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The Galapagos Islands and Climate Change (Small Actions Matter)

Have you ever heard the phrase, “every little bit helps?” It is a shame there are things we want to accomplish but we get discouraged because some of these goals may seem insurmountable. We may not realize that some of the things we already do may help reach that goal.  For instance, I got back from a trip to Galapagos Islands a few months ago. And as I was thinking about the trip, it occurred to me that the Galapagos Islands are like a naturalist paradise. As we make commitments to address climate change (big or small), we are moving closer to the goal of reaching a naturalist paradise of our own.

It’s always a good idea to break a goal down to various phases or parts and work toward intermediate steps of success. Even if establishing a naturalist paradise, or solving climate change if you will, seems to be unrealistic, the various steps one can take to help reach that goal are not.

One good example of this in the transportation world is  the “Vision Zero” campaign. I remember when it was called “Toward Zero Death” way back when. The idea is to set a goal of achieving no traffic fatalities or serious injuries from car crashes over a certain number of years. One’s first reaction is that it is an unattainable goal. OK, but then can you tell me if there is a group of people whose lives we can accept losing on the highway or local streets, since this goal is so “unattainable?” Could that be your wife/husband or significant other, child, parent, sibling, good friend, or a casual acquaintance? The answer is no. So we set about working with key partners and stakeholders to redesign dangerous intersections, install traffic calming devices such as roundabouts, install pedestrian road crossings, implement retroreflective signage, etc. We may not reach the ultimate goal but we will may see success along the way, in reducing the number of traffic fatalities.

My trip to the Galapagos Islands, off the coast of Ecuador in South America, was in the early part of May, 2019. We visited the islands of North Seymour, Bartolome, Rabida, Fernandina, Isabela, Santiago, and Santa Crua. I was excited to see many species of plants and animals and had various opportunities to see them both on land and in the water. Some of the islands had very little transportation infrastructure, if any at all. In other words, I didn’t experience any rush hour unless you count the group of Orcas we saw one morning as we crossed the equator on the fourth day.  

20190512_175543I went on this trip with my sisters Virginia and Karen and my brother-in-law Stephen. I had no idea what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised with the sights and the activities of this trip, and will always remember it. We were able to witness nature, whether from a shoreline tour on a zodiac boat, snorkeling along some of the inlets, doing a short hike along some of the natural trails and beaches or kayaking along the shores. One thing I like about traveling is being able to share my experiences with friends and colleagues. And boy did I take many pictures!

I won’t kid you, Galapagos has had its own issues in the past in which humans have introduced invasive species that have threatened the islands. But many foresighted naturalists and scientists have been able to mitigate some of those impacts, preserve the Islands and closely manage human interaction through limited tours. The wildlife is so used to visitors they don’t view humans as a threat and rarely scatter when you approach them. Nothing like being up-close and personal with a Blue Footed Boobie or a Frigatebird.

20190512_183340In fact, when we arrived at the hotel in Guayaquill, Ecuador and as we were about to take the trip from Ecuador to the islands, we were issued a transit control card. This card was given to all of us and was issued by the Government Council for Galapagos as a measure towards “sustainable human development and conservation of the Galapagos Islands.” The card was a way to limit the number of people on the tour so we could enjoy this natural paradise while at the same time maintaining its integrity and natural beauty.


What can this trip teach us about the importance of climate change? Whether you believe in the impacts of human behavior on climate or not, any action you take or day-to-day practice you follow that helps reduce the carbon footprint, is a good thing. It surely doesn’t hurt.

I am not pushing major policies, such as Cap and Trade, that are being hotly debated right now. It20190512_184609 is clear to me we will have to make critical decisions in the future in regards to climate and we need to understand the ramifications of action and inaction in addressing climate change.For the sake of this blog, I just want to point out that you yourself may already be doing your part in addressing climate change. Whether you choose carpooling to work over driving alone, or compost food scraps instead of throwing it out into a landfill, recycle cans and bottles or walk to the store instead of driving; we are all doing our share to maintain natural integrity of our own environment as best we can. Can we reach the ultimate goal of a Galapagos Islands in your neighborhood? Of course not, but in these actions, we are doing our small part in making the world a little more sustainable and a little more pleasant place in which to live. We are helping to preserve our environment for future generations.

Again, the Galapagos Islands are a place where humans and animals live mostly in perfect harmony in the natural environment. If that is the ultimate goal of completely addressing the impacts of climate change, any steps toward doing that are well worth it.

20190517_084847By the way, my favorite part of the trip was the last day when we visited the Charles Darwin Research Station, located near Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, to see the giant tortoises.

We went to the center not only for the big turtles, but to see how the station raises young giant tortoises and then releases them into the wild. We saw some of the small turtles in their pens. This program is run in conjunction with the Galapagos Park Service. Since 1970, more than 2,000 tortoises have been hatched, raised and released. Later we went to a national park in the highlands of Santa Cruz and were able to see the large turtles in their natural habitat. Again, we were able to be with the turtles, up-close and personal.

