Solving Transportation Needs, Improving Quality of Life

Is your firm interested in collaborating on a bicycle, pedestrian, or transportation demand management project or program?

Or are you dealing with parking issues at your business or organization?  Wondering how to get started (or get your employees started) doing more walking, biking, carpooling, or taking public transit? Or just thinking about your household and owning one less car?

Owned and operated by Sarah Cushman – a transportation planner, educator, consultant and former ASE Master-Certified auto mechanic – Cushman Transportation Consulting, LLC serves as a source of solid information and help with planning, promotion, and making transportation choices and changes.

Sarah offers:

  • Bicycle, pedestrian, and Transportation Demand Management project and program assistance
  • Exploration of individual and organizational transportation needs and financial impacts
  • Training and consultations for using – and planning for and encouraging the use of – active transportation (biking, carpooling, taking public transit, walking, telecommuting, etc.)
  • Environmentally-responsible and financially savvy car maintenance and driver education

The bad news we all know: heavy financial burdens are being put on businesses and tax-payers for roads and parking, fuel costs are tough to manage, almost 20% of individual income goes to own just one vehicle, obesity rates are soaring, and 40% of local air pollution and climate-changing carbon emissions come from transportation sources.

But the good news is that organizations and individuals have practical transportation options that save money and improve public and environmental health.

 

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October 10, 2008 at 10:34 am

MAP Front Page Article: Transportation Demand Management at Work in Maine

This article appears in the Maine Association of Planner’s November 2017 Front Page.

One rainy evening this past spring I was at a birthday party for a friend and a woman I’d just met at the seltzer cooler asked me what I do for work. I stumbled around trying to explain I’m a Transportation Demand Management (TDM) consultant and what that entails. This is not unusual; I often wish we could come up with an easier definition for TDM. Even when we spell the words out it still makes people scratch their heads, including for many of us in the planning world.

What the Heck is TDM Again?

So, quick review: Transportation Demand Management is an alternative to going through the time-consuming and exorbitantly expensive – not to mention environmentally degrading – process of widening roads or building new ones to deal with additional vehicle traffic, with the subsequent result of “induced demand” that fills up that new supply in very little time.

Instead, TDM practice employs a little Yankee frugality and ingenuity to fix and manage our existing roads better and reduce the demand on them in the first place.

We can do that a number of ways but most boil down to three things:

  1. Reducing the number of drive-alone automobile trips to work and other destinations – for example, say co-workers Ben and Jeff carpool the 45 minutes each way every day from where they live in Hamden to where they work in Pittsfield
  2. Staggering trips over different time periods, to avoid peak driving times – e.g., Jennifer’s workplace offers flextime and so she takes an early morning ferry from the island where she lives and then drives to work, arriving at 7am
  3. State-of-the-art transportation system and operations management – for example:
    • the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System’s (PACTS) work with local municipalities to improve timing of traffic signals on high-traffic corridors (other regional planning organizations and municipalities are likely doing similar work across the state)
    • prioritizing traffic signals for public transit
    • sharing maintenance equipment between municipalities to speed up repairs, like traffic signal outages

These are key for enabling the safe and efficient movement of goods, services and people across the state and beyond. They also engage individual Mainers, businesses and local communities in strategies that make us more economically vibrant and sustainable for the long-term.

Most folks will just want the road widened, not knowing about induced demand. But with a never-ending backlog of many millions of dollars in current infrastructure maintenance and improvement projects and the climate-changing impacts of transportation emissions, Maine simply can’t afford to widen or build more roads. Through good dialogue with the people in our communities and by putting diverse practices to work locally and regionally, the fiscally conservative aspects of TDM have legs across the political spectrum.

Yeah, but… What Does That Really Look Like in Planning?

We do Transportation Demand Management work from various angles and many of you likely engage with it through local land use and transportation planning – including:

  • bicycle and pedestrian or transit plans and implementing infrastructure improvements for each
  • studying and implementing traffic system improvements
  • encouraging density and mixed-use development in village or downtown areas when updating local comprehensive plans or village master plans

Really, most planning processes somehow involve at least a hint of TDM. (It’s a little horrifying to admit but I worked in transportation planning and promotion for almost five years before I really understood the sister field of land use planning – and its impact on everything I was striving for in terms of TDM.)

The other examples of Transportation Demand Management-related land use and transportation planning I’d like to discuss here are:

  • Reducing or removing off-street parking minimums and creating parking maximums for new development or site renovations
  • Strategic management of public on-street and off-street parking resources
  • Required TDM Plans during the site review process for new development and commercial and institutional uses

Enabling Density Via Parking Reform – Bigger Picture TDM

As planners we are forward-thinking folks about this but just to be clear: the more densely we can develop the heart of our communities – including vibrant open spaces and gathering places – the friendlier and more viable it is for people to walk, bike and use current or future public transportation to reach local destinations. Reducing or removing requirements for off-street parking and introducing parking maximums are a significant strategy for permitting this needed density.

