Slide4

When a Highway Takes a Home

A few years ago, I shared a listing of articles, websites, and critical reads on how transportation has shaped black communities for good and for bad. I provided examples of how transportation was a tool for economic development, and others where it was a tool for destruction. It is one thing to read about the impact building highways had on dividing communities, but what happens when you learn it happened to your family?Slide2

Last month, I was the keynote at the Louisiana Smart Growth Summit hosted by the Center for Planning Excellence. The summit was in Baton Rouge, where my mom was born and raised, so I interviewed her prior to preparing my talk. Specifically, I asked her questions about my great grandmother’s house, which I remember being under the I-10 overpass. My mom answered my questions and shared that her house was taken to build I-10.

Like many transportation projects that start as lines on a map, the 1960 map shows the pSlide3lanned route of the I-10 expressway. I’m sure the planners thought about the connectivity, “economic development” of having an expressway, and traffic impacts. Given this was 1960 and in the Jim Crow era, I’m also sure they knew exactly who they would be impacting. Although the map is hard to read, the areas where people were displaced and the communities divided, were Black communities.

Two of the parcels on the map belonged to my family. The parcel highlighted in yellow was owned by my great grandmother. They didn’t take her house to build the highway, but she did have a pillar in her backyard. Her house and the store on the corner, where the only buildings that remained. Her house stood on that parcel until she moved in with my grandparents when I was a child. My family sold the house to the store and it was eventually demolished.

The parcel highlighted in green was owned by my grandparents. My mom said since the two parcels formed an “L” shape, she would run from the back of my grandparents to my great grandmother’s house. My grandparents moved to make way for the highway. Here’s the photo from google street view that shows the property today.

Slide4

Although my grandparents were able to relocate to a nice neighborhood in Baton Rouge, gone where the days when my mom could run to her grandmother’s house. The highway not only changed the social cohesion of the neighborhood, it also changed how my family was able to interact with each other.

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.

Picture9

Why Vanpool? Why not?

Some of you may have heard how vanpools are a great way to commute to work. But when you consider options for commuting to work other than driving alone, vanpools may not come to mind. At first brush, you might consider bus, train, carpool or even biking or walking.

I’ll say to you that Vanpools are a viable option for commuting. Below I discuss the benefits of vanpooling including: cost reduction, stress relief and convenience. Also, I will provide some basic steps in starting a vanpool.

drawing of vanReduce Costs

Everyone is interested in reducing the cost of one’s commute. Research has shown that riding in a vanpool can save you 40-75% of the cost of driving your own car. By eliminating the solo commute to work each day, a vanpooler saves money on gas, maintenance, insurance, oil and tires.

And don’t forget that vanpools can save the wear and tear on your own car. Vanpools may further save you money on fewer car repairs and reduce the likelihood  of needing to purchase another car in the immediate future.

Less delay

Vanpools can use the High Occupancy Vehicles (HOV) lanes which will save time during your commute and they can use High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes without having to pay a toll. Additionally, when you let someone else drive to and from work, you can use the free time to work (Many vans provide Wi-Fi.), sleep, read, or simply relax. Plus, your employer may offer a special parking location for your vanpool.

Reduces stress

Then there is the stress factor. This is especially the case in heavily metropolitan areas where the pressure to get ahead to support your family and your livelihood can stress you out. What could be better than making your commute to work much less stressful so you are refreshed and ready to tackle your day when you get there? Ask any vanpool user and they will tell you that the time they spend on their commute both to work and home, is so much more relaxing.

Helps our environment

Of interest to our future generations, and to us too, are the benefits to the environment. An average commute of 50 round-trip miles in a 15-passenger van takes 14 cars of the road and eliminates the emission of over 40 pounds of pollutants into the air, each day. Oh, I can breathe again!

More convenient

It is no secret that vanpools can be flexible and convenient. Some vanpool arrangements allow commuters to be picked up at their home, while others may pick-up and drop-off commuters at Park’n’Ride lots allowing the commuters to run errands after work.

More interaction

Many in urban and suburban environments suffer from the feeling of loneliness and isolation. Being in a vanpool can help you get to know your neighbors and co-workers. More and more stories can be shared the longer the vanpool group has been together. Great way to share both your happy moments and your sad moments.

Reduce congestion

But important to me is how vanpools reduce congestion on our nations’ roads. Basic math tells you that when you add more vanpools on the road, the number of cars on the road decrease exponentially. Fewer cars on the road means less congestion and less time a commuter has to sit in his or her car. This could be the advantage vanpools have over carpools.

I came across an interesting analysis, from Seattle Washington, of how effective vanpools can be in reducing congestion. If you have 100 commuters and 50 of them drive alone and 50 drive in two people carpools, there are 25 less cars on the road than if all 100 commuters drove alone.

