By Staff Writer Susie Kopecky.
Its a familiar story. A seemingly good idea comes to the table. It gains popularity quickly and people clamor for it. At the same time, change is expensive (in more ways than one) and though it is easy to get frustrated individuals to agree to some change, it is harder to get them to agree exactly how.
Such it is with alternative transportation. While cities throw useful rationale at their residents, ultimately, it comes down to a citizenry’s willingness to look forward and the city’s willingness to embrace creative measures in order to encourage residents to use alternate transportation. Save money. Save the environment. Meet new people. How does a city successfully encourage its residents to use alternative transportation?
A variety of cities across California are implementing a variety of creative and novel strategies to get their citizenry thinking differently about public transportation. Gone (officials hope) will be the days of imagining dank, dirty and dark modes of transport, and ahead lays a vision of a city so public-transport friendly, it boggles the mind!
Many cities have developed or are currently developing comprehensive plans to change the image of local public transportation. The City of San Luis Obispo is one such city. With a population of a little under 50,000, San Luis Obispo has, as part of its Transportation Planning and Traffic Engineering Program, numerous goals and activities: one specific goal is the “promot[ion of] alternative transportation, in addition to the promotion of “technological advancements in fuel-efficiency, emissions control, and communication which reduce the need for travel.”
The San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District specifically caters to businesses and other sizable organizations, with the goal of “chang[ing]employee commuting habits.” This is accomplished through more than just helpful cheering on: the APCD offers a “Rideshare Incentive Program,” which rewards riders of alternative transportation, by giving them a daily “’iRideshare Rewards’ that can then be turned into movie tickets, meals at restaurants, gift certificates to local stores, smoothies, stamps, car washes, and more.” Save money, have a snooze on the way to work, win prizes… how don’t you win??
The vanpools offered through this program are organized through Ride-On and SLO Rideshare. Biking is also highly encouraged, and is a highly feasible alternative to driving, particularly considering the city’s relatively small size. ACPD vanpools also offer an element of security in its Guaranteed Ride Home Program: individuals who are signed up with Rideshare are allotted up to four emergency rides home per year. This program both encourages environmental responsibility and comfort relying on public transport.
Already, San Luis Obispo has an excellent and frequently-used bus system. Another city not terribly far away also has a well-loved bus system and is also actively encouraging residents to consider alternative transportation more seriously.
The City of Santa Barbara’s Downtown Parking department is also busy searching for ways to both help ease the tight parking situation in the city, and the need to foster greater reliance on public transportation in order to “help congestion and air pollution in downtown Santa Barbara.” Downtown Parking approaches its goal in a number of ways.
Like officials in San Luis Obispo, officials in Santa Barbara also have gotten behind efforts to popularize ridesharing and vanpool usage. The Santa Barbara County Association of Governments’ Traffic Solutions “encourages alternatives to driving alone, with the goals of reducing traffic congestion, air pollution and vehicle miles driven as well as improving the quality of life for employees, visitors, and residents of Santa Barbara County.”
Traffic Solutions offers specific alternatives such as walking, biking, carpooling, vanpooling, telecommuting, emergency ride home systems and using public transit services such as the buses of the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District, and Amtrak and the Coastal Express. (Already, in both Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, bus rates are nil for students with valid student IDs. This is a great way to encourage individuals at a young age to become comfortable with alternative transportation.) Residents and workers in Santa Barbara are encouraged to dust off their bikes and get back in the bike-riding saddle again.
One incentive for biking includes guaranteed bike storage lockers in the Granada Garage through Bikestation. (Bikestation is an up-and-coming business that encourages the use of bikes and provides “24 hour secure, indoor bike parking facilities” and the annual plan is just under $100.
It is fascinating to note how the marriage of exercise and aesthetics play a role in the fostering of environmental stewardship in both San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara as well. Both towns with rich histories and beautiful natural surroundings, and both are towns in which walking and biking are promoted. In Santa Barbara, Traffic Solutions encourages dwellers to walk, for a number of reasons, from financial to health to aesthetics: “[By walking] Not only will you help cut down on traffic congestion and smog, you’ll get regular exercise and save on gasoline costs. You’ll also have the opportunity to get to know your neighborhood on a more intimate level and foster a stronger sense of community.”
Walking can be a low-impact, regular way to build muscle strength and endurance and may improve one’s physique. Traffic Solutions offers a number of specific health benefits to walking, including the “alleviation of depression,” and “reduced risk of heart disease.” In San Luis Obispo, walking is also encouraged in the historic downtown district. Walking tours are offered downtown and at such points of interest as the Point San Luis Lighthouse to showcase the historic treasures of the city while also showcasing just how walker-friendly San Luis Obispo is.
To best illustrate this point, every Thursday night, the popularly driven downtown streets are temporarily closed off to traffic as the weekly Farmers Market takes the reins, and walkers reign supreme for the night. Vendors and organizations set up booths along the streets and enjoy the hustle and bustle not of automobile traffic, but of foot traffic, as San Luis Obispo residents leave behind the worry of driving, and enjoy the fine fares of their community at a SLO(wer) pace. Thursday evenings also hot Bike Night (or the Bike Happening), a companion event to the first Thursday of each month, where bicyclists are encouraged to ride in pride through downtown.
Whether through encouraging greater use of the bus system, finding a co-worker or friend to carpool with, signing up with a vanpool, using one’s bike or even using one’s legs, cities such as San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara are actively encouraging residents to embrace alternative transportation. And why shouldn’t residents want to help find ways to make their cities greener and more efficient?
If cities play their cards right, smog-filled streets may one day be a thing of the past, and alternative transportation may one day become mainstream transportation.