Density and reduced parking, in turn, lead to greater economic development returns. By ditching antiquated parking standards – and the poor revenue we get from land used for parking – our communities build wealth through more productive land uses like housing and businesses.

Parking often ends up being the linchpin for effective TDM work. I was speaking at the Maine Climate Conference recently and a member of the audience from a rural area asked for advice about ways to improve their local comprehensive plan. I suggested facilitating growth in village areas and removing parking minimums. Someone joked that parking isn’t really relevant to folks living out in the country. “I understand where you’re coming from,” I said. “But if I put a Dollar General in your community, will you require me to put in a standard number of spaces, even if they’re not really needed?”

To build local support to reduce or remove parking minimums and create parking maximums, we also have to be better at managing our current local parking resources – both on-street and off. Some examples are:

  • If you have on-street parking and it’s more than 85% full (one space open per block), starting to charge for parking or making adjustments to existing prices – and if the municipality is using intelligent meters, price can be changed based on time of day to ensure 85% capacity;
  • Encouraging and establishing shared parking agreements – e.g. a local company that leases some private residential parking for day-time use;
  • Providing wayfinding and real-time messaging about space availability on-street and online – to help visitors find local parking resources that might not be on principal streets.
  • Spending revenue from parking directly and visibly on improvements in our village or downtown areas – e.g., through beautification projects like flower planters that are also sidewalk furniture.

Planners Making Parking Reform Happen in Maine

The good news is that practitioners like you in communities across the state are on it. As Carol Eyerman, our NNECAPA Maine State Director and MAP President shared recently, “The Town of Topsham reduced its off-street parking minimums last year and also allows for an “alternative plan,” (standards here) permitting developers to do their own parking assessment and alternate plan for parking and defend it to the Planning Board.”

This is a great start. It still puts the burden on the developer, so a complete removal of parking requirements and the addition of parking maximums would be good next steps as the town becomes more comfortable with the results.

Ethan Croce, the Community Development Director for Falmouth, shared several pieces the town implemented a few years ago to reduce off-street parking and loading requirements. “Some of these are bolder than others,” Ethan reported, “but they include:

  • Reduced parking requirements for office and retail uses from 5 spaces to 2 spaces per 1,000 square feet of floor area;
  • Reduced parking requirements for attached dwelling units from 2.5 spaces to 1 space per dwelling unit;
  • Allowed the Planning Board to reduce off-street parking requirements for any use if the Board determines there is available on-street parking nearby;
  • Expanded the allowance for shared parking.  The ordinance formerly required shared parking lots to be within 100 feet of each establishment sharing parking.  That distance was expanded to allow shared parking lots within 1,300 feet of each establishment;
  • Removed the requirement to provide off-street loading berths associated with non-residential uses.  Instead, the Planning Board has the flexibility to determine where and how loading may occur.  This can include, without limitation, in an existing parking lot, drive aisle, on-street, etc.”

“The Windham Town Council is in the midst of looking at draft ordinance language that removes all off street parking and loading bay requirements in town,” shared Town Planner Ben Smith. “The parking changes are part of a larger package of ordinance changes they are going to send to the Planning Board soon to implement the vision of the 21st Century Downtown Plan.”

“Rather than making an either/or decision that involves whether we adopt a Character/Form Based Code (FBC) [draft ordinance language here] or a more modest/incremental set of changes [draft alternate language here],” Smith reported, “the Town Council is leaning toward a 2-track approach with potential adoption of both the incremental changes and the FBC as options for developers to consider.  In this vision, a developer would have the ability to pick either set of rules to design to in the short term and then a after a year or so, the FBC would become the only set of rules going forward.”

“Either option leaves parking up to the developer – no minimums required,” Smith continued. “I hope that we’ll have these changes voted on by the Council before the end of the year.”

Every once in a while as planners, we run into a project where parking isn’t provided (or doesn’t end up getting built) where it might actually be useful. Jim Fischer, formerly of the Hancock County Regional Planning Commission and now working as an independent planning consultant at Jim Fisher Regional Population, Health and Planning reached out to share the following experience. “I worked on a local impact analysis for a proposed visitor center in Ellsworth, including provisions for some parking. The site also would have likely promoted bicycling and transit use.”” Fisher reported.

“The project never received funding to move forward and I wish it had. We have subsequently extended the Sunrise Trail to High Street, but not created any parking for it. As a result, the folks arriving by ATV and snowmobile are slipping into corners of other parking lots and hoping not to be a problem for the business owners.” (Note, the Bureau of Parks and Lands could seek formal shared parking agreements with local businesses that might ease the problem and encourage collaboration – and patronage – between ATV and snowmobile clubs and area commercial interests.)

