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!

FloydFest Set Up Carpool Facebook Page

The annual FloydFest festival, deep in the heart of Floyd, Southwest Virginia’s crunchiest and greenest county, has set up a Facebook page to help attendees form carpools.  You can find the page here.

If you’re having trouble getting connected with someone via Facebook, or don’t have a Facebook account, try posting a ride request on the Blacksburg Craiglist rideboard.

Survey Reveals Virginia Tech and RIDE Solutions Partnership Changes Behavior

A recent survey conducted by the New River Valley Planning District Commission confirms that a partnership between Virginia Tech and RIDE Solutions has had significant success promoting alternative transportation opportunities to its employees throughout the region.

“The recent study shows that Virginia Tech commuters from around the region are embracing and engaging in workplace programs designed to enhance the availability of alternative transportation opportunities,” says to RIDE Solutions NRV Coordinator Christy Straight.

According to the survey results , more than half of Tech’s participating employees had never tried other alternative transportation options before carpooling to campus.  Commuters took advantage of Virginia Tech’s Commuter Alternatives Program (CAP), which offers preferred parking for carpoolers and reduced-price parking passes and is supported by incentives like RIDE Solutions’ Guaranteed Ride Home service and its carpool matching program.  These incentives have successfully persuaded employees from around the region to change the way they get to work.  The study reveals that saving money on the parking permit was their number one reason for carpooling and saving money on gas was number two.

The first step to trying a new commute method can be a high hurdle to overcome.  CAP’s success is attributed to removing these hurdles. Carpooling is an option for many rural commuters, while the Smartway and Blacksburg Transit offer additional options to walking or cycling.  In addition, by partnering with RIDE Solutions to provide commuters carpool matches on a regional bases, Virginia Tech is able to support drivers with destinations in and around Blacksburg and Christiansburg by taking advantage of RIDE Solutions corridor matching capability to form carpools among employees of multiple organizations.

“Our partnership with RIDE Solutions strengthens our existing Commuter Alternatives Program by increasing benefits to commuters, and highlights the fact that the daily commute, which contributes to parking congestion, increased carbon emissions, and the squeeze on our wallets, is a regional issue with some regional solutions,” said Debby Freed, Alternative Transportation Manager at Virginia Tech.

The Alternative Transportation Program in Virginia Tech’s Transportation and Campus Services promotes and encourages the use of alternative modes of transportation (e.g. bicycling, walking, vanpooling, carpooling, riding transit) to get to, from, and around campus instead of a single occupancy vehicle. More information about the Alternative Transportation Program can be found at

The Futility of No Gas Day

I was going to write a post on how dumb an idea this “No Gas Day” is, but it turns out someone else already did.  Back in 2007.  And it makes as much sense now as it did then:

People want to participate in a “No Gas Day” because it’s easy, and it sounds ever so sexy and powerful. “Yeah! I won’t buy gas today, how do you like that, oil man?” But it doesn’t make any real sense. First of all, the average consumer probably doesn’t fill their tank more than once a week, let alone every day. So we can only assume that gas companies don’t measure sales on a daily basis, but more likely, a weekly one.

A one-day (or one week, or even one month) boycott without a fundamental change in how we consume gas will have absolutely zero effect on oil companies or oil prices.  Like the heroin dealer who laughs at the junkie who says he’s going clean, knowing the guy’s going to come back shaking in just a few days begging for a hit, oil companies know that most people are going to come back as thirsty as ever, and that we’ll pay whatever they want us to.

Only a concerted effort to reduce demand – going into rehab instead of just telling the dealer you’re going clean – is going to have any effect.  Driving less, walking and biking more, using public transit, taking fewer trips, reconsidering where you live and work and what kind of vehicle you drive:  this is how you effect change, this is how you “hurt” the oil companies (though, really, I’m less concerned about hurting the oil companies and more concerned about helping people who think they’re at the mercy of the gas pump).  It takes more work than a one-day boycott, and may mean some uncomfortable reconsideration of our lifestyle choices, but it’s really the only way that anything substantive will happen.

