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Sometimes Public Transportation is the Best Option

What’s the best way to get from Washington, DC to Baltimore, MD during the height of rush hour?

That is the question I asked myself when leaving work in Downtown DC recently, to go to an event that was held in Baltimore, MD, thirty-nine miles away. As our firm focuses on transportation planning and knowing how notorious rush hour traffic is in this area, I sought alternative modes of transportation to traverse the Washington-Baltimore Metropolitan region along Interstate 95, without being stuck in what Texas Tech Transportation Institute called in 2015, “the worst traffic in the Country.” In assessing the situation, using the regional rail network seemed to be the most prudent course of action, and getting from Union Station in Washington to Penn Station in Baltimore would mean traveling aboard Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s Metrorail line and the Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) train.

The MARC train has three different service lines that run close to 100 trains a day covering the Washington-Baltimore region. Historically connected to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the MARC systems runs on some of the oldest continuously operated passenger rail lines in the country.

Since most of our staff already commutes to our offices by WMATA Metrorail service, I was able to completely traverse the region without relying on automobiles. Taking the Orange Line from our offices at McPherson Square to the Metro Center WMATA Transit Hub, then transferring from the Orange Line to the Red Line, and then taking the Red Line to Washington’s Union Station, where staff was able to transfer to the MARC train system. Arriving at Union Station, I was able to purchase tickets on the MARC line to travel from Union Station to Baltimore’s Penn Station. After arriving at Baltimore’s Penn Station, I walked several blocks to the location of the event on East North Avenue at the Impact Hub. Not having to deal with traffic congestion on Interstate 95, as well as not having to pay for parking or gas, while also disembarking several blocks from the event’s location showed me that taking the MARC train was an accessible means of regional travel. But while the train trip was convenient for all the aforementioned reasons, it could have been faster in terms of travel time.

Currently, the United States falls behind many other developed nations, in terms of investment in a national and inter-regional High-Speed Rail network. Within the past 6 years, several states have rejected funding offers through the Federal Government’s High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program to assist in the development and construction of a High-Speed Rail network in their respective states. Currently, Amtrak offers Acela, a High-Speed train that runs between Washington, DC and Boston, MA, that is so successful it accounts for close to 25% of Amtrak’s revenue as of Fiscal Year 2012. While there are currently plans underway throughout the country to invest more resources into High-Speed rail in the United States, we as a country as still playing catch up with other developed countries who have invested in their respective rail networks, in terms of offering alternative transportation modalities for those who live a car-free lifestyle or who do not have the personal finances to own a private vehicle. Having a faster, more reliable intercity rail transportation network option to traverse our region would lessen our reliance on cars, which in turn reduces congestion, reduces carbon emissions, and limits the frustration of sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. This would be a positive impact on our region, as well as the country as a whole.

If the opportunity presents itself in your future travel plans, please don’t eschew mass transit for a personal vehicle. Sure, you get to select your own music and travel in privacy, but the benefits of trading your private mode of transportation for mass transit outweigh the perceived negatives of not being able to drive directly to your destination.

David Simon, MCP, is a Community Planner who has worked in diverse communities across the country ranging from the Rust Belt to Appalachia, and from communities metropolitan to rural. Returning to the DC Metro area where he grew up, after 15 years working and going to school in the Midwest, he is impressed at the growth and development that the Metro area has accomplished. As the newest team member of Nspiregreen, he seeks to make an impact in the communities that our team works with, through proactive community engagement, while utilizing his passion for urban environments and community development.

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How to Bike for Transportation

With the upcoming year of SafeTrack, you may be scrambling to figure out how you are going to get to work. As you are going through your options, did you consider biking to work?

Before I give tips, I must confess I don’t bike to work regularly. About two years ago, I biked to work 3-4 times a week, except rain and hot summer days. Then, I moved close to a metro station, so I started taking metro to work which then became my time to read. In addition, until a few months ago, there was nowhere to lock my bike at work. However, I do bike on the weekends regularly. I say all of this because I know how hard it is to bike to work. It’s so much to think about, but I’m here to demystify some of it for you.