However, it’s more common for us to build too much parking – sometimes even when removing parking minimums. This brings us to the value of parking maximums. Since developers generally don’t have the time or money to do their own parking analysis, they pull ready-made parking numbers from the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) Parking Generation manual – which even ITE recognizes needs updates and additional data from rural, suburban and urban contexts. It’s the classic “the standard made me do it” situation. Of course, one size does not fit all and so we often end up with parking excess.

We may have a stellar example of a municipality that is using parking maximums out there in Maine and I just don’t know of it yet (please let MAP know if you do!) One modified example of a maximum can be found in the City of Portland. Portland has reduced some of its parking minimums, at least on the Peninsula, but still generally has off-street parking requirements. This proviso, however, is also part of its land use code: “Developments proposing to exceed minimum parking requirements by 10% or more must demonstrate through a parking analysis that the amount of parking is appropriate for the proposed use of the site.” City of Portland Code of Ordinances, Land Use Chapter 14, Sec. 14-526  

Specific Transportation Demand Management Plans

That’s enough parking discussion for now – let’s talk about site-specific Transportation Demand Management plans. Individual sites in a community don’t exist in a vacuum on their own but many people in the community might see them as just that. As planners, you are the heroes that see the full picture – the developers’ goals for a particular project and the broader community context and vision for growth.

In addition to other site planning considerations, such as architecture, location of the building on the site, and integration with the surrounding neighborhood, we can also request an applicant develop a vehicle trip-reduction or TDM plan to reduce the site’s traffic and parking impacts.

In the City of Portland, a Transportation Demand Management Plan and its subsequent implementation is required under the land use ordinance (see sidebar on next page) in order to reduce the impact of vehicle trips to sites of a particular size. As part of these plans, the applicant follows the city’s technical standards, establishing trip reduction targets and employing strategies to reach them, such as:

  • restricting parking, raising the cost of parking, offering preferential parking for carpools and/or offering parking cash-outs to encourage multi-modal trips
  • offering public transit, bicycling and car/vanpool subsidies and cash incentives
  • offering the federal public transit, vanpool and bicycle commuting fringe benefit
  • marketing TDM to relocated and new hires
  • offering a company account for use of the local car share for daytime trips
  • connecting employees with GO MAINE, the statewide commuter assistance program, and the Emergency Ride Home benefit
  • making on or near-site infrastructure improvements like sidewalks, crossings, bicycle and transit facilities to improve multi-modal access to the site

The ordinance is applied to diverse site uses. For example, in recent months I’ve worked on the TDM plan for the Baxter Academy of Science & Technology – a charter high school with 60 staff and growing to 400 students that is moving from its original location near the waterfront to the Bayside neighborhood. Another example is for a commercial office space, like the TDM plan for the WEX global headquarters I’m working on, to facilitate the company’s move from out near the mall in South Portland to the Portland eastern waterfront.

Similarly, it’s been a great experience helping update the TDM plan for the St. Lawrence Arts Center to build a new 400-seat addition without adding on-site parking, since it was originally built as a neighborhood church to which Munjoy Hill residents walked. The St. Lawrence is an excellent example of leveraging TDM efforts to help with transit expansion. Under the conditional rezoning agreement and TDM plan, the venue will pay the Greater Portland Transit District (METRO) $70,000 per year for extended bus service from downtown to the East End. This will serve both patrons and the larger community.

TDM planning is showing up elsewhere as well. PACTS and the City of South Portland developed a TDM plan for Southern Maine Community College (SMCC) to provide more transportation choice for commuting students and also to mitigate the impact of student driving and vehicles on South Portland’s East End. Among the key recommendations were a number regarding improving access to transit.  From all appearances current bus ridership is solid and this was echoed by Tex Hauser, Planning & Development Director of the City of South Portland.

Alex Jaegerman has brought his TDM experience as Planning Director for the City of Portland to his work as the Director of Planning & Development in Yarmouth – requiring TDM plans as part of the site review process for Tyler Technologies’ expansion and the new Patriot Insurance location. “In practice it’s a soft requirement for now, but we’ve done it,” Jaegerman shared. “We’ll need to circle back around with them as part of the Certificate of Occupancy.”

Having the capacity to monitor the plans and insist on a good faith effort at implementing them is one of the trickier pieces for municipalities. Part of that has to do with the fact that the developer is required to submit the plan, but it’s the tenant who must implement it. Another issue is staff time and capacity for follow up. For a number of years the Department of Public Works monitored the plans in Portland and now they’ve moved to the Planning Division for more concerted oversight.

Senior Planner Nell Donaldson has been tasked with reviewing where existing plans stand and helping further their implementation. “The city has built a strong foundation and this is a good time for advancing the TDM Program and moving the ball forward. We’re seeing more and more development and people are more open to doing things a little differently. There’s also interest and support here at City Hall,” Donaldson said.