As the blogger above points out, the No Gas Day isn’t just dumb, it’s potentially dangerous:

People feel like they’re making a difference, but they’re really having no impact. And because they feel like they did good, they can also feel like they’re excused for things like having a gas guzzling SUV that they don’t need, or anything else they might do (but know better). The excuse “Yeah, but I participated in No Gas Day!” is useless, and gives the false idea that a simple stunt can make a real impact.

Face it, a one-day boycott on filling up your gas doesn’t hurt the gas companies, and it doesn’t help you.  If you want to make an impact, if you really want to change things, if you really want to save money at the gas pump, do one simple thing:  drive less.

Language of Change

I have previously touched on the issue of language and transportation in the context of describing what it is that RIDE Solutions does.  There, I challenged the use of the phrase “alternative transportation” to describe what it is that Transportation Demand Management programs promote, arguing that the formation defaults to granting the automobile as the primary mode and relegates everything else to alternatives.

The issue of language and transportation has cropped up again in a big way the last week or so, with and some folks on Facebook capturing three separate discussions where language, advocacy, and planning overlap.  They are interesting examples of efforts to persuade by changing the words we use in the discussion, rather than (or, in addition to) the arguments we make.  I think some of these explorations have more value than others.

First is this post from Steve Magas, an Ohio lawyer.  He offers an interesting criticism of “Share the Road” signage, like the kind you can see running alongside the Peters Creek Road extension in Roanoke:

The whole point of the “SHARED lane” marking is to indicate to motorists that they ought to “share THEIR lane” with cyclists. This entire line of thought has always baffled me, frankly, because it implies that motorists OWN the lane and must be told, or just asked, to “share” a bit of it with cyclists….No law says that the motorist owns the road and the cyclist may borrow it sometimes, IF the motorist feels like sharing.

Mr. Magas offers a remarkably sophisticated analysis of the problem of “sharing” from a legal perspective.  It’s not unlike my original issue with the phrase “alternative transportation.”  In both formulations, the default mode is assumed to be the automobile, and drivers are warned to make accommodations for other kinds of vehicles.  Magas then reframes the argument as the “right to travel,” which belongs to a person and not a vehicle, making the special exhortation to “share” with cyclists a bit silly – after all, if we concentrate on the person rather than vehicle, there’s an underlying assumption that travelers are already making allowances for other kinds of vehicles – just as, I suppose, the driver of a sedan makes allowances for larger trucks, and those trucks make allowances for larger delivery vans, and those delivery vans take into account Mini Coopers, and so on.

The next is this short piece challenging the categories of “cyclist,” “pedestrian” and others in describing modal choice.  Instead, the author argues, we should use a formation of “people who….”  “People who bicycle,” “people who walk,” “people who carpool,” and so forth, concentrating our attention on the category of people and modifying it by the mode.  This, he says, will avoid breaking people out into categories that sometimes conflict, since the reality is that a person’s modal choice can often be fluid and change from trip to trip.

And finally we have this highlighting of a document from 1996, a directive from the Mayor of West Palm Beach, Florida to alter the language used in transportation planning and engineering:

Much of the current transportation language was developed in the 1950’s and 1960’s. This was the golden age of automobiles and accommodating them was a major priority in society. Times have changed, especially in urban areas where creating a balanced, equitable, and sustainable transportation system is the new priority. The transportation language has not evolved at the same pace as the changing priorities; much of it still carries a pro-automobile bias. Continued use of biased language is not in keeping with the goal of addressing transportation issues in an objective way in the City.

It’s really a fascinating document from a time that was really in the early stages of New Urbanist planning throughout most of the country.  Working, as I do, for a regional planning agency and being surrounded by planners (though not being one myself), I can see the inherent bias of the default language – referring, as the document highlights, to lane widenings, higher speed limits, and other road work as an enhancements or upgrades. In reality, these descriptions are only true for the automobile traffic on the road; for a pedestrian or cyclist, a widening that results in less shoulder or a loss of a bike lane, or vehicle speeds that make pedestrian travel more dangerous, are clearly downgrades.  The West Palm Beach document directs the use of more neutral language such as, simply, widening.

So, what to we make of these arguments?

