the right behavior – are we retaining our parking space for visitors, shoppers, and tourists?  Are we dedicating it to commuters who leave their cars sitting idle for most of the day?   The city – the regional in general, really – needs to expand those options.  Would putting more money into express transit routes or shorter headways on Valley Metro buses be more effective use of public dollars than dealing with traffic congestion, road maintenance, parking maintenance and construction, or the loss of tax revenue that could have been generated from commercial or real estate property that would instead need to be used as parking?

Employers need to advocate and fund transportation options as well.  Carilion Clinic and Jefferson College have set the bar with their support of the Star Line Trolley, which has been wildly successful.  More employers could get in that game.  Or, they could simply look at existing incentives – implementing the pre-tax Commuter Choice transit benefit could be an easy way to encourage ridership that would essentially “fund” the growth in regional transit service by increasing fairebox revenues rather than by subsidizing free services.  Offering the pre-tax Commuter Choice parking benefit to carpoolers and vanpoolers could incentivize intelligent use of parking.  There’s even a new bicycle commuter benefit that works much the same way.

These are some ideas – not necessarily the right ones, but worth discussing, I think.  As the Roanoke Times article points out, the next two to three years are going to see some big disruptions in our urban core.  How we come out of that may be determined, to some extent, by how easy we make it for commuters and shoppers to get into and stay in downtown.

I’m interested in what you think – what’s your vision for a sustainable, vibrant Downtown Roanoke?  Where do you think parking and transportation fit into the redevelopment and renovation mix?  I invite you to share your ideas here, but if you’re on Facebook I’d also suggest becoming part of The Heart of Roanoke group, where there’s a Transportation forum available for this very topic.

Divisions Along Two Wheels

These recent comments by Roanoke’s Car Less Brit deserve our attention.  They stem from a conversation he and I had after the Manif Spaciale that took place on Friday, August 7th.  He had, as he mentions in his post, received concerned comments from other advocates that this event would set back the cause of those who had worked hard to improve the lot of cycling in the Valley by forcing conflict with automobiles.

As it turned out, the event went off without a hitch, with the blessing of City government and police both, and most drivers seemed nothing more than bemused.

As River points out, however, this indicates that something rather remarkable has happened:  the number of folks in the biking community has grown large enough to have some measure of internecine dispute.  This isn’t to say that some of the subgroups that River mentions hadn’t already existed – River Laker is certainly not the first car less Roanoker, for example, and there have always been subgroups of recreational riders, from casual Greenway cruisers to Mill Mountain endurance climbers.  Still, it seems the profile of cycling and its multiple uses is growing, particularly – in the case of the Manif Spaciale – as a political or activist statement.

I think this is an inevitable result of any kind of growth – book clubs probably break off into Horror vs. Literature factions at some point – and I would argue that it’s a good thing.  It means, in part, that the awareness of cycling and cyclists is being raised on many fronts – practical, cultural, political – and it means the needs of a broader audience of people are likely to be aired and met.  It’s entirely possible that as this growth and fracturing continues that some of these groups may not be able to get along at all – cities where Critical Masses are common are starting to see a backlash from kinder, gentler riders – but we’re not there yet.  I don’t think anyone has to worry about any one of these subgroups actually sabotaging the greater work of making the region more bicycle friendly; in fact, I think the work requires this kind of diversity of users if we’re ever going to be truly and broadly friendly.

It’s Not All About the Bike

It’s not entirely surprising that we’ve been talking a lot about bicycles and bicycle culture in the Roanoke region in the past few months.  After all, a lot has been going on.  River Laker’s Car Less Brit experiment has, not unsurprisingly, ended up being centered on the bicycle as his main means of transportation, and has bled over into cultural and political expressions of bicycling.  The region’s connection with outdoor recreation has made talk of the Greenways and trails, and taking bicycles to both, natural and appropriate.  And, let’s face it, people on bicycles – particularly if they’re not wearing The Uniform – stand out as unusual.  It’s a visible sign of something strange happening, particularly since they often look like they’re having more fun than you.  There’s something of a counterculture feel to it that garners attention.