“However, at the heart of it, we still need to find time to dedicate staff resources to really make it work well.” Donaldson reports. “Ultimately a private-public partnership like a Transportation Management Association (TMA) would most likely serve all of us better – both on the city and the private sector side.” (Note: The Greater Portland Council of Governments is currently exploring the feasibility of a local TMA, which can act as a broker for services like implementation help for TDM plans, improved transit service, parking management and employer shuttles. TMAs also often work best if driven primarily by local businesses.)

Sharing the TDM Love

Another avenue for municipalities, planning organizations and private sector planners to show TDM leadership is via promotional efforts, like those of GO MAINE – the statewide commuter assistance program funded and administered by the Maine Turnpike Authority, with additional funding from the MaineDOT. GO MAINE recently threw down the marketing gauntlet with its pilot Way 2 GO MAINE Commuter Challenge, a three week build-a-new-habit campaign that ran this October 1st-21st. (Full disclosure: I was contracted to help develop and deliver the challenge.)

Organizations across the state pitted their workplace against others for how many of their employees carpooled, took the bus or train, or bicycled or walked to work over those twenty-one days. Team champions at employers offered simple encouragement to engage their co-workers and tracked their organization’s progress on the Way 2 GO MAINE leaderboard online. Participating employees joined GO MAINE if they weren’t members already (which also gives them access to the Emergency Ride Home benefit), logged their trips, received incentives and posted photos of their commutes on social media – competing for the most alternate transportation trips recorded, most new GO MAINE members and most team spirit.

 

A number of businesses jumped right in – for example, Tyler Technologies (required to do a TDM plan in Yarmouth as mentioned above) won 1st Place for Most Greener Trips for medium size organizations. However, municipalities and regional planning organizations also gave a great showing. The City of Portland won Most New Members in the large organization category and the Greater Portland Council of Governments was 2nd in New Members and 3rd in Greener Trips – plus it submitted an amazing video for Most Team Spirit.

“The City of Portland’s active participation in Way 2 GO MAINE helps us show the city is truly committed to our larger TDM work and that we’re walking the talk,” Nell Donaldson reported.

The Touchy-Feely Part to All This

This summer I finally decided to come up with an elevator speech to describe my TDM work. I did some writing and brainstorming and talking with folks and came up with, “I help people have happy commutes.” That sounds pretty sentimental for a technical field.

However, enabling happy commutes is at the heart of this work. It’s what I’ve loved about it for years and what feeds me most. As planners we have the chance to help people and businesses and communities navigate transportation choices, use their own creativity to make them work and watch them bask in the many benefits – financial savings, social connection, reduced environmental impacts and improved health.

November 19, 2017 at 7:53 pm Leave a comment

Throwing Down the Gauntlet – businesses challenge each other for Way 2 GO MAINE!

“Make your commutes count October 1st-21st!” was the rallying cry of the Way 2 GO MAINE Commuter Challenge this past month. Cushman Transportation Consulting, LLC was thrilled to help co-develop and deliver Maine’s first ever business-to-business challenge with GO MAINE, the statewide commuter assistance program.

Way 2 GO MAINE was a three week, build-a-new-habit campaign – creating friendly competition between organizations across the state to see how many employees could walk, bike, take the bus or train or carpool to work. It was also a way to celebrate those activities, reward folks who are already out there doing them and inspire other Mainers to do the same!

The three week, build-a-new-habit campaign engaged team champions for each employer who offered simple encouragement to their fellow employees and posted photos and videos on social media with the hashtag Way2GOMAINE.

Participating employees logged their trips, received incentives and watched their workplace zoom up the leaderboard.

Organizations competed for:

  • most greener transportation trips recorded
  • most new GO MAINE members
  • and most team spirit!

Stalwart allies like the Bicycle Coalition of Maine started signing employees up early with campaign pledge cards and posting them at the office.

We had a great time with the kick off of the campaign at local large employer UNUM on Monday the 2nd! It was inspiring to speak with staff there – some who already bike or carpool to work and others who are curious about trying the bus or other green commutes.

We designed and distributed event materials and swag and had fun seeing some folks in action when it worked to drop them off in person.

Workplaces offered their own rewards, too. For example, the City of Portland gave out gift cards to top participating employees as part of its City Fit! program. And MEMIC offered $250 to the first 10 employees who signed up for a bus pass or carpool parking in October and gave up a drive-alone parking space – and boy did employees take them up on it.

Maybe the best part was the fun and inspiration everyone shared via photos and videos. Happy commutes all around! Here’s a sampling:

And not to be missed are these fabulous videos:

Now, for the winners! All winning organizations were awarded a donation made in their name to one of three organizations of their choice that help improve air quality: American Lung Association, Arbor Day Foundation, and the Audubon Society.