Of the three, the first two are interesting on an academic and, perhaps, legal level, but in general I don’t see them as being very helpful in communicating with the public in general.  Steve Magas’ argument against “Share the Road,” for example, is an interesting one with some validity, but the main problem I see with the argument is that the Share the Road sign isn’t making a political statement.  The reality is that the road was probably engineered and built specifically to the size and speed of a motor vehicle, and therefore contains all kinds of assumptions about driver behavior and the physics of the objects traveling along the thoroughfare.  In addition, most drivers receive an education that involves learning how to react around other vehicles largely the same size and generally traveling at the same speed (one can argue that this is a failure of driver’s education, and I would agree, but that’s a different story).  In these cases, the Share the Road sign is, I believe, a perfectly valid warning to a driver that a vehicle of a radically different size and speed is going to be on the road, and to be aware of its presence.  I’m not convinced that an automobile driver sees the same implication in the word that Magas does.

Maybe there’s a different word or phrase that could be used, but I’m not sure what it would be – the sign’s function, like any road sign, is to offer a split second of education/information for a motor vehicle driver traveling at a certain speed.  At this point in time, I think the cause of encouraging more cycling and making drivers aware of the growing presence of cyclists on the road is better served by working within the scope of the language that drivers are already familiar with rather than challenging the language.

That said, I would be interested to see this argument made within a court of law and see how it plays out in a purely legal sense (and this is clearly Magas’ realm of expertise, not mine). has been following the recent Texas case of a bicyclist who was struck by an automobile, and was then himself charged with reckless driving because he didn’t get out of the car’s way.  The judge’s assumption here is exactly what Magas is getting out with his anti-“Share” argument:  clearly, the road belonged to the automobile, and it was the cyclist’s fault for being somewhere he didn’t belong.

The argument against categorizing people by mode is also valid, but here I think the other is fighting against the common usage of language, and that is almost never a winning battle.  It is not uncommon for individuals or interest groups to try to influence the debate by changing its language or modifying the definition of words already being used, but I fear this runs the risk of some of the ridiculous “political correctness” we have seen in the past.  The fact is that language does what it wants to, and change is slow but inevitable.  Artificial attempts to change its course almost always appear just that – artificial.  Worse, I think you run the risk of “jargonizing” the debate – that is, redefining words or phrases in such a way that those on the inside of the debate understand and use them, but those outside the discussion are kept away by their artifice.  Further, I think the argument still runs the risk of categorizing people rather than choice.  I tend to carpool or take the trolley to work, and walk or ride my bike for social and shopping trips.  Am I a person who carpools, a person who bicycles, or a person who rides transit?  None, of course – I take transit trips, carpool trips, bike trips, and drive alone trips.

In general, I don’t see that much is gained by challenging the way people think about a subject by trying to transform they way they talk about it.  Language does what it wants to do and its best to work within its strictures.  Let’s concentrate, then, on using the language to our advantage.  For example, people like to talk about the “freedom” of automobile ownership.  Go ahead and use that word – describe bicycle commuting as freedom from high has prices, the freedom to choose commute routes where cars can’t go (like the Greenways), the freedom from congestion, and so forth.  Describe the freedom of cyclists, and pedestrians, and transit riders, who are free to use their time doing other things and free to spend more money on things they want.  Challenge the freedom of automobile ownership by highlighting the shackles of insurance payments and massive depreciation, the prison of congestion, the free time wasted stuck behind the wheel when you could be reading a book, playing catch with your kids, whatever emotional response you want to go after.

The exception, I think, is the third post.  This one has the most value and chance of success.  For one, its audience – planners and engineers, primarily, though civil staff in general – is a relatively small one, and one used to being continuously educated on new technologies and methods of planning, design, and communication.  Changing the vocabulary of the trade, while not exactly easy, is something that can certainly be accomplished with time, particularly if the themes of this directive are applied to planning and engineering at the classroom level, and newly minted graduates come out using language that treated all modes with parity.

