Katy freeway (I-10) in Houston, Tx

So, How’s the Commute?

Why do we pick one job opportunity over another? That is if you are lucky enough to have more than one offer at a particular time. What are the priorities in that decision-making process? Are these priorities changing as more millennials enter the workforce?

Traditionally, a candidate would select the job that pays the most money. Yes! “show me the money.” You want a job that fits your skills and ambitions, and one that provides more opportunity for advancement. It is a common perception that nothing else really played into the decision.

Well, as the transportation geek that I am, I propose there is much more to it today than money. I am not arguing money is no longer important, especially in areas like the DC Metro where I live, but other factors are becoming increasingly important. And, again, in the DC Metro area which has some of the worst traffic congestion in the county, the commute is a prime factor in that decision.

 

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The common scenario at one time was you take the high paying job in the city, but you buy a house far out in the suburbs where housing is much cheaper. As properties become more expensive, the further out you live, you put up with a commute that may require two to three hours per day sitting in your Single Occupied Vehicle (SOV). You just have to deal with it. Well, that may be becoming less the case with the current work force.

Several years ago I was out of work and landed a position on temporary assignment. A few months later, the company offered me a permanent position but I was also offered a second job from another employer, a local government. I actually drew up a matrix to compare pros and cons for each of the jobs. The length of the commute was a key factor. Unfortunately, both jobs were at locations over 20 miles from my home, but one job required a 20 minute shorter commute than the current job I had. I took the new job.

 

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But I am not referring to just the length or hassle of the commute. Candidates consider other commuting options that would be available with this new company. What other commuting options would I be referring to? Well does the company have access and/or opportunity for an employee to use:

  1. Transit (light rail, commuter rail, or bus)
  2. Ridesharing ( carpools or vanpools)
  3. Biking or Walking to Work
  4. Telework
  5. Flexible Work Hours

And there are also the incentives (financial or other) a company can provide to help employees consider other commuter options? These may include:

  1. Pre-tax subsidies
  2. Discounted passes
  3. Incentives for non-parking
  4. Shuttle access
  5. Guaranteed Ride Home
  6. Employer Assisted living

I recently read a tweet from Michelle “Shelly” Parker who manages the regional GoTriangle TDM program for the Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill area.

She posted her article from a local business publication in which she notes that with low unemployment in many areas across the country, companies are looking at ways, some may be viewed as extreme, in attracting talent for their open positions. While many companies are limited in what they can provide, a company that provides commuter benefits and a strong commuter options program can go a long way in recruiting much needed talent.

It is clear that commuting considerations should not be dismissed as something just for “green conscious” companies or companies in large metropolitan areas. Ms. Parker referenced recent research that suggested employees having left their job due to commuting challenges or are beginning to look to their employers to help them address their commuting challenges. A number of companies in the Research Triangle Area offer financial support to cover employee commuting costs, as many do here in the Washington metro area, so it seems like a no-brainer that companies should consider incorporating commuting benefits as part of its bottom line. If they don’t, they could be left behind in attracting talent.

commuteSo what can a company do? The first step is the company should survey its employees. Find out what their needs are. It’s also good if employers use free TDM consulting services to identify commuter options specific to their company location, employee schedules and travel options. These consultants use carpool, mass transit, biking, walking and telework best practices to develop commuting-assistance programs for businesses and provide guidance for selecting and implementing programs as well.

The first question employees consider before accepting a position is, “How am I going to get to work?” If a company includes commuter benefits in human resources and personnel practices, that company can add value to compensation packages and help their workers integrate a work-life balance at a new level.

During my long career I have had opportunities to take metro rail into work, bike to work during nice days in the summer, and even take flex days off. I have to admit that I was happiest at work when I was able to examine a number of options for commuting. At one position, I had a subsidy to help cover the cost of using metro rail, as well as a pre-tax benefit when the subsidy began to not keep pace with rising Metro fares. I also had a  position in which my employer provided facilities for locking and storing bikes and providing showers, so I didn’t stink the entire day. That went a long way in improving my satisfaction with the position.

So, if an employer asks his/her employee “how was your commute?” that employer should consider how they themselves can influence that response. The company may not only attract worthy candidates with a comprehensive commuter benefits package, but also keep them for the long-term.

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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A TASTE OF PARIS: I Walked on Champs-Élysées

Time just flies quickly when you are having fun. The holiday season is upon us as we are ready to ring in the New Year.

As a continuation of the blog about my trip to Europe last summer where I wrote about the transportation system that I experienced in Amsterdam (see here); the second city in this series is Paris France.

Paris is one of my dream places in my bucket list and is well known for its beautiful architecture, streetscape, history, and culture. I have learned so much about the history of Paris and its planning theories. Furthermore, I am working in a city that was originally planned by Pierre Charles L’Enfant, the City Planner of Paris. Also, many Hollywood movies were shot in Paris (i.e., Midnight in Paris, Da Vinci Code) which made this city more attractive.

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What I Love About the City:

  • The beautiful architecture:

We stayed in downtown Paris. Most buildings were the typical Middle Age/Renaissance style (they were called “Gallo-Roman Style”) with delicate art sculpture, symmetric roof, and spectacular appearance. Everyone was so astonished by the beauty of the cathedral. Regular residential buildings can be full of art and character.

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Notre-Dame De Paris: I was so excited when I saw this cathedral in front of me! I read the book, Notre-Dame de Paris which played back like a movie in my mind when I touched the brick.

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Eiffel Tower: It was built in 1889 as the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair. Despite its modern construction and architectural style, it blends well with the city and has become the iconic symbol in Paris.

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Basilica of Sacré-Cœur: This is an architecture that stands on a high point in the City of Montmartre. People called it the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the white exterior gets its look due to special travertine stone quarried in Château-Landon (Seine-et-Marne).

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  • Transportation:

As an old city, the subway system is comparably older than Amsterdam. I was amazed that the trains were (at least what I saw) automobile based, and that many passengers get off the train while it is still on moving. Might that be a safety issue?

  • City Planning:

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The roads and buildings make the Paris city pattern so unique and classic. Obliviously, the king and people love squares and circles. This pattern provided great connectivity for the inner city. The most important road – Champs-Élysées serves as the arterial that links the Arc de Triomphe and Louvre Museum, which was the palace for generations of French leaders.

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What I Did Not Like:

Safety:

Although we vacationed in a safe neighborhood, we still encountered people trying to break into an apartment. We were also warned by locals that we needed to guard our personal belongings as pick-pocketing is rampant in the city. Luckily, we didn’t lose anything, however, the unsafe feeling was not very pleasant to deal with.

With the recent bombings in Paris, the security issues are becoming worse and worse. Paris is a beautiful city, it deserves everyone to love it. In my opinion, safety policies must change so we can all continue to enjoy one of the most spectacular global cities.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.





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