We had a great time distributing awards to the winners and Rebecca Grover of GO MAINE even presented me with a Most Awesome Consultant Award. We had a blast working together and are looking forward our next go at it.

If you participated in Way 2 GO MAINE, please complete this quick survey (takes less than 5 minutes) to help us make it even better next year!

November 10, 2017 at 2:30 pm Leave a comment

Maine Sunday Telegram: greening your home office – including killing the commute

Many thanks to Ray Routhier for this great article in the Maine Sunday Telegram’s Source section on greening our home offices.  I know I learned some new things for my home-based work space!

Click on image to read the fine print on killing your commute.

Ray called recently to ask me about transportation-related greening for folks working from home – so I appreciate the perspectives he shared from that conversation, too (image below)!

October 23, 2017 at 4:03 pm Leave a comment

Carpool Love

A version of this column was published in the Maine Sunday Telegram’s Source section.

Most of us know the benefits of carpooling. Sharing rides cuts our household transportation costs. That’s significant when almost 20% of individual income goes to own just one vehicle. Carpooling also reduces our greenhouse gas and other vehicle emissions. However, the most important benefit may be that carpooling makes us happier: strengthening our human connections, reducing stress and building community resiliency.

My grandmother’s first cousin, Frances Burgess, passed away this summer at age 96; she had a sweet sense of humor and was one of my all-time family favorites. She also was a carpooler.

Frances and her husband raised their family in a small cape in the midst of farmland in Saco. They had one car and worked staggered shifts at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. When Frances headed to work she left her two daughters in the care of her mother and carpooled with a group of neighbors. She was tickled by the friends she made and stories she heard over the years riding together. There were more men in the carpool than women, she explained, and it was a unique opportunity for friendships in an era when time with the opposite gender was rarer.

I talked recently with Ben Connors who lives in Hampden and works in Pittsfield and carpools the hour and a half every day with his colleague Jeff (their photo at right). “We share the cost of the car – the wear and tear and gas – so that’s a direct benefit. But you also get to unwind with your co-worker at the end of the day,” Ben said. “You can talk about what you’re working on and they offer a different perspective on things. By the time you’ve gotten home you’ve gotten all that stuff off your chest.”

I connected with Ben because I met his former rideshare buddy, Rachel Porter, at a work event last fall. Rachel and Ben carpooled to work for three years before she recently moved and she shared similar thoughts about the benefits of ridesharing.

“My new commute still takes half an hour and I would definitely carpool again,” Rachel said in a recent interview. “I also miss it during bad weather – having someone else looking at everything going on around you when you’re concentrating so hard on the road in front of you.”

Carpooling like Frances did and Ben does used to be far more commonplace in Maine and around the country, when most families owned only one car or none at all. It took some Yankee ingenuity to make things work and get where you needed to go.

Maine is primarily a rural state – the most rural in the country according the 2010 U.S. Census, based on the number of communities with populations less than 2500. Many Mainers would like access to public transportation but the spread out-nature of our homes and towns decreases the viability of strong transit networks with frequent service.

Years ago, I remember a staff person from the GO MAINE statewide commuter assistance program showing a WWII era Uncle Sam carpooling propaganda poster and saying, “The best option for public transportation many of us have are the empty seats in our cars.” That’s still right.

Carpooling trends have decreased over time. Households started buying more cars in the 1950 and, by the new millenium, almost half of car-owning families had two or more vehicles and more than 90 percent of American households had at least one.

Carpooling peaked in 1980 at the end of the Middle East oil crises. At that time almost 20% of Americans shared rides to work. Now it’s a little less than 10%. About 9% of Mainers carpool. (Of note: people working in construction have some of the highest rideshare rates.)

Many of us don’t carpool because we think it won’t work for us. “I have kids to pick up, I have to run errands after work, I just want some peace and quiet, what if my aging parent suddenly needs me?” Or maybe we tried it once back in 1992 and it didn’t work for one reason or another. If either of these scenarios speak to you, I say give it a(nother) try.

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Broach the subject with a co-worker to experiment for a couple weeks. Ask a neighbor who is going your way to try it for one or two days a week instead of every day.

gomaine-logo.jpgIf you don’t know anyone making a similar trip, do the quick sign-up and try out GO MAINE’s recently revamped and state-of-the-art ridematching service. It shows photos and profiles of people who live near you or who commute to near your destination.

“It’s like Match.com for carpoolers,” said Rebecca Grover, the Program Coordinator, during a recent conversation.

GO MAINE also offers rewards to those who log their trips walking to work, bicycling, using public transportation and carpooling. And if you use a smartphone, all this has just become easier with the new GO MAINE app.

One of the best parts of being an active GO MAINE member is the Emergency Ride Home Benefit. It’s a free taxi ride with a registered taxi company or Enterprise Rent-a-Car home in the event there’s a family crisis, you get unscheduled overtime or have another unforeseen workday emergency.