Second, these are largely technical – rather than popular or vernacular – terms, and have very specific meanings aside from their emotional connotations.  If the trade decides that the language change more accurately describes the activity, then adoption is less a matter of persuasion and more a matter of education.  In this regard, I think the language change is both a function of and contributor to an overall shift in thinking about urban planning and city design.  In other words, it simply reinforces a change in attitude that’s already happening and, I hope, accelerates it.

Tips to Successful Carpooling

With a little planning and communication with your carpool partner or partners, there’s no reason your carpool can’t be a reliable and efficient way to put your commute to work saving you money.

  • Determine Your Route and Schedule. Establish the morning pickup point(s) and designate a place(s) to meet for the trip home.
  • Draw Up a Schedule for Driving Responsibilities. If all members of your carpool alternate driving, decide among yourselves if you want to alternate on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.
    • For carpools of more than two, consider establishing driving duties by number of seats filled; three seats filled equals rotating driving responsibilities three times. This can be a helpful way of distributing responsibility fairly if a married couple or roomates are carpooling with a single driver.
  • Establish A Method for Reimbursing Driving Expenses. If the members of your carpool do not share the driving equally, come to and understanding of how the costs will be shared and agree on payment dates.
  • Be Punctual. Decide how long the driver is expected to wait. When home pickups are utilized, do not disturb everyone in the neighborhood by honking if a ride is running a few minutes late.
  • Establish Policies. Smoking or non-Smoking; music and volume; food or drinks. Your carpool will have a better chance of success if possible irritants are discussed initially.
  • Make Carpooling Serve One Purpose. If it is for commuting to and from work, do not let it become a shopping or errand service.
  • Establish a Chain of Communication. If a driver is ill, or will not be going to work one day, an alternate driver should be notified to ensure that other members or the carpool will have a ride. If a rider is ill or will not be working, the driver must be contracted as soon as possible.
  • Drive Carefully and Keep the Vehicle in Good Repair. This includes keeping the vehicle clean and safe. There are others involved. There should be no excuses for excessive speed, use of alcohol, or reckless maneuvers.
  • Respect Your Fellow Carpooler’s Wishes. Especially in the morning when some people like a time of quiet.
  • If You Lose a Member of the Carpool, call RIDE Solutions for help in finding a replacement.

New Carpool Opportunities – Week Ending 1/18

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.

  • Princeton, WV to Blacksburg from 7:30am to 4:30pm.
  • Newport to Radford from 7:45am to 8:30pm.

RIDE Solutions offer free carpool matching and Guaranteed Ride Home benefits for everyone who carpools, bikes, walks, takes 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.

Want instant updates?  Follow us on Twitter or become a Facebook fan.

Share the Love with Those on the Road

bike-ped-awareness-week-458x343This week is Virginia’s first Cyclist and Pedestrian Awareness week, a good opportunity for everyone on the road to pay a little extra attention to everyone else on the road.  In recognition of the event, Car Less Brit, MyScoper, and RIDE Solutions encourage you to share the love on Friday afternoon, September 18th, in downtown Roanoke, as we pass out balloons and host an impromptu love-fest-parade for cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers alike (check out the Intermodal Love Facebook event page for more).

The number of bicyclists on the road in the Roanoke area has grown dramatically over the last 18 – 24 months, which makes safety of an utmost concern.  For example, I rode my bicycle down to the Veer showing at the Taubman with my daughter in tow in a trailer last Friday evening.  At a stop light, the car behind me was a bit impatient to turn right while I was waiting for the light to change to continue on ahead, so she decided to squeeze past the trailer and gun it down the road, coming within inches of my daughter.  The light changed almost immediately, making her impatience and dangerous action all the more infuriating.  If I had been a car, would she had taken the chance?  Maybe, but if so and she misjudged the distance, what would have been the worst of it – some scratched paint and angry words exchanged?  Instead, she took a chance with my daughter.

Cyclists on the road deserve the same respect as any other vehicle; car drivers need to keep that in mind, and be more aware that we’re a bit more vulnerable than other vehicles.  So have a little patience.

