Posts about Commuting
More and more companies ban employee use of cell phones while driving. Will these companies begin to view employees with long car commutes as less available and productive than other employees? Will this push more workers to take advantage of transit options?
Some companies still have a 9-to-5 culture and don't expect employees to be available outside those hours. With the ubiquity of cell phones, however, many people see commute time as potential work time. When conference calls go long, it's not uncommon to hear participants announce, "I've got to leave, but I'll rejoin this call from the road." Email-enabled smartphones have only increased this trend.
But driving while on the phone can be very dangerous, studies show. And juries have found corporations liable for traffic crashes caused by employees using cell phones for business purposes, even when neither the car nor the phone were issued by the company. Some awards from judges and juries have exceeded $20 million.
This started a trend of corporate bans on employee cell phone use while driving, which shows no sign of going away. Such bans could catch a lot of employees by surprise who count on working while driving. Many workers in Northern Virginia, where my software company is headquartered, justify long car commutes by the work they get done on the phone while driving.
When car commuters suddenly fall off the grid for 45 or 60 minutes each way, unable to notice urgent calls or to continue conversations from the road, will they be viewed as less flexible than their transit-commuting colleagues, especially as Metro finishes its project to add cell phone service for all carriers in all tunnels?
Drivers banned from using cell phones will find transit a better option to stay productive. When I'm on the Fairfax Connector bus and the Orange Line, I flip open my laptop and tether to my phone for internet access. Conversely, the few times I have driven to Tysons Corner, I have been frustrated by the time I wasted in the car.
We are considering a ban at our company, and fortunately my colleagues don't attach a stigma to transit commuters. But that could be because I am a co-founder of the company, and play a greater role in defining our workplace culture. Bosses and coworkers at other workplaces are known to roll their eyes at leaving during a meeting to catch a bus, while considering car breakdowns and traffic jams valid excuses.
Bans on phone use while driving could also affect decisions on corporate office locations, and on home purchases by employees and executives. Buying a home 45 minutes away from one's workplace will take on new consequences when you will lose 90 minutes of productivity per day.
Northrup Grumman selected a car-dependent suburban office park over Ballston for its DC-area headquarters in 2010, over the objections of younger employees who prefer transit. As corporations increasingly ban cell phone use while driving, the inability to communicate with employees immediately before and after work could discourage suburban, auto-dependent office relocations.
How would stereotypes be affected by such a ban at your workplace? Do you feel that your colleagues attach value judgments to car commuting vs transit commuting? Is the stigma on transit commuting limited to bus commuters in the suburbs?
The ability to stay connected on transit presents a clear advantage over isolated drivers. You might wish Metro would ban people who yell into their cell phones, but transit commuters can use their time on trains and buses to work safely.
After four months in my new, inside-the-beltway job, I'm firmly entrenched within the ranks of DC-area bicycle commuters. The local bicycling and transportation community deserves much of the credit for giving me the information, support and confidence to bike to work every day.
With nearly 500 miles of riding to and from work under my belt to date, I've saved money, benefited from a great new workout routine and developed an appreciation for some additional daily outdoor time. And, keeping my car off the road means that I've also made a drop more room on crowded transportation routes for traditional car users.
Looking back, I know that none of this would have been possible without an extensive and multifaceted network of resources available to bicyclists, and bicycle commuters, in particular, throughout the Washington region.
Last year at this time, I commuted by car 22 miles each way from Glover Park to Fort Belvoir. My three-day-a-week compressed shift schedule took me along the Key Bridge, Route 110, Route 395 and Route 95. There was rarely any traffic driving outbound for most of my oddly timed shifts, but on my return trip when shifts ended at breakfast or dinner time, I participated in and contributed to congestion on both Route 110 and the Key Bridge.
My work at Fort Belvoir consisted of three, one-year mobilizations by the Army Reserve. Some time ago, the temporary need for my expertise and labor started to wind down. I started my job search with a basic requirement to work inside the Beltway. Ideally, I wanted a position in downtown DC or Arlington where I could at least bicycle to work once in a while. At the time, riding a bicycle to and from work everyday was only a dream.
When the pieces fell into place and I accepted a challenging position in Arlington along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, I wasted no time breaking the news to my wife: with this change, at the very least, the car would become a last resort for my commute. In fact, I decided that the bus and Metro would play second fiddle to my leg-powered two wheeler.
My wife's concerns mounted as she peppered me with questions of safety and "What if?" scenarios at the dinner table. I had a number of concerns of my own. Luckily, the bicycle community in and around DC was integral in making me a smart, safe and road-ready bicyclist.