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James Davenport is a TDM Employer Outreach Specialist, on contract with the Virginia Department of Transportation. Before that, James worked for Prince William County/Department of Transportation as a Regional Planner. In that capacity, he represented the county in regional forums and worked with planners and staff from other localities and transit agencies to help the region plan for its transportation future. For many years, James worked with the National Association of Counties as a project manager providing education and outreach to county officials, staff and key stakeholder groups on planning issues such as transportation, water quality, collaborative land use and economic development.

Dedicated lane for the streetcar.

Navigating Cities – The Best of my Travels

Over the last few years, my travels for conferences, workshops, projects, and personal have taken me cities in the US and aboard.  Because I’m such a transportation nerd, it’s always fun to see how easy it is to navigate from my point of arrival (train station or airport) to my destination and around the city with only the knowledge of the address of where I’m staying. Below are some of my reflections navigating different cities.

Most Efficient Airport – Munich, Germany: In October 2018, I had an opportunity to travel to Salzburg, Austria for a seminar on building healthy and equitable communities. I flew in through Munich, then took a train to Salzburg. Munich airport is the most efficient airport I’ve ever travel to or through. Even going through customs was faster than using Global Entry when I returned to the US. I had no problems navigating from my gate, through customs, and to the train. Most importantly, there were no lines despite the high volume of people. Even the security lines moved so quick, I barely had time to get my shoes off.

IMG_4393Easiest Train Station to Navigate – Amsterdam Centraal, Netherlands: Amsterdam is known by people in the transportation industry for its biking culture and infrastructure as well as its public transportation. Biking is the one thing I didn’t do during my vacation, but I did ride the streetcars. All that aside I give Amsterdam credit for the easiest train station to navigate. Even without knowing the language, moving through the train station was intuitive for me. The using of icons, such as “i” for information removed the language barrier.

Easiest place to navigate from the airport to downtown – Minneapolis, Minnesota: Last year, I did a day trip Minneapolis for the Institute of Transportation Engineers conference.  I flew into Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport and took the train to downtown to get to the conference hotel. Not only was it easy to navigate from my arrival gate to the train, but it was also close. There are a few other airports where it is easy to get to the train, but the train is a long distance from the airport, such as Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Getting a ticket was intuitive and it was a smooth ride into downtown Minneapolis.

Favorite City for Getting Lost – Tie between Antigua, Guatemala and Cali, Colombia: Antigua and Cali are my favorite for two completely different reasons. Antigua was great for getting lost, because it was easy to reset to get back on track. It’s a walkable City with a large volcano to the south, a volcano that erupts every twenty minutes or so to the west, and a large hillside with a cross on top to the north. Cali was great because of all the street art. We call it murals in the US, they call everything graffiti.  I spent several hours getting lost while exploring the graffiti.

I haven’t taken count of the number of cities I’ve been to around the world. These are the ones that stand out in my mind for a transportation-related reason. What are some of the best cities you’ve been to that are easy to navigate?

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.

 

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How’s your Mental Health Awareness Month going so far?

Time flies when you’re having fun!  Suddenly it’s almost the end of May. We all know that May is mental health awareness month, what have you done to take care of your mental health?

There can be many elements of daily stresses: traffic congestion, finances, workplace pressure, or other personal challenges. With everything added up, it can wear on our mental health little by little each day.  During rush hour, the traffic in the DMV area can be really horrible and especially if there is an accident on the roads, it can take up to twice the amount of the regular commute time. Even when taking the Metro, there could be many reasons that cause a train delay. The feeling of anxiety is stressful among commuters whom are late for a meeting or something urgent but are stuck in the delayed train. There’s a study that found that commuting also has significant psychological and social costs. It can be a major cause of stress, due to its unpredictability and a sense of loss of control. Commuters can experience boredom, social isolation, anger, and frustration from problems like traffic or delays.

Here are some tips I have that helped me to reduce stress during commute:

  1. Find some distraction.

i.e., listening to music or podcast might help you to get in your own zone and minimize the discomfort from the commute.  There’s nothing you can do while you are in traffic, using your phone checking email can be very distracted when driving. I found time flies when you are doing something that enjoyable. Also, I saw people on the train doing different things to kill time. Some of them reading newspaper or book, some of them watching a TV show.

  1. Try to leave earlier.

It could be challenging sometimes, but usually, you will feel less stressed if reserve more time for your commute. Therefore, you don’t risk running late to a meeting. However, traffic can be very unpredictable, fighting with the unpredictable nature of commuting wastes a lot of mental energy and focus. Acknowledge you are lacking the control in this situation and try to accept the reality.

  1. Teleworking

This will depend on the company’s and your schedule flexibility. Sometimes I need to get to several meeting in a day, each of them might in a different direction. In between those meetings, going back to the office would waste a lot of time especially when the office might in another direction. I would find a coffee shop near the next meeting location and work from there.

If you are interested in smart commute solutions, please see the blog by James Davenport – How’s the Commute. If you have some effective way to relieve the stress in commuting, welcome to share with us.

Above is just a part of our life. Overall, we need to build up strong mental health to be able to tackle any difficulties. May 2019 is coming to an end, but our way to being mentally strong will not end here. Create an opportunity to share your stressful moment with people you trust and listen to their stories, you might find you are not alone at the same time, you can encourage each other with some life hacks or positive thoughts.

Mei Fang, who is an urban planner with a strong passion for urban and landscape design, she also enjoys looking for the variety of culture inside of the city.

 





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