Active Prince William

Helping to make Prince William, Manassas, and Manassas Park a More Livable, Sustainable Community.

Author: Rick Holt

Vision Zero

I always find it interesting when talking to people about traffic crashes and fatalities, they seem to be resigned to the fact that there will always be carnage on our roads. But if you ask them how many traffic fatalities would be acceptable in their own family the answer is always zero. So why do we have this big disconnect in accepting the status quo for traffic deaths? When a plane, or train, crashes there is high visibility coverage, and much discussion about why it happened. However, when one of the more than 115 people in the U.S., and Canada,  die each day on our roadways, there is very little response from the media.

To make matters worse, in 2016 the number of people killed on our roads spiked upward, with a disproportionate effect on people walking and biking. Have we decided that it is just part of the cost of mobility, a cost that has resulted in an estimated 2 million walking, biking and driving deaths in the U.S. from 1945 to 2015, or are we willing to make changes?

Vision Zero is a program to reduce the number of traffic deaths and severe injuries to zero. Is this a worthwhile goal? A lot of people think so, and already cities elsewhere have saved numerous lives as they get closer and closer to the goal. Watch this video and decide for yourself how many traffic deaths are acceptable.

The Washington Area Bicyclists Association hosted the DC Vision Zero Summit on Friday, March 31. DC has a goal of zero traffic deaths by 2024 and they have made great strides in moving towards achieving their goal. Vision Zero DC is a collaborative effort with transportation, health, police, advocacy groups, government officials, and community members working together to reduce crashes that result in fatalities and severe injuries. Mayor Bowser emphasized during her presentation that this has to be a regional effort. This makes sense as the population of DC doubles during the workday with many people driving from suburbs to the city for work.

The epidemic of deaths from traffic crashes is a public health issue. Greg Billings from WABA opened up the summit and was followed by Dr. Sarani from GWU Hospital, Center for Trauma and Critical Care, Dr. Yang from AAA Foundation, and Emiko Atherton, Director of the National Complete Streets Coalition.

Emiko’s presentation resonated with me in that the design of our streets is critical to reducing death and injury. The National Complete Streets Coalition Dangerous by Design 2016 effort takes a closer look at the alarming epidemic of people walking getting killed in traffic crashes on our streets. The study includes a socio-economic analysis of the people who are most at risk, and for the first time also ranks states by their danger to pedestrians.

Having been hit by a car while riding my bike, having spent time in a trauma ward, and then several months recovering, I know firsthand how an unsafe transportation network effects health. I was happy to see a number of health professionals in attendance and speaking at the summit. It is critical going forward that transportation engineers and planners work with public health officials to design livable communities with sustainable transportation options.

The panel session discussions included

  • Opportunities for Cross-jurisdictional Cooperation
  • Vision Zero and High Risk Users
  • Public Health Case Studies
  • Vision Zero and Public Health
  • Human Impacts of Traffic Fatalities
  • Vision Zero and Enforcement
  • Winning over the Public to Vision Zero
  • Infrastructure: Designing Safe Streets
  • Driver Training and Accountability

http://www.waba.org/vision-zero-summit/

For my part, I would like to see better infrastructure design that provides safe access for all, but especially people walking and biking. Speed limits need to be lowered so that when humans make mistakes vulnerable roads users do not have to suffer the consequences. Road design needs to take in account human behavior and create safer space for all.  The automotive industry and the technology industry need to work together to install devices in vehicles to reduce the increasing issues of distracted and drunk driving. Stakeholders need to be included in the community planning process.  People of color, and older adults, are over represented among pedestrian deaths, and as such should have a larger voice in the conversation. The best solution might be to get more people out of cars. Using active transportation and transit is much safer than driving, and better for your health.

What are some of the ways that you can start making a difference?