On the other hand, if cyclists want to be respected as vehicles on the road, they need to act like it.  Too often on my commute home (in a carpool), I have seen cyclists blow through a stop sign on a certain well-traveled Tuesday night riding route, even as they approach the intersection three or four abreast.  At Roanoke Memorial Hospital one morning, I saw a cyclist squeeze between two rows of cars, one waiting to go straight up Belleview and another waiting to turn left onto Hamilton Terrace.  He rode to the front of the line and didn’t bother to signal, so none of the drivers knew if he intended to turn or go straight, and when the light changed there was some confusion as folks waiting for him to start moving.  In each of these cases, the cyclists decided not to act like vehicles and injected unpredictability and confusion onto the road.  Behaving like a vehicle is not just a right, it’s a responsibility, a way to signal to all the other vehicles on the road that you know the rules, you’ll obey them, and they can trust you.

If an automobile had tried either of these stunts, they’d be ticketed, and if someone got hurt they’d be cited for reckless driving.  So should the cyclists, frankly.  It’s not just the automobile drivers who need to pay attention to safety.

This week, take a moment to show your fellow road-users some love, no matter what kind of vehicle they’re on or in.  But you don’t really have to hold hands if you don’t want to.

Virginia Tech and RIDE Solutions Partner on Transportation Benefits for Commuters

(Yes, it’s a press release, but it’s exciting!)

Virginia Tech and RIDE Solutions have entered a partnership to provide expanded transportation benefits to Virginia Tech employees.

RIDE Solutions is underwriting Virginia Tech’s Commuter Assistance Program which encourages faculty, staff, and students to use alternative transportation to commute to and from the Blacksburg campus. Over 20,000 students and 7,052 faculty and staff commute to the Blacksburg campus. All are eligible for the Commuter Assistance Program.

“Our partnership with RIDE Solutions strengthens our existing Commuter Alternatives Program by increasing benefits to commuters, and highlights the fact that the daily commute, which contributes to traffic and parking congestion, increased carbon emissions, not to mention the squeeze on our own pocketbooks, is a regional issue, with some regional solutions,” said Debby Freed, Alternative Transportation Manager at Virginia Tech.

Commuters who participate in the carpool program will now receive an expanded Guaranteed Ride Home benefit through RIDE Solutions. Carpoolers will be able to get a ride home at any time of day in an emergency situation on days they share the ride. They can also opt into RIDE Solutions’ regional carpool matching database to start a new carpool or add to an existing one.

Virginia Tech is the New River Valley’s largest employer and draws employees from West Virginia, the New River Valley, and the Roanoke Valley. Their leadership in promoting the benefits of commute options available in the region contributes to cost-savings for their staff, improved air quality, and reduced energy consumption. The benefit to Virginia Tech is reduced parking demand, expanded employee benefits, and a smaller carbon footprint.

Christy Straight, the RIDE Solutions NRV Coordinator, points out a benefit of this partnership for the entire region: “When Virginia Tech carpoolers opt into the RIDE Solutions regional carpooling database, not only does the university benefit, but so do other employees who are coming to work for employers in the Blacksburg area and looking for more environmentally and economically sustainable ways to commute.”

The Alternative Transportation Program in Virginia Tech’s Office of Transportation and Campus Services promotes and encourages the use of alternative modes of transportation (e.g. bicycling, walking, vanpooling, carpooling, riding transit) to get to, from, and around campus instead of a single occupancy vehicle. More information about the Alternative Transportation Program can be found at

RIDE Solutions is a carpool matching and alternative transportation service funded in part by local governments and a grant from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transit. It’s a service of the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission and the New River Valley Planning District Commission. Find more information at

A Question of Efficiency

Last week, I was invited to lunch at On the Rise with James Glass, local developer, real estate guy, cyclist, and all-around creative-type, for an informal discussion of what RIDE Solutions does, the growth of bike culture in the valley, and issues of energy and transportation in general.  Though the conversation pleasantly meandered over everything from domestic energy production to global economics and the true cost of investing in renewable sources, one topic that stood out was the issue of efficiency – both in terms of technology and behavior – and to what extent just making responsible use of the energy we are currently generating could go a long way to cutting our consumption.