The initial inspiration for trying my hand at bicycle commuting came from a blog, of all places. With great admiration and awe, I started reading Brian McEntee's Tales From The Sharrows and following @SharrowsDC for his tidbits on Twitter. He didn't portray his daily rides as always easy or relaxing. Brian identified problems, some caused by others and some by him, and how he overcame them. I figuratively took notes as I plotted changing my commuting method.
I took my remaining questions to Gil Nissey at the free bike clinic he provides to patrons of the Glover Park-Burleith Farmers' Market. Beyond basic bike maintenance, I needed to know what it was like to rely on a bike for work everyday. Gil put my concerns to rest with one simple fact.
In a soft voice, and without an ounce of bragging, Gil stated that he had biked to work during every day of Snowmageddon except for one. I think that at least 10 times I asked him to recount his technique and equipment so that my novice mind could digest it all.
I obtained free printed bike maps from the District Department of Transportation and Arlington County. I also spent considerable time with Google Transit working through bicycle and WMATA routes. I needed to know all my options.
For better or worse, one of my shift rotations would begin earlier in the morning than Metro buses started to run. That meant that the bike would serve as my only choice for transportation to work during those times. I also mapped out several different routes because I knew that some of my rides would occur along side commuting traffic and some during the darkness of night.
On the DC side, it was a no-brainer straight route from Glover Park to the Key Bridge through Burleith and Georgetown. In Arlington, I selected two routes mostly based on bike accessibility, hills and scenery. Going to work, I take the Custis Trail uphill, pass through some neighborhood streets parallel to Wilson Boulevard and finish on the Fairfax Drive bike lanes. Coming home, I return on the Fairfax Drive bike lanes and turn onto the Clarendon Boulevard bike lanes.
After several rides, I had more questions than answers. I consulted the Washington Area Bike Forum to work through what I did not know about biking etiquette, traffic laws and rain gear. This supplemented what I had learned last year in WABA's Confident City Cycling part 2 course.
To address my wife's numerous "What if?" scenarios, I signed up for Capital Bikeshare and the free Guaranteed Ride Home program. I also carry a WMATA SmarTrip card and taxi fare. I have taken my bike on Metrorail a few times when I have had to run more distant errands after work.
I religiously track each trip with the free My Tracks app. This has enabled me to reliably predict the end-to-end time for my entire routine. Depending on weather, time of day and route, I know how long the bike ride should take give or take a couple minutes. I add in sufficient time to put on and take off all my gear.
For winter biking, I have up to seven thin layers for my upper body laid out and ready to go to compensate for the exact temperature. I also purchased inexpensive rain gear and a back fender for wet days. I'm close to purchasing studded bike tires to help me safely traverse winter hazards.
We have retained my car for now, which I still need for my monthly Army Reserve service. Its motorized four wheels remain as backup transportation, though the vehicle now sits unused most days. And, as my biking experience continues to broaden, with every workday, I can swap stories, good and bad, with the bike commuters in Glover Park who continue to encourage me with their many years of biking to and from work.
This transition into the world of bicycle commuters was a combination of luck, research, inspiration and encouragement. My small payback so far has been to coordinate a bike and pedestrian safety program at our local elementary school.
I'm almost beyond being a newbie among bicycle commuters. My gratitude towards the bicycle and transportation community grows with every pedal.
The good news: Mayor Gray has announced in recent months several large projects that will create new jobs in DC. The bad news: while these projects make a small dent in DC's unemployment rate, the reality is that only 28% of DC jobs go to DC residents.
The new jobs are tied to projects like CityCenterDC and the Marriott Marquis convention center hotel, as well as to retail positions on the waterfront near Nationals Park and at an ink-jet manufacturing plant.
Given that several of these projects receive subsidies from the District, often in the form of tax holidays, one wonders if DC taxpayers are subsidizing jobs for commuters who don't live in DC.
The use of DC funds to help non-residents get DC jobs doesn't end there. Spending money on roads for commuters driving into DC just helps non-residents access DC jobs far more than it helps residents.
When District residents hold DC jobs, only 36.1% of them commute by car. But when non-DC residents hold DC jobs, 61.3% of them commute by car, according to 2009 American Community Survey data.
As a result, a whopping 81% of those commuting by car to DC jobs are non-DC residents.
Are city leaders doing anything to prioritize DC residents' access to DC jobs? No. The Transition Report of the Economic Development Committee for then Mayor-Elect Gray, led by Chamber of Commerce head Barbara Lang and former George Washington University president Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, had this recommendation:
Reduce the amount of time people spend driving into and out of the city. The District would stand to retain and attract more businesses that demand ease of access and improvements to quality of life by easing traffic congestion.Why do we shoot ourselves in the foot like this? It's one thing to complain about taxation without representation, but when we spend our own locally raised tax money primarily to promote employment to those living in the suburbs, we have no one to blame but ourselves.