Talk to your elected officials about infrastructure design focused on reducing road user conflict, making it safer for people to walk and bike, https://smartgrowthamerica.org/program/national-complete-streets-coalition/

Take the World Health Organization pledge to slow down while you are driving, https://www.unroadsafetyweek.org/en/home

Check out Virginia’s driving laws to catch up on recent changes, such as the three foot passing law, http://www.bikearlington.com/pages/pal-safety-on-our-streets/virginias-3-foot-passing-law/

The media and government agencies need to stop victim-blaming vulnerable road users. People walk and biking have a right to navigate the transportation network safely. Every type of traveler makes mistakes. People walk out into traffic while texting. Drivers text while driving, drive drunk, or speed. Bicyclists run stop signs. We need to design our roads for the most vulnerable users as people walking or biking are not surrounded by a 3,000 lb steel personal pod with air bags. Remember that everyone is traveling to their destination outside of a car at some point in time during their travels. The important distinction is which kind of traveler has the biggest potential to kill & maim. And that our roads are designed such that mistakes like texting & driving can kill.

Vision Zero, or zero traffic deaths, is a goal that we should all want to achieve. Americans need to make it personal, and make the choice to slow down and yield to life. No one wants one of their family members, or wishes it on any other family, to be killed in a traffic crash. If transportation professionals, public health professionals and government officials work towards designing and building safe infrastructure, and  people use our roads with the perspective that everyone will be missed by someone, we can work towards achievement of the goal to make it safe for everyone using our transportation network.

Transportation, Health and Well-Being

What a nice surprise when I opened my email and found that I had trans1been invited to attend the inaugural “Every Place Counts Leadership Academy” hosted by U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. As an advocate of walking, biking and transit in my community, and at George Mason University, I was very excited by the opportunity to learn more about how transportation decisions are made and how community members can get more involved in the process.

Transportation decisions shape our lives and connect our communities. Transportation also directly affects our health and well-being. Yet members of the public often struggle to figure out how and when to engage in these important decisions. The fact that the Secretary of Transportation was going to attend the session sent a powerful message that he truly valued the input of community members in the transportation decision making process.

Transportation Secretary Foxx is a believer in the power of transportation to increase opportunity for all, but also knows that community members need to be more included in the process.  He initiated the “Every Place Counts: Leadership Academy” to demystify, clarify and simplify transportation decision making. The Leadership Academy is geared toward future community leaders who have limited experience with transportation decision making, and want to learn how to participate effectively and add their insights to the process. The Academy also featured a Transportation Toolkit trans4designed to convey information to the widest audience possible.

What I enjoyed most about the academy was the opportunity to meet people from all over the country and hear their about their experiences advocating for accessible and affordable transportation – the advocate from Baltimore who talked about transportation and access to jobs, the advocate from the Boston area that talked about safe infrastructure for children to walk and bike to school, the advocate from California who talked about transit and the access to healthcare for the elderly, the high school STEM student from Falls Church who talked about technology and transportation, and the advocate from Philadelphia who talked about how important it is to get stakeholders from the community involved in the planning and design process.

This was probably the most diverse group of advocates I have had the privilege of interacting with during my years of advocating for accessible and sustainable transportation. However, what everyone had in common was a passion to create livable communities, and advocate for access to reliable and affordable transportation.trans3

Where you choose to live impacts the mode(s) of transportation you use to get to work, but regardless you still have choices you can make. When I moved to Prince William County I was told that the only option to get to work at Mason in Fairfax was to drive.

Being the curious person I am, I decided to check the validity of this statement. Of course I relate this back to the book club I participated in focused on the Todd Kashdan’s book, Curious. Kashdan asks, “What is essential to creating a fulfilling life? Being curious, being open to new experiences, being able to effectively manage ambiguity and uncertainty, being able to adapt to the demands required of different situations (what I call “psychological flexibility”), discovering our strengths, deepest values, and what it is we are passionate about, and strengthening connections to these values and commit to a life aligned with them.”