For River, and the other bike advocates, artists, shops and enthusiasts, improving bike accommodations and increasing awareness of cyclists is an end unto itself.  I have a broader view, though, and I wanted to take a moment to point out that, for the work RIDE Solutions does, it’s not all about the bicycle, or even mainly about the bicycle.  After all, the primary service we offer is and has been carpool matching; bicycle commuting and bicycle transportation is relatively new for us, too.  Rather, the remarkable growth of cycling in Roanoke is symptomatic of a general change in attitude and decision making about transportation, and an acceptance to adopting alternatives.

For example, it suggests that folks are looking at things like convenience in a new light.  The talk about the need for bike racks (and what they should look like) indicates that convenience has gone beyond thinking about the best parking spot for your car, but the best way to get to work or go shopping to begin with.  It suggests that a certain number of people thinks it’s less convenient to drive, and more convenient to hop on their bike, so they want a safe way to lock it up once they get there.  Once you’ve got someone thinking like this, it’s an easy leap to convince them that some trips may be more convenient on foot (you don’t need to worry about where you’re going to lock your bike!) and others would be better taken by bus (no helmet head or sweat issues when you get to work in the morning!).

Let’s face it – bicycling is great, but it’s not for everyone.  It can be hard work navigating Roanoke’s notoriously hilly terrain.  Many people work jobs that make bicycling an impossible option, or live too far out from shopping and activity centers to make it reasonable.  Some folks aren’t physically able to do it.  Others don’t have the time, or have to haul around kids.  And some people just have absolutely no interest in getting on a bike.  All of these are fair objections.  These people – who might have been made aware of the issues that drive the growth in cycling (health considerations, costs of commuting, environmental reasons) – should get connected to the options that make sense for them.

In Roanoke, as in other regions, growth in cycling would seem to track against a growth in other alternative modes, as well as growth in a general awareness of issues of sustainability, smart growth, healthy air, and related issues.  I see the growth in bicycling and bicycle culture as one aspect of a Roanoke that is growing steadily more progressive in its views of transportation and urban living.

In that light, RIDE Solutions wants to take the spotlight off cycling for a little while and pay attention to other options.  On September 22nd, localities and organizations all over the world will recognize World Carfree Day, encouraging people to spend at least one day going without a car.  RIDE Solutions is part of a consortium of folks – including the Car Less Brit, Star City Harbinger, and the MyScoper girls – encouraging folks in the Roanoke and New River Valleys to participate.

We here at RIDE Solutions are encouraging you to leave your car – and, maybe your bicycle! – at home on that day and take advantage of another great option:  the bus.  You may not have known there is a extraordinarily useful tool, available for free, that will tell you exactly how to get where you’re going in the region, all by bus (even across the region’s three main systems – Valley Metro, the Smart Way, and Blacksburg Transit):  Google Transit. So, to help novice riders go carfree by bus this September 22nd, RIDE Solutions is offering the following:  Go to our Google Your Ride page on, plan your bus trip with Google Transit, submit it to us via the form provided, and we’ll send you two trip passes to get you there and back again, wherever you’re going.

Keep an eye out on our World Carfree Day site – we’ve got more events planned, including some incentives to get you out and walking.  We won’t stop you if you want to ride your bike, though.



Car Less Brit Museum Gang

Don’t miss the “wonder-filled grand opening” of the Car Less Brit Museum tomorrow from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM.  And visit the Virginia Museum of Transportation’s two new bicycle-themed exhibits, with free transportation between museums, Maggie Moo’s ice cream, and…ahem…”authentic British cuisine.”

Not to tease the Car Less Brit or anything, but I’ve been to England – I hope it’s not THAT authentic.

We’ll be unveiling a new initiative – the Carless Challenge – a cooperative effort between the Car Less Brit and RIDE Solutions.  We’ll save all the juicy details until after the grand opening, though.

See you there!