Think about rides in your personal life that you can share, too, if you don’t already. Carpooling with other people’s kids to soccer practice, sharing a ride to a community meeting or your place of worship.

If you’re hosting an event, consider using something like groupcarpool.com to enable folks to share rides. It’s a national app and online service specifically designed for one-time occasions. It’s free for an event with up to 50 participants and charges $10 for an event of up to 500 participants, with no registration or fee required for attendees. That’s an attractive and low-barrier option for people to try. Plus there’s no better ice-breaker for a conference or other occasion than for participants to have already built community before they even arrive.

Enough of the nuts and bolts though. Moral of the column: carpool and live to 96. It’s that simple.

More Suggestions

  • Dip your toe in via October’s Way 2 GO MAINE business-to-business commuter challenge! Businesses and organizations across the state are encouraged to pit their workplace against others for how many of their employees carpool, bicycle, use transit or rail, or walk to work. During this 21-day campaign participating employees log their trips, receive incentives and compete for the most green trips, most new GO MAINE members and most team spirit! Log your trips if you’re already a GO MAINE member or join at org (Full disclosure: I’ve been hired as a consultant to help with the campaign.)
  • For some fun carpool love, check out James Corden’s carpool karaoke videos from The Late Late Show. It’s hard to watch only one!

 

October 3, 2017 at 10:14 am Leave a comment

Speaking at the Maine Climate Conference: how preferred modes of transportation transform and sustain us

Many thanks to Anne D. Burt, the wonderful Maine climate activist from Edgecomb for inviting me to speak on the transformative aspects of using preferred modes of transportation at the 2017 Maine Climate Conference. I met Andy years ago when we were both doing environmental work through our local Quaker meetings (she’s a member of Midcoast Meeting in Damariscotta).

Put on by Sierra Club’s Maine Chapter, the conference featured fellow Quaker, George Lakey, as the keynote speaker. George is the author of the recent Viking Economics: How the Scandinavians Got It Right-and How We Can, Too. He shared a social scientist’s view of the different roles each of us play in any movement and also an intriguing historical understanding of the change that can come from periods of polarization. You can see his keynote here. (He’s both fun and funny!)

I presented along with Tony Giambro and Travis Ritchie from the Paris AutoBarn during the Putting the “Can-Do” in Transportation for Livable Communities workshop. (And how great to hear the latest from Tony and Travis about the state of electric vehicles and their cradle-to-the-grave impacts.)

I’m especially grateful to citizen activist and videographer Martha Spiess – who has done hundreds of hours of video production for environmental protection and happened to record our session. She sent me the link to my presentation – embedded here:

September 21, 2017 at 5:20 pm Leave a comment

Freedom for all to ride or walk in the great outdoors

A version of this piece was published as the monthly Treading Lightly column in the Maine Sunday Telegram’s Source section.

Max - Maine Adaptive - credit Sarah Cushman

Max Michaud takes a break from her training with Maine Adaptive Sports & Recreation at the Back Cove Trail in Portland

Walking and biking are not just for the young, fit and able-bodied. And the benefits of these activities extend far beyond merely exercise or recreation – to enhancing the connection we have with our neighbors in our communities. Fortunately, Maine is home to several organizations and programs that help seniors and people with disabilities get outside for a walk or a ride. Before I tell you about a couple of these efforts, let me start with a story that illustrates why they’re so essential.

I met Bangor resident Annie King recently when I taught a MaineDOT-sponsored class in defensive walking (think what you were taught about defensive driving; now apply that idea to walking) at Miller Square on Harlow, a facility for seniors in Bangor where she lives. Annie rolled into the room in a motorized wheelchair and joked that I’d been brought in because of “the crazy adventure” she’d recently gone on with her friends.

Annie and her friends, Diane and Marcia, decided to visit the farmers market one Sunday in June. Annie and Diane use motorized wheelchairs, and Marcia is legally blind and uses a white cane. Annie also has to carry her oxygen tank. “We went down to the market, across from the library, and cruised around,” she said.

“It was a nice day, so we said, ‘Let’s go down the next street,’ ” Annie continued. They turned down Franklin and then stopped at a little park on Kenduskeag Stream, where they sat for a few minutes so Marcia could catch her breath.

“You know, I’ve never been to that bagel place. Let’s go there,” Annie suggested to her friends. They followed the stream to Central Street and, after a snack at Bagel Central, headed home.

Norumbega Parkway-Kenduskeag Stream in Bangor - 2

Norumbega Parkway along the Kenduskeag Stream in downtown Bangor, where Annie King and her friends took a break on their adventure.

“It started to rain on our way home, and we ducked under the portico of one of the buildings while it poured,” Annie said, laughing. They had gone less than a mile.

A full, rich mile.