An acquaintance of mind once said that, “life beings at the end rick-holt-5of your comfort zone.” Being curious and wanting to step out of my routine I found that there were actually multiple ways to get to work:

  • Bike to the Fairfax campus (I make the 20 mile ride several times a year, takes about an hour and 1/2)
  • Bike (4 miles) to the SciTech campus and take the Mason shuttle to the Fairfax campus (what I do 90% of the time)
  • Take an Express Bus to Tysons Corner metro and then metro to Vienna and take the shuttle to campus (a longer trip due to the changing modes, I have tried once but not the best option)
  • Take the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) to the Burke Centre VRE station and take the Mason shuttle to campus (I have tried this and it is a great way to travel, variations include bike, carpool or drive alone to the VRE station)
  • I can check out the ZimRide site and connect with a Mason student, staff or faculty member who might want to carpool to work
  • Telework from the SciTech campus using one of the drop in suites
  • Drive alone (85% of Prince William residents drive alone to work and sit in traffic on I-66/I-95)

Of course you might be thinking what do I do if I have an emergency and need to get home quickly, or what if the weather turns bad and I can’t bike home? These are valid concerns but Commuter Connections has you covered.  “Guaranteed Ride Home (otherwise known as GRH) provides commuters who regularly (twice a week) carpool, vanpool, bike, walk or take transit to work with a FREE and reliable ride home when one of life’s unexpected emergencies arise. Commuters may take advantage of GRH up to four times per year to get home for unexpected emergencies such as a personal illness or a sick child” (http://www.commuterconnections.org/commuters/guaranteed-ride-home/).

Transportation affects all areas of our well-being to include physical, social, career, financial and community well-being. By starting off, and ending, my day with a four mile bike ride I get 30 minutes of exercise almost every day. On the shuttle I often talk to other members of the staff and faculty, read a book, check my social media and email accounts, or just take a nap. I find that biking to transit keeps my stress levels low, I am more alert and ready to get the day rolling when I arrive at work.

Being enrolled in the Mason bike commuter program and riding the Mason shuttles provides financial benefits. I don’t need a parking pass, I am not using my car, when I ride at least eight times to campus each month I get a $20 voucher good for bike maintenance, and I also receive two complimentary parking passes. As a bike advocate I am very involved in the community promoting active transportation (walking/biking), transit and outdoor recreation. I belong to several community groups including Prince William Trails and Streams Coalition, Active Prince William and the Virginia Bike Federation. Being involved in these groups has helped me meet more people and create strong social relationships with members of the community and government officials.

The health benefits of regular physical activity (biking and walking) are far-reaching: reduced risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic diseases; lower health care costs; and improved quality of life for people of all ages. Regular exercise provides health benefits for older adults such as a stronger heart, a more positive mental outlook, and an increased chance of remaining indefinitely independent—a benefit that will become increasingly important as our population ages in the coming years.

Walking and bicycling are affordable forms of transportation. Car ownership is expensive and consumes a major portion of many Americans’ income. When safe facilities are provided for pedestrians and bicyclists, people can walk and ride more and spend less on transportation, meaning they have more money to save or spend on other things.

  • The cost of operating a sedan for one year in 2013 was approximately $10,374 (AAA, Your Driving Costs).
  • According to AAA and the 2008-2012 American Community Survey, ownership of one motor vehicle accounts for 19.5 percent of a typical household’s income.
  • The cost of operating a bicycle for a year is only $308 (League of American Bicyclists).
  • An eight-year study of Atlanta communities suggests that a two person household in a walkable community saves over 260 gallons of gas annually. If gas is $3.25 per gallon, that is over $850 in savings.
  • Walking is free (well maybe you might want to buy a good pair of walking shoes for $50-100)

Benefits of Walking/Biking (from the Pedestrian and Bicyclist Information Center http://www.pedbikeinfo.org/data/factsheet.cfm)

I have found that how we design our transportation network, and what transportation options are available to us, can have significant impacts on our quality of life. Research on transportation options consistently shows that people who walk and bike to work are the happiest with their commute.

A well designed transportation network with more transportation options can create a strong sense of community.  People walking, biking and taking transit have more opportunity for social interaction and interacting with the community they are moving through. In Happy City, Charles Montgomery talks about the dividend we get when we choose to reside in a livable community with sustainable transportation choices.

