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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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What does it cost to drive?

In a previous blog I asked, “what will it take for you to change your commute?”. In reading that question, you may have responded “NOTHING.” Nothing will prompt you to change your ways. That is your “driving solo in a car” ways.

I admit, being able to get in your car and drive anywhere you want to go, whenever you want to go,  is quite an advantage and difficult to argue against. You are not tied to anyone else’s schedule. You don’t have to wait for anyone. If you are running late, who cares. No one is waiting for you. If you feel sick, you can leave whenever you want. This is especially true for your commute to work. How can one top the convenience of driving alone? Why would I want to participate in a shared car or shared van arrangement?

Well, you should know that the convenience does come at a cost. The cost may not be so obvious at first, but you are paying for that convenience. How much?

 

smart-car-1Well in 2017, Americans paid, on average, $3,037 to cover the indirect/hidden costs of driving which included sitting in traffic and searching for parking. Also in that year, the average total cost of driving was $10,288. This is a staggering figure.  Are you beginning to see how driving alone to work may not be as advantageous as you once thought?

How do I know this? I came across an article in the March/April edition of  “@Livemore” a publication of the Dulles Area Transportation Association (DATA). The research was drawn from the  first ever published report on the “Cost of Driving” by INRIX, an analytics company that researches the connection between technology and transportation.

Sometimes I don’t like to drive, especially to areas that are dense and built-up. The reason for this is the hassle of finding available parking. I don’t know about you, but I hate driving around and around in the search for parking, and often over paying on a street meter or paying the inflated cost in a parking garage. According to the INRIX research, drivers spend on average $3,000 per year on parking. The type of costs that are integrated into this estimate include:

  • Waste of time,
  • Carbon emissions,
  • Parking fines,

This may be the reason many drivers are excited about the idea of having fully autonomous vehicles in the future. The car will take you to your destination, then disappear. When you are ready to leave, you can snap your fingers and voila, there is your car. Not going to happen folks, at least not in the near future.  Parking will continue to be a drawback to driving for a long time.

Your next argument could be, I work in the suburbs. I have unlimited parking in the suburban office park where I work. True enough, but you must understand there are other costs to car ownership and driving everywhere you go. These include:

  • Purchasing or leasing a vehicle, including finance costs
  • Depreciation of a vehicle
  • Maintenance and service (I can vouch for that having paid over $2,000 in recent car repair)
  • Insurance
  • Fuel
  • Tolls
  • Taxes
  • Lost productive time sitting in traffic
  • (fill in the blank)_____________

And remember, with the rising cost of property and real estate, some companies, or their property managers/owners, may not find it as lucrative to continue setting aside valuable space just for parking. Don’t be surprised if your employer starts considering charging for parking, especially as congestion in suburban areas becomes more problematic to commuters. An increase in traffic congestion may prompt employers to look for ways to encourage shared driving in order to help reduce congestion and better assure their employees arrive to work on time.

van

Recent trends show employees are increasingly leaving their job due to commuting challenges, and that employees are beginning to look to their employers to help them address their commuting challenges. As a result, a number of companies are beginning to cover employee commuting costs if they use alternative modes of commuting (carpooling, vanpooling, transit, biking)  while increasingly charging solo drivers for their “parking privileges.” Don’t say I didn’t warn you if that happens to you at your company.

So what can you do? No, I am not suggesting you sell your car, though kudos to you if you do. It’s basic economics, the less you drive, the less wear and tear on your car. Consider a carpool or vanpool if your schedule allows it. Look to telework, and potential transit opportunities. The bus may not be so inconvenient. If you do consider these options and cut back on your driving alone to work, your wallet will thank you.

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.

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Vision Zero: No one should lose a friend to a traffic crash

Every time I read about a traffic fatality in the District, I breathe a sigh of relief when I don’t recognize the name. On Friday April 19, 2019, that all changed. That morning, I saw on twitter that a cyclist had been struck and killed. I said a silent prayer, raged a little on the inside, and then moved on with my day. Later that evening, I open twitter and I saw a name I recognize, Dave Salovesh. In the middle of the movie theater, I burst into tears.Bicycle locked to a light post. The bike is painted white as a symbol of a ghost bike.

There’s not much I can more say about Dave that hasn’t already been said here, here, here, here, and countless other places. Dave and I had known each other for nearly a decade. He and I rode the Fort Circle Trail in Ward 7 a few times, including the one time he, Brian McEntee, and I wiped out on the hill between Branch Avenue and Naylor Road SE. When I would get discouraged about the challenges I faced in my projects, Dave was always there to support and encourage me. My friend is no longer here because he was struck and killed by someone driving 70mph on Florida Avenue NE. The most upsetting part of Dave’s passing is that it was preventable, as are most other traffic-related deaths.

Last year, over 40,000 people died in a traffic-related incident. While not a significant percentage of the total U.S. population, each person, like Dave, left behind family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and other loved ones. Not to mention the residual trauma experienced by bystanders who witness the crash and emergency responders. In addition to the social loss, there is the cost of each death via lost wages for the family, property damage, city resources, and others. For example, the CDC estimates the cost of crash-related deaths for the District of Columbia was $34 Million in 2013.

Nspiregreen developed the Vision Zero Action Plans for the District of Columbia and the City of Alexandria. As Chanceé Lundy mentioned in our last blog post about Vision Zero: “Without swift action and accountability, DC Vision Zero is just a plan with pretty graphics. We developed it with policies and enforcement mechanisms that should be implemented. It is a tool to address what has become all too common behavior in the District. There should be less talk about Vision Zero and its possibilities and more actions that prioritize the District’s most vulnerable users.”

To the political leaders, fellow planners and engineers, advocates, and residents: Vision Zero requires more of us than platitudes, dreams deferred, and delay by unnecessary studies. It requires us to take immediate actions to prevent people from dying on our roadways. It requires us to be okay with removing parking, reducing the number of vehicle travel lanes and lane widths, removing highway infrastructure to reconnect the street grid, and changing the signal timing to ensure safety, as well as reallocating the public right-of-way for public transportation, bicycle facilities, and sidewalks. As a region (and frankly as a nation) a paradigm shift needs to occur. We have to begin prioritizing safety over urgency, traffic flow, or speed. If we are willing to accept a few minutes delay in our drives, we can guarantee that all will reach our destinations safely.

The DC region has the tools, knowledge, and plans to make our streets safer. All we need now is bold, brave, and steadfast leadership to make the tough (but right) decisions to advance those plans from paper to reality. No one else should lose a friend to a preventable traffic crash.

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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