  1. Decide what bike to ride: You could use your personal bike, borrow a bike, or use Capital Bikeshare. If using a personal or borrowed bike, make sure to check your brakes and make sure you have adequate air pressure in your tires. Whatever you decide, you can change day-to-day. You can use your personal bike one day and Capital Bikeshare another day.
  2. Figure out where you will store your bike for the day: This is the most important step for me, because I do not like biking places where I can’t lock my bike securely or bring it inside. Check out the scene at your office. Are there biking racks in the parking garage or is there a bike room? If there is a bike room, do you have to fill out paperwork to get access? Will your boss allow you to bring your bike in the office? If you use Capital Bikeshare, where is nearest station?
  3. Plan your route and try it on the weekend: When I first started biking, it took a while to transition my brain from the best route for driving to the best route for biking. When biking, sometimes the best route may be a neighborhood street that has low traffic volumes or cutting through a park. Whatever the route, grab a friend or two and try it out on the weekend when you aren’t pressed for time or stressed about getting to the office for a meeting.
  4. Plan your outfit and pack your bags the night before: Some people bike in work clothes and others shower/change at work. Personally, I don’t like biking in the summer because I don’t like being sweaty and showering in a public shower. However, with SafeTrack, there may be days that I bike then shower and change at the office. Regardless of which camp you decide to join, packing and planning the night before saves time and reduces stress. If there is no shower in your building, you can try paper showers or baby wipes and some strong deodorant. You could also join a gym near your office for the purposes of showering (Don’t laugh. I’ve seen it done before).
  5. Bike to work: You’ve completed Steps 1-4 and now you are ready to bike to work.

Simple right? Well I know you have a bunch of other concerns (*cough* excuses *cough). I’m going to tell you something that many others may not tell you.

  • Biking to work doesn’t mean you have to bike home: You could bike to work and then bring your bike on bus or metro to go home. Check out WMATA’s rules on bringing your bike on public transportation.
  • Biking to work doesn’t mean you have to bike the entire way to work: You could bike to the bus. You could bike to a metro station that isn’t being impacted by SafeTrack. You could bike to a carpool. You could carpool to a bikeshare station. You could… The options are endless.
  • Biking to work doesn’t mean you have to do it in all weather conditions: I admire my rain, sleet, snow, and heat biking friends. I do not bike in when liquid is coming from the sky or heat.
  • Biking to work doesn’t mean you have to do it every day: You can bike as many days as you want.

Give biking to work a try. If you need more resources, check out the Washington Area Bicyclist Association for tips on surviving SafeTrack.

 

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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Transportation Safety Means More Than Crashes: Beginning to Heal

See Part 1 of this blog discussing the issue of international and domestic transportation safety for women.

“Pink Transport” is a gender-segregated bus or train car that currently operates in over fifteen countries as a solution to personal safety for women. However, these gender specific mode options do not provide the capacity or service that make for equality and safety for women. Women entering the general boarding cars of trains-  which are now referred to as “men’s cars”- are targeted and harassed for not using the women-only cars. Women in cities like Beijing are even advised to dress more conservatively, and avoid wearing so-called “provocative” clothing like miniskirts. However, all of these transportation interventions and messaging puts the burden of personal safety solely on the victim of harassment.

With the goal of sustainability and the movement toward a greater non-auto mode split, the perception of safety on and around public transportation is paramount for success. People, especially women, will not travel on alternate means of transportation (bikes, bus, rail, etc.) if the system lacks the proper measures to protect personal safety. There are steps that agencies, the community, and women can take to help with this problem:

  1. Transit operators need to have the knowledge and practical steps to better deal with this issue. Sensitivity training, knowledge of proper actions to deal with crises, and a streamlined method of reporting these offenses to transit or local police could be implemented.
  2. Women should be encouraged to speak up or report offenses. Women need to feel empowered to recognize when harassment is occurring and how to report it. Public awareness campaigns in transit systems as well as on television and radio media could be used to increase awareness of the issue, provide easy information on reporting offenses, and help women to understand that they will be heard and action will be taken when they report harassment.
    Women are feeling more and more empowered to speak out and tell their stories of injustice, harassment, and sexual assault. Groups like the Collective Action for Safe Spaces DC and HollaBack help give women a platform to share their stories and avoid the isolating effect that harassment in a public spaces can bring. In the District, WMATA has a platform to submit instances of harassment on the Metrorail and Metrobuses but often this is after the fact.
  1. Harassment is everyone’s problem. The public must realize that everyone has a hand in making transportation systems safe. According to HollaBack, all it takes is harassers to have the mindset that their behavior is acceptable or will go unnoticed, and a community around the person that are unwilling to intervene. Everyone has the opportunity to make transportation systems safer for all users. 

Everyone can and should take part in ending harassment and violence against women both locally and globally. Harassers need to be confronted about their behaviors and made to understand that it is not acceptable, nor will it go unnoticed. It takes a community of allies to help stop this behavior and help defend women that may feel- in the moment- embarrassed, alone, and helpless.

No one has to do everything, but everyone has to do something”- HollaBack

 

Christine E. Mayeur is an urban planner with a unique set of skills and interests. She has been called a “renaissance woman” by her coworkers and is interested in all things creative and challenging. Christine uses her history of working with communities through grass-roots organizations along with her planning skills to help plan transportation systems that meet the needs of all users. 

 





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