We all make our own choice about how we commute to work. You may choose to drive alone but it is your choice. Trying out a new mode of transportation to get to work can have healthy benefits. If you think you have no choice maybe it is time to get involved as an advocate for a better transportation network in your community.

Starting out the New Year I will be using my new knowledge to facilitate local leadership academies that educate, and inform, community members on how they can get involved in the transportation planning and design discussion. Get involved, make a difference, and enhance your well-being.

Bike to Work Day – Friday 20 May 2016

This year, Friday May 20th is designated as Bike to Work Day. There are 83 Bike to Work Day Pit Stops planned across the Metro DC area this year with 8 of those in Prince William County and City of Manassas.

Each pit stop will provide registered attendees with free t-shirts, snacks, refreshments and chances to win bicycles and other great prizes. Please be sure to register with your pit stop location to be eligible for the free t-shirt and prize raffle. T-shirts are available to the first 15,000 who register and attend.

Locations in PWC and Greater Manassas:

Find your Bike to Work Day Pit Stop Location:

Register for Bike to Work Day

 

Prince William County government video about Bike to Work Day 2016 (link to YouTube Video)

Bike to Work Day officially designated and endorsed by Prince William County Chair of the Board of County Supervisors, Corey Stewart.

For more information visit the official Metro DC Bike to Work Day website.

Active Prince William, Promoting Options for Sustainable Transportation and Healthy Living

Back in the day it was “drive a Chevrolet and see the USA”, as the ad indicates cars were promoted for the freedom they offered.  Now flash forward to your trip to work today as you sit in traffic waiting and waiting, and ask where is that freedom of movement?  Do you want more freedom over your travel to work? Do you want to improve your happiness, want to add quality years to your life, want to save money, and reduce your stress?  Do you want a better quality of life for yourselves and your children?  If the answer is yes, what are you waiting for? Give your car a break and try a different mode of transportation, increasing the amount of time you walk, bike, or take a bus.cross county connector in downtown manassas with bike 2

Active Prince William is a non-profit group focused on improving availability of transit options and quality of transit infrastructure within Prince William County.  We encourage people to try different options versus driving to work, school and for other errands.

This is not an all or nothing approach.  Try a new way of getting to work, school or other destinations at least once a month to see how it can make a positive difference in your life.  People who take transit, walk or drive to work indicate a higher level of happiness.  If you are on transit you have time to check out your smartphone (legally), read, or even take a nap.  If your children walk or bike to school they may exhibit greater attention in the classroom, higher self-esteem, and get more physical activity on average.

Sedentary behavior is on the rise and time spent in cars adds to this by sitting for PRTC-transit-center-200x200extended periods of time in traffic. Research shows that this increase in sedentary behavior is leading to a shortening of life spans.  Wait you say we can just add another lane or two.  Research indicates that adding lanes of traffic creates induced demand resulting in clogged highways, increased pollution, additional crashes, injuries and fatalities.

How about saving money (everyone likes this).  Using transit, biking, or walking reduces money spent on fuel and maintenance for your car.  Money saved can be spent on housing, education and the like.

Forbes recently pointed out that the average traffic delay, time spent in stop-and-go traffic, per commuter is 42 hours each year, up from 18 hours annually in 1982. We’re losing patience, getting less healthy, being unproductive, wasting money, and polluting the air. And from the flip-side perspective, a new report has found that reducing the time employees spend in cars is one of best things a business can do for itself, for a whole host of reasons.

Telework is another great option for many workers.  There are at least five ways that telework benefits the employer and the employee, it increases productivity, lowers turnover, improves morale, is eco-friendly and is cost effective.121212-VRE-e1355311505681

We are poised to have a huge growth in population and jobs.  As we try to keep, and attract, new businesses we need to have a transportation base that is multi-modal.  The future is one with less driving and more multi-modal options.  This leads to a healthier environment where everyone can thrive.