It's time to end the old, ineffective approaches to fighting unemployment - more roads and more corporate tax holidays. They don't work anymore. A major campaign to economically integrate our city is needed to reverse the decades-long trend that resulted in ever larger roads shuttling a larger percentage of DC's jobholders in and out of the District.
The jobs that could employ a large portion of DC's jobless are there, particularly in the leisure and hospitality sector, which is the second fastest growing sector in DC, adding 10,700 District jobs from 2001 to 2011. Educational and health services, the fastest growing sector, added 26,500 jobs in the same period. The new University of the District of Columbia Community College is furiously training residents for these growing health careers.
Existing job growth is sufficient to provide opportunities for DC's 34,600 unemployed, 8,824 of whom live in Ward 8 where 1 in 4 workers is jobless. Companies that would not locate in the District because the CEO doesn't like driving from Potomac to DC are rarely part of these two sectors, and are thus not needed to address our unemployment crisis.
Furthermore, the surging creative class in the District, whose spending is largely responsible for the growing service sectors, are attracted by public transit and public spaces. That's why their employers, like LivingSocial, are compelled to stay in the District.
We clearly don't need to spend locally-raised tax money to buy more jobs, particularly when 72% of the jobs will go to suburban residents and the jobs city residents need are here and growing. We must make it easier for DC residents than non-DC residents to access jobs in the city, while providing targeted training when needed for expanding job areas in DC.
And the local policies that promote employment for suburban residents over those who live in DC don't end there. DC has an 18% tax on parking garages, but with a loophole so large you could drive an SUV with Virginia plates through it. Garages that provide free parking to employees rather than contracting through a commercial garage are somehow exempt from this DC tax.
This self-defeating deference to suburban commuters is found in the design of streets across the city. My residential street (33rd Street in Georgetown) is primarily used by Virginians crossing the Key Bridge to get to jobs in Upper Northwest. Two of the most iconic streets in our city, M and Wisconsin in Georgetown, have become car sewers for suburban commuters during rush hour. Unsurprisingly, most jobs in Georgetown, including the large percentage of leisure and hospitality positions, are held by Virginians.
Why do we allow this? Let's replace a lane on each side of M and Wisconsin with a dedicated transit lane or widened sidewalks, and push to get streetcar service into Georgetown to help DC residents access Georgetown jobs. Let's cut off my Georgetown residential street and others to through traffic.
If DC is to leverage the disrespect we get in Congress for real unity and action, we must start caring about and investing in our own residents first. Let's start by vastly improving public transportation and bicycling infrastructure to economically integrate our city.
The Department of Defense is now promoting alternatives to to the more than 5,800 employees relocating to Fort Meade in August due to the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) changes.
The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) headquarters is moving from the Pentagon in Virginia to Fort Meade in Maryland, and represents a substantial number of the relocated jobs. Unlike the the Pentagon, which is adjacent to Metro's Blue and Yellow lines and one of the largest bus hubs in Arlington, Fort Meade is nearly transit-inaccessible.
Approximately 25 MARC trains (PDF) on the Penn Line stop daily at nearby Odenton Station Monday through Friday. Several organizations on Fort Meade offer shuttle service from the station to their facilities, which are about two to five miles from the station.
Virginia-based DISA workers certainly have no reason to celebrate their commute being lengthened up to 30 miles each way due to the move. But the commute might not be as daunting as expected thanks to a couple of commuting options that DISA and other DoD Agencies are pushing to their employees.
For commuters who live near VRE stations, there is a cross honor agreement with MARC, allowing riders on inbound VRE trains a free transfer to outbound MARC trains.
If, for instance, riders are coming from Woodbridge and going to Fort Meade, they only need a ticket to Union Station, where they can then board an outbound MARC train to Odenton for free. This is still long commute with two transfers (VRE to MARC, MARC to shuttle), but with the federal mass transit subsidy recently being raised to $230 a month, it can be done for no additional money out-of-pocket.
For those who can get to Union Station via Metro or bus, MARC has the Transit Link Card (TLC). For $102 in addition to a MARC monthly pass ($125 for Union Station to Odenton), the TLC will offer unlimited monthly ridership on any service that accepts SmarTrip or Charm Cards.
The monthly cost for those going to Fort Meade via Odenton is $227, which again can be covered in full by the federal mass transit subsidy. Additionally, the TLC card can be used on weekends and holidays, making it fiscally advantageous for Fort Meade commuters to potentially give up their cars all together.