“It was our little adventure, just being free to get out and be with the rest of the world and not having to answer to anyone,” Annie said. “I don’t think you’re ever too old for an adventure.”

How many times have you done a simple outing like that – to a nearby park or to see a friend or to your downtown or village area to run an errand – and it turned into something that gave you such pleasure?

Which brings me to two Maine programs that help people who need assistance go on their own everyday adventures.

Two weeks ago, I stopped by the Back Cove Trail in Portland with my dog Lola to talk with some folks from Maine Adaptive Sports & Recreation, among them Leo Albert. He greeted Lola warmly.

“I’m lucky to live near the Green Belt path in South Portland,” Leo said. “I can’t use this for long periods,” he said, pointing to the four-wheeled walker he was sitting on, “but I use my motorized wheelchair, and I know every dog. Every one of them. I bring treats, and they nuzzle around my chair for them.”

Leo started working with Maine Adaptive this summer to modify the recumbent tricycle he has barely used for the past 13 years, because of a painful leg length discrepancy.

He pointed to one of the tricycles parked nearby and said he was looking forward to riding it. “Riding will make a big difference for my leg circulation and relieve the pain in my legs and back. Plus it’s something I can do anytime from where I live.”

Maxine Michaud was pedaling on the cove, training for the Great Maine Getaway MS Ride on a Maine Adaptive tricycle. Max, as she calls herself, has multiple sclerosis and limited use of one of her legs. To get around, she uses the tricycle as well as an experimental, Maine-designed Afari, which helps her walk over uneven terrain.

“There is no such thing as being unable,” she told me. “It’s being differently abled. That’s all.”

She credited her involvement with Maine Adaptive (she got involved on a dare in 2012) with keeping her in her “happy place, doing everything I do. I don’t need any pain pills, I don’t need any anti-depressants. This is it. This keeps me above the clouds looking ahead. I soar.”

Another program, Portland Wheelers, also helps people get outside and connect, in their case, people who are physically or mentally unable to bike, even with adaptive equipment. The organization offers free recreational rides to people of any age who are living with a significant disability.

Portland Wheelers - credit to Portland Wheelers

Portland Wheelers pilots pedal adaptive cycles for riders, also known as “wheelers”, along the Back Cove Trail in Portland. Photo courtesy of Portland Wheelers

I took a spin with Doug Malcolm, the group’s founder and director. I sat in the “wheeler” seat with Doug, the “pilot,” pedaling just behind me on one of the program’s tricycles, a setup that made for easy conversation. We rode along the Eastern Promenade, soaking up the view.

“We’re yakking all the time when we’re riding,” Doug said. “Wheelers and pilots both love it. As pilots, we get to hear wonderful life stories. And when we’re in a pod of two or three trikes, we’re often laughing it up, because someone always seems to be telling a joke.

“We know from Canadian research, and a study we’re involved in ourselves, that if you get people outside riding in groups on a regular basis, it can dramatically improve levels of depression, appetite, sleep patterns and a sense of connectedness,” he said.

As a sustainable transportation consultant, I’ve come across similar findings, and not surprisingly they always make me eager to get out and walk and bike more. Annie, Leo and Max offer me a glimpse of the future I can feel hopeful about stepping into.

ADAPTIVE CYCLING OPPORTUNITIES

  • If you don’t live in Greater Portland or one of the residential facilities served by Portland Wheelers, the nonprofit offers a Come to Us service. Preregister on their website, portlandwheelers.org, for a Saturday ride time and get transportation to meet the group at Cyclemania in Portland.
  • Every summer, Maine Adaptive Sports & Recreation offers its bicycling program in Portland and Bethel. On Sept. 23, Maine Adaptive teams up with Slipping Gears Cycling to hold an adaptive cycling day for people with disabilities ages 4 and up. Bangor City Forest, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Cycles of all types and sizes will be available or riders can bring their own. Preregistration required, email info@maineadaptive.org.

August 28, 2017 at 8:36 am Leave a comment

Can fees at parks and on ferries in Maine be used to encourage cyclists and pedestrians?

Originally published as monthly Treading Lightly column in the Maine Sunday Telegram’s Source section.

Our family just went to Peaks Island for a friend’s wedding. We pedaled down to the Casco Bay Ferry terminal and locked our bikes, deciding not to pay the extra $6.50 per adult bike and $3.25 per child to bring them with us. It raised the perennial questions I have about whether fees encourage or discourage efficiencies in our transportation system – efficiencies that could reduce the need for more space for cars and more and wider roads.

The ferry offers a valuable public service and every pound we add to the boat affects its fuel economy, so it makes sense to charge something for people to bring their bikes. It’s the fee ratio that seems a little off. The charge for any non-commercial vehicle under 6,000 pounds traveling to Peaks Island varies by day of the week during the summer – so I’ll use the middle-of-the-fee-structure example: $54.95 (that’s after subtracting the driver’s passenger ticket cost).

