talking about curbing your car with getdowntown’s nancy shore

OK, I’m on a roll with this short e-mail interviews and I can’t stop. Tonight’s is with Nancy Shore, the Director of Ann Arbor’s getDowntown program. I’m sure I didn’t cover everything, so, if you have additional questions, please leave them. I’ll make sure they get to Nancy.

MARK: Can you tell us a little about Curb Your Car Month?

NANCY: The idea behind Curb Your Car Month is to give people a chance to try all of the great commuting choices we have in the Ann Arbor area, especially to the downtown. Many people get in a rut when it comes to commuting. People drive to work alone everyday because that’s what they know. It’s familiar, it’s convenient, it’s simple. But at the same time, driving your car alone is expensive, especially with gas at almost $4.00 a gallon. At the same time, cars are one of the biggest contributors to global warming. And at the same time, driving can be stressful and just not fun.

So here’s where Curb Your Car Month comes in. Curb Your Car Month is here to show you that you really can get more out of your commute when you try a sustainable commute. We’re talking about biking, busing, carpooling, telecommuting, mopeding, walking, etc. People that use these options find that they have more money are getting more exercise, and might even be having more fun.

But I know and you know that it’s not so easy to just get people to try something new, even if it might be better for them in the long run. So Curb Your Car Month is here as a way to give people lots of chances to try something new. We’re not asking anyone to wholesale change their lifestyle, we just want to give people a chance to try some of the great sustainable commuting choices out there.

MARK: I’m curious as to how you track the success of a program like this. On the getDowntown site you mention that, in 2007, 1,700 Ann Arbor area employees participated in Curb Your Car Month events. Can you extrapolate from that how many sustainable commutes were had, or how many cars were kept off the road? I see that you’re trying to get people to register online and track their progress. Is that working?

NANCY: We track our success through the Commuter Challenge, where organizations compete against one another to see who can log the most sustainable commutes. This is my first year doing the Commuter Challenge, so I will tell you what I have seen looking at last year’s data and what we hope to see in this year’s data.

in 2007, 75 different organizations and organizational units participated in the Commuter Challenge. We had 869 people from those organizations actively participate in the Commuter Challenge. For the month of May, those 869 people logged 9,460 commutes. 9,129 of those commutes were sustainable, meaning people walked, carpooled, biked, telecommuted, and bused instead of driving alone. Many of these stats can be found here.

So we could say that during Curb Your Car Month last year, getDowntown potentially kept 9,129 single occupancy cars off the road in the Ann Arbor area during the month of May. At the same time, these people logged 116,277 sustainable commute miles, which reduced the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere (a gas that contributes to global warming) by 111,804 lbs.

This year, we have two new features that might be able to help track out success. First, when people use a new commute during the Commuter Challenge, they will get an extra point. So if they registered for the Commuter Challenge and specified that they normally drive alone and then during the Commuter Challenge log a bus commute, we will give them an extra point. This will also serve to give us a sense of how many people are trying a new sustainable commute who normally drive.

We also hope to survey Commuter Challenge participants at the end of Curb Your Car Month to see what kind of impact we had on their behavior.

In addition, we have partnered with the UM in the past to conduct more extensive surveys of downtown commuters, so we can measure change over time with this.

At the end of the day, however, we also need to be realistic. The getDowntown Program might have some impact on commuting behavior, but it won’t amount to much if the AATA bus service doesn’t run well or it’s too easy and cheap to drive a car. I guarantee you if we ever get an Ann Arbor to Detroit or Ann Arbor to Livingstone rail system a lot more people would get out of their cars and use these resources. So, yes, I think getDowntown is a part of getting people out of their cars, but other services and programs also play a role.

MARK: Now that you’ve been in the job for a while, what do you see as being your biggest challenge? And is it something that you expected?

NANCY: I would say the biggest challenge is making sure I am talking to employees who are not using sustainable modes of transportation. At my job, it is often easy to get feedback and thoughts from people who are already biking to work or busing or walking everyday But if I am trying to get that person who would never have thought to try busing or biking, I need to find ways to reach out to those people. And this is harder than I thought it would be. For most people, how they commute to work is not part of their identity. Most people are not thinking “I’m a mom, I like classical music and I commute to work by driving my car alone.” So I continue to find ways to get my message out to the mainstream and tailor the message to that audience.

If I want to make real changes in how people get to work, I need to talk to the people who might be frustrated driving to work everyday, but don’t know how to take the next step and try another commute choice. I need to appear approachable and not extreme and on the fringes.

I am trying to reach out more to that regular downtown worker by doing presentations at the Main Street Area Association and attending more Chamber events. I am also trying to do more presentations at different work locations so that I can meet more workers and get their thoughts and feedback. We are also working on creating an employee brochure that explains all of the commuting choices in a fun, approachable way (thanks, Linette!). When we get this brochure printed, we will get it out to employers so they can give it to new employees.

MARK: I like the thought. It makes sense to get away from the environmental argument. Those receptive to it already know it. The sad reality is whatever any of us do, nothing’s going to motivate people like the rising cost of gas. On that subject, I was wondering if there was any legislative component to getDowntown? Have you thought of lobbying, for instance, for a gas tax (with funds going toward mass transit, alternative energy research, job training, etc)?

NANCY: I’m not sure I would say I am trying to get away from the environmental argument. I am the most interested in using whatever arguments are most effective for the group I am speaking to. And yes, the cost of gas is a huge motivator for people.

In terms of a legislative component to getDowntown, I am just starting to dip my toes in this water. I do interact with a lot of other groups working on making policy changes related to creating a better sustainable transportation system for this area. Organizations like TRU (Transportation Riders United), WATS (Washtenaw Area Transportation Study) and WBWC (Washtenaw Walking and Biking Coalition) are currently working on trying to find policy solutions that will help better fund both motorized and non-motorized transportation.

I am definitely keeping my ear to these organizations and trying to find ways getDowntown can also work to advocate for more and better transportation options in our region.

There are currently two movements on the statewide level. One is by DriveMI, who is interested in pushing for an increase in the gas tax to help fund transportation. The other is from a group called Businesses for Better Transportation, who is pushing for a series of bills enabling local funding options (such as increasing the sales tax, property tax etc.) to help fund transportation. It will be interesting to see what happens with these initiatives and if there is a role to play for organizations like getDowntown.

MARK: What cities do you look to for inspiration? Who, around the country, is doing it well? How about for communities Ann Arbor’s size?

NANCY: Well, I am often impressed by what Boulder, Colorado is doing. They have really created a great transportation system, both with buses and with bikes. They also have some good linkages to Denver, which is something we lack relