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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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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.





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