Arriving on the island, I watched a Chevy Suburban roll toward the ferry dock. A Suburban weighs 5,896 pounds. If cars were charged by weight (they aren’t), the driver would have paid less than one cent per pound to bring it to Peaks. The $6.50 adult bike fee isn’t by weight either. But if it were, my 25-pound bike – a fairly standard weight – would have cost twenty-six cents per pound. (Note: any passenger can purchase discounted weekly or monthly bike fares – and with an annual pass, the bike rides for free.)

That’s weight – what about space? For those headed to Vinalhaven on the State Ferry Service, a critical and valued link to the island with our largest year-round population, it costs $16.50 extra to bring a bike. It costs $49.50 extra for a car. The bicycle is one-third the cost of the vehicle but weighs a tiny fraction of the car and takes up only 1/10th the space.

CarBikePort Rack - Photo Credit to Cyclehoop (2)

Photo credit: Cyclehoop

Another fee structure that doesn’t encourage alternative transportation is that of our beautiful state parks. Our family is hoping to visit Crescent Beach State Park in Cape Elizabeth soon. If we bike there, we’ll pay $12. If we drive there…we’ll pay $12.

Not everyone can get somewhere like Crescent Beach without a car, but shouldn’t we encourage those who can? And for those who need to drive, couldn’t we set our fees to inspire more of us to carpool? (The state tries to make it equitable by charging every Maine resident the same price. Also, an annual Maine State Parks vehicle pass allows all the occupants of up to a 17-passenger vehicle free day-use.)

Why should we care about this? In a word: parking. In another word: money. Where there are cars, there will be demand for parking. Since on average vehicles are in use only 5 percent of the time, according to three different analyses by transportation policy advisor Paul Barter they spend the rest of their lives parked. And parking costs money – big, big money.

It’s expensive to build a parking space – even in a dirt lot – and to maintain it. Think of excavation, fill, asphalt if it’s paved, sealing, and providing lighting and any curbing and sidewalks. But maintenance, really? Yes: grading for dirt lots, resurfacing every five to ten years for paving, snow removal and sanding, sweeping, landscaping, controlling access (e.g., entrance gates), fee collection, enforcement, insurance, etc.

There are roughly 735 parking spaces at Crescent Beach State Park. The average annual cost for a space in a paved suburban surface lot on “free” land, like that owned by the citizens of Maine at Crescent Beach, is $671. That price includes amortizing the construction cost over time ($326/year), plus annual maintenance ($345/year). This according to the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, an independent research organization based in British Columbia that is dedicated to practical solutions for transportation problems. That totals $493,185 per year.

The lot was built in the 1960s, so one can question whether the initial cost has been paid off. Also, Crescent Beach’s lot isn’t plowed during the winter, and I’m not sure how often they’re able to sweep and maintain the pavement under all that sand. So let’s say it only costs us a quarter as much? That’s still $123,296. Now think of all the other lots we build and maintain across Maine.

We could price differently. I called nearby states to see what they charge for someone who gets to one of their parks on foot or by bike. Mark Steffen, Press Secretary for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation, seemed a little surprised by my question. “If someone accesses one of your parks as a pedestrian or bicyclist, they are charged a fee?” he asked. “That’s the not case here. We charge a day-use parking fee for vehicles. All our state parks are free for walkers or bicyclists to enter for the day.” I discovered a few more states doing the same, including Montana. Or we could be like Nevada and charge a nominal fee for walkers and bicyclists: $1.

Of course, you may ask whether price actually changes behavior. With parking, the answer is yes.

According to the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, Motorists tend to be particularly sensitive to parking price because it is such a direct charge. Compared with other out-of-pocket expenses, parking fees are found to have a greater effect on vehicle trips…For example, a $1 per trip parking charge is likely to cause the same reduction in vehicle travel as a fuel price increase averaging $1.50 to $2.00 per trip.”

None of our fees are easy to change, of course. In the case of Casco Bay Lines, “It can be done, it just requires a good bit of thoughtful public process,” General Manager Hank Berg explained in a recent call. “Then we still need to bring the results of that process to the Public Utilities Commission for vetting and permission to modify the fees.”

Here’s one timely opportunity for us to weigh in. Dwight Doughty, MaineDOT acting manager for the State Ferry Service, said in a telephone interview, “We are currently working with our Advisory Board to revamp rates for passengers, bikes, freight, etc.”

WEIGH IN

ARE THE CHARGES for bicyclists riding on Maine ferries equitable? Do the fees encourage Mainers and visitors to consider alternatives to cars? Weigh-in on the State Ferry fee structure now, while an advisory board is examining the fees. Email your input to rick.dubois@maine.gov by the end of August to have it included in the initial round of feedback.

July 31, 2017 at 10:01 am Leave a comment

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