That got me thinking about an issue that often comes up when discussing transportation and energy:  the difference between efficient transportation and efficient transportation systems.  That is, the difference between hybrids and carpools.

When I first took the position at RIDE Solutions, we had a significant portion of our website dedicated to “going alternative,” with information on hybrids, electric cars, scooters, motorcycles, etc.  It’s still there, significantly subdued compared to its predecessor, and in the next website update it’s going to come off altogether.  It’s a lot of fun to talk about the whiz-bang excitement of new technologies, and its a worthwhile pursuit to continue making vehicles more efficient, but its my opinion that hybrids (and electric cars, and smart cars, and scooters, and segways) aren’t the answer to the energy problem.  Or, at the very least, they’re a distance second.

Here’s why I think that.

The first is a simple financial issue:  How many people can afford to trade out their cars for a brand-new hybrid?  Even if the infrastructure existed to provide resources for electric or hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, how many people could reasonably be expected to be in a position to swap cars?  My minivan is only five years old and has a ridiculously small number of miles on it; so long as that engine rumbles to life, I’m going to squeeze every ounce out of it I can.  That’s just responsible budgeting.

An automobile is an expensive piece of machinery, and hybrids more so.  Even if every new car coming off the line was a super-efficient marvel of technology, it would still take decades for the vehicle market to turn over enough that everyone will have traded up.

The second issue, and probably the more important issue, is that the energy consumed in our transportation system isn’t just a function of the vehicles themselves, but of the infrastructure and development patterns that come about as a result of their use.  Suburban sprawl is one of these – cheap gasoline made it realistic to abandon the urban core of cities and expand into the suburbs, because it made more economic sense to drive the extra distance for the cheaper land and bigger house.  This not only had the effect of decimating urban centers (many of which, like Downtown Roanoke, are now roaring back to life with a vengeance), but of creating very energy-intensive transportation systems.  People drove farther.  Suburban sprawl made mass transportation options inefficient or impossible, so more people drove alone rather than used a bus or train.  The energy required to maintain the infrastructure increased – asphalt, streetlights, paving, bridges, etc.  The energy required to build and maintain utilities increased:  new water and sewage systems, new power lines, storm water management, etc.  There are tertiary impact as well – the need for more  and smaller schools, services, shopping, etc., and the loss of efficiencies that could be had in denser areas all resulted in more energy consumption, driven by the cheap, long distance commute.

Simply swapping out old inefficient engines for new efficient ones does nothing to address this last problem and in fact exacerbates it, or at least maintains it.  It does not encourage density of development and contraction of suburban sprawl; it does not encourage taking cars off the road by providing optimum conditions for transit and rail, or provide short enough commute distances to allow for biking and pedestrian commuting; and it results in continuing to dedicate enormous amounts of money to road building and maintenance.  Remember, it is the weight and number of cars that wears down and congests our infrastructure system, not their mileage rating.

I doubt one would be any happier stewing in a 30-minute traffic jam in a Prius than I would in my Dodge Caravan, though the Prius owner would be paying a little less for the privilege.

This, in brief, is why RIDE Solutions is more interested in the (admittedly more difficult) realm of behavior change and transportation mode rather than new technologies.  It is, first of all, fairly easy to adopt; carpooling, biking, transit, telework, almost everybody in the region has some access to these modes for at least some period during the week, and rather than requiring a significant financial investment any of these modes will almost instantly save you money.  More importantly for the long term, though, RIDE Solutions (and organizations and advocates like it) sees the biggest gains from addressing transportation energy from the demand side.  Keep the car on the road and make it more efficient and you’ve only addressed one aspect of transportation energy.  Take cars off the road, however, and the energy savings multiply across the system in numerous ways:  no consumption from the vehicle taken off the road, less consumption from the remaining vehicles who can move more efficiently with less congestion, less wear-and-tear on the roads, and so forth.

So, yes, if you absolutely, positively, without-a-doubt have to drive, drive a hybrid or a Tesla or whatever you can get your hands on.  In the meantime, if you’re concerned about energy (and your pocketbook), hopping in a carpool or onto your bike a day or two a week will have a much broader impact, and save you a lot more money, than that Prius.