Monday, June 14, 2010
Organization fosters greener transit
Jeremy Holmes, program director of RIDE Solutions, on greener commuting options for the Blue Ridge region.
Blue Ridge Business Journal
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The Roanoke Times
One way to address air quality issues was to lower the number of cars on the roads, and RIDE Solutions was born. This program, operated by the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission, offers a free car pool matching service for the Roanoke and New River valleys.
Jeremy Holmes, program director of RIDE Solutions, talked recently about how far green transportation has come in the region.
How has RIDE Solutions progressed since the organization started?
I think it's grown and its mission has expanded somewhat. Local air quality is still a major focus, but that's now become part of broader sustainability questions. So we still get cars off the road to clean the air but we're also concerned with carbon emissions and we're concerned with land use and how transportation demand increases the need for roads and development of green space, things like that.
We're also working more with individuals who are trying to find ways to reduce their environmental impact. So there's this kind of broad mission, but it's also very focused on helping individuals look at the range of green "activities," I guess, and where their transportation fits into that.
How many people are you helping right now?
We've got just shy of 1,000 folks in our commuter database. That is car poolers and bus riders and bike commuters and teleworkers -- folks who are either actively using a clean mode or are trying to get connected to a clean mode. We've got about 40 employers that we work with right now, and if you include all the contacts we make with their employees through promotional efforts and so forth, there's about 40,000 employees in the Roanoke and New River valleys who we touch in some way or another through those partnerships.
May was bike month. Talk about some of those activities and how successful you think the month was.
It went very well. One of the big things that RIDE Solutions does is our clean commute challenge. It's not done yet ... but so far we've had almost 10,000 miles pledged, meaning we've taken 10,000 miles off the road for the month. So that's a big thing that we've done. Two-thirds of the way those miles come off the road is by bike commuting, so that's a growing area of interest.
But we've also either organized or financially supported or promoted mountain bike races, workshops, discounts, just all kinds of ways to get information out and make people aware of bicycling as a transportation option. This is our second year of trying to organize a big month-long celebration. We had more events this year than we did last year, we've had more participation in the events than we did last year, so overall I think it's been very successful. I think awareness continues to grow and year after year I see more people out riding a bicycle for transportation than I have the year before.
What are some other ways businesses can go green besides car pooling?
From the transportation side, car pooling is one of the big ones we promote because not every business has access to another option. But businesses can look at things like if they've got access to transit, maybe they can partner with the transit agency to sell transit passes out of the HR office or make sure their schedules match the transit schedule. That's a big one. Sometimes employees would love to take the bus but their shift starts 15 minutes [earlier] than the bus would get there; that 15 minutes makes it impossible.
They can look at putting in bike racks. There are all kinds of little things to encourage cycling for employees and customers that an employer can do. There's bike commuter benefits they can implement. They can just put bike racks in. They can provide other incentives for folks arriving by bicycle. Indoor bike parking, little things like that.
They can look at flex schedules. For example, I'm on a schedule where I get every other Friday off. I fit my 40 hours in a tighter schedule, and so that's one day I don't have to drive. That's an increasingly popular option because not only does it improve transportation impact on the environment, but often the company can shut down earlier every other Friday or every Friday, and they don't need to run the computers longer or burn light bulbs and things like that so there's these multiple impacts.
That's kind of a broad thing, but they can look at scheduling, they can look at how they can connect to other transportation options, they can look at providing incentives from bike parking to car pool parking to transit pass sales and all kinds of things.
Where will Ride Solutions be in the next few years? What about in the longer term?
The area's natural resources is one of our biggest draws. We've got beautiful mountains, lots of green space, and we want to make sure that the growth that we hope to see in the valley, the growth in business and job opportunities and housing opportunities, does not impede or impact the natural resources that bring people here.
So we want to make sure there are plenty of transportation options and plenty of awareness of the impact of transportation so that we can concentrate on density, we can concentrate on transit, the growth of transit options so more people have access to better bus services, things like the connection of the greenways and the transportation option. Just to make sure we are in the mix for that balance.
We don't want to see the potential for the valley maximized at the expense of sprawl or more and wider roads if it's not absolutely necessary. A lot of that is going to come with our work with businesses. Employers who are concerned about their environmental impact are concerned about the employees' commuting expenses as gas prices get back up. We want to work very closely with employers to make sure those options are communicated, to make sure that their employees are aware of what's available, and to help their employees save money, and the secondary impact is it will benefit the entire region.