Now move all those carpoolers into five-person vanpools. There are still 50 people driving alone, so the drive-alone rate remains at 50 percent. But instead of 75 cars on the road, now there are only 60. With five people per van, the vanpools have freed up a significant amount of road space, although it may not show up in the stats.

So now I have convinced you to consider vanpools, now how does one go about finding out more about vanpools. Well, it could work this way:

  1. Check with your employer to see if a vanpool program has already been set-up.
  2. Also check with your employer on what type/if any transit subsidy is being offered by your company
  3. Contact your local transportation Department and see if they have a commuter assistance program. If they don’t, contact your regional planning agency
  4. Submit your name to the various agencies that are available for administering vanpool programs.
  5. Inquire if a commute-criteria could be run to help identify other vanpool prospects. Some agencies may have the capability as well as some of the private vanpool providers such as Enterprise.
  6. Once seven or more people are identified for the vanpool, the agency will match the group with an appropriate vendor.
  7. Work with local agency to apply for Van Start/Van Save funding administered through your state.

So, what’s stopping you now? Talk to your neighbors and co-workers and set up a vanpool. To no surprise, the hardest part in moving forward on something like this are the first steps. But once you find the people to share a van and you know the costs and financial incentives that are available, the whole process can move forward quickly. When you are riding in your vanpool, you will wonder why you waited so long.

Here are some resources you may want to use to get the ball rolling, or the van rolling:

RideshareOnline.com managed by the Washington State Department of Transportation

TeamRideFinders in Central Virginia

San Luis Obispo Rideshare

Commute with Enterprise

Vanpool Alliance in Woodbridge, VA

VanGo in Colorado State University

Job Links EmploymentTransportation Center

Vanpool Advantages

Commuter Connection in Washington DC

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.

art-by-louis-dyer

What’s In a Name

Have you ever thought about your last name? Where does it come from? What does it mean? How does one really live up to the name(s) given in this earthly realm? After presenting at a planning conference an attendee asked about my last name…”Wakan”, and wanted to know if it has any special meaning or significance (she previously learned I was Native American from the Sioux Tribe). In fact it does I told her, Wakan in the Sioux language has reference to spiritual, holy or sacred things, the opposite of how I felt about myself I joked. Wakan Tanka in Sioux translates to “the great mystery” referring to deity or God. She then continued to ask about my professional interests in urban planning and the source of my passion. I continued to explain to her about the human scale and why it’s important to design cities and places for people rather that for a car moving at 45 mph. I explained how people connect to parks, open space, trees, and architecture, which if done properly, creates a unique vitality that enlivens the soul. I told her it was my intention to help people make those connections through better planning and urban design. This woman then told me something that I will never forget, that indeed I was living up to my last name, that everything I did was spiritual in nature!

art-by-louis-dyer

 

One of the prominent Native American figures (who also happens to be Sioux), was Crazy Horse. He received his name from a vision he had as a young man, “He went into the world where there is nothing but the spirits of all things. That is the real world that is behind this one, and everything we see here is something like a shadow from that one. He was on his horse in that world, and the horse and himself on it and the trees and the grass and the stones and everything were made of spirit, and nothing was hard, and everything seemed to float. His horse was standing still there, and yet it danced around like a horse made only of shadow, and that is how he got his name.” Black Elk Speaks.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience…but spiritual beings having a human experience.” The natural and built environment impacts our senses, which lead to us to engage or detach from our surroundings. As an example, consider the car culture, and how industry marketing would have us focus on a vehicles sleek leather interior highlighting the bells and whistles that make driving “an experience”. In reality, most of us when stuck in traffic, have an overwhelming feeling of frustration, which often leads to road rage or contemplation of an early retirement. As a young child I can recall a conversation I had with my dad as we sitting in traffic on what was at the time, the longest strip mall development in the US.  As we were driving along this seven-lane roadway, I remember asking him, why things had to be so ugly!?! In contrast, when I walk through a park or historic neighborhood, I interact with my surroundings by sitting, playing, people watching, or meditating.  When done right, the collision of the natural and built environment can truly create memorable and dare I say spiritual experiences. I encourage us all to consider where we feel connected to our surroundings, and identify the characteristics or patterns that make this happen. When we feel connections, our souls are most likely ‘dancing in the world behind this-one’.

Duane Wakan is a new senior transportation planner with Nspiregreen LLC a community, multimodal, and environmental planning firm based in Washington, DC. He received his Masters in Urban Planning from the University of Utah. 





BEGIN NOW

TELL US ABOUT YOUR UPCOMING PROJECT!



We would love to help you with your sustainability goals.
GET STARTED