MARC's TLC can be used with Metro, Metrobus, DC Circulator, the future DC Streetcar, ART, CUE, DASH, Fairfax Connector, Loudon County Commuter Bus, OmniRide, Ride-On, TheBus, the Baltimore Subway and Light Rail, and any MTA bus. This connectivity makes it a highly viable option for Washington and Baltimore commuters to other BRAC sites, including Aberdeen Proving Grounds, which is also served by the MARC Penn Line.
Currently, MARC's TLC is the only way to get an unlimited use pass from Metro. MARC's TLC is the only pass that allows unlimited rides on multiple modes. Non-MARC Metro riders can use rail and bus passes which are fairly limited; several have recommended creating more flexible passes.
Will these services prevent a traffic nightmare from occurring? Probably not. MARC service is limited and does not run on weekends, and many employees relocating from Virginia are probably not keen on 2-hour commutes with multiple mode shifts.
DISA's move to Fort Meade isolates the agency from DoD headquarters and other related agencies in DC, Arlington, and Alexandria, which in turn means more and longer commutes for meetings and conferences. This will also be the case with most agencies that are moving from the DC core to transit-poor exurbs in the BRAC as land in the city core sits undeveloped.
Nevertheless, the fact that the DoD is beginning to recognize the importance of mass transit's role in providing an efficient way for employees to reach their facilities is an important step in the right direction.
It's National Bike Month, and there are a lot of great bicycling-related events coming up as well as a few non-bicycling related ones. Bike To Work Day is next Friday, and the Bike DC ride is the following Sunday. WMATA's budget hearings are also happening next week.
Tomorrow is a conference on bicycling in Montgomery County, sponsored by the Montgomery County Civic Federation, MCDOT, and Park and Planning. It will discuss how to make bicycling safer and more comfortable in the county.
A number of officials, activists and planners will speak on several panels from 9 to 1. Then at 2, they will lead a BYOB (bring your own bike) bike tour of Rockville.
On Monday, Redesign_DC hosts "lightning talks" by designers, cartographers, and entrepreneurs about design challenges and solutions for DC. The event is at Cobalt, at 17th and R NW, and costs $8 in advance, $10 at the door starting at 7 pm. Matt Johnson will be talking about the map contest, whose entries we will be posting Monday for all of you to see and vote upon.
All next week, WMATA is holding their public hearings on proposed service cuts. They're Monday in New Carrollton, Tuesday in Alexandria (Braddock Road) and upper Northwest DC (Friendship Heights/Tenleytown), Wednesday in Arlington and Wheaton, and Thursday in Barry Farm near Anacostia.
To participate, see the instructions for signing up to speak or submitting written testimony, and detailed directions by bus or rail. There is also an online survey you can take to register your opinions, but written or oral testimony will have more effect.
Friday is Bike To Work Day. All you have to do to participate is bike to work! There are also many commuter convoys starting in places from Springfield to Poolesville to Glenn Dale, as well as many closer-in spots, to downtown DC and other locations.
49 pit stops all around the region will provide food, drink and entertainment. At the central site at Freedom Plaza, local and federal officials will also speak. You can get a free t-shirt and enter in a drawing for other prizes by registering to stop by a pit stop.
Building on the bike energy are two bike rides that weekend, Kidical Mass and BikeDC. The kid-friendly Kidical Mass is Saturday, with people gathering from 10-11 near Eastern Market Metro and then taking a leisurely ride through Capitol Hill followed by brunch. Register here.
The next day, Sunday, is Bike DC, the also family-friendly and non-competitive (but somewhat longer) bike ride on streets and parkways in DC and Arlington.
The ride starts at 7:30 am near the Capitol and proceeds along Pennsylvania Avenue, to the E Street freeway, over the TR bridge, around roads near Arlington Cemetery, and up the GW Parkway to beautiful views across the Potomac before returning to DC. All of the roads are entirely closed to motor vehicles during the ride, and this is a rare opportunity to ride a bicycle on E Street, the TR Bridge, and the GW Parkway.
Advance registration is $35 for adults, $20 for teens, 12 for kids 12 and under.
Finally, bring your suggestions for future Capital Bikeshare station locations to DDOT's public meeting on expansion on Wednesday, May 25th, 6 pm at 441 4th Street (One Judiciary Square), room 1107 (south elevators).
DDOT plans 25 more stations, and if Tommy Wells' committee's recommendation to add $2 million in capital funding gets accepted, they'll have to start planning for 40 more on top of that. They've suggested 55 potential locations, meaning they'll have to come up with even more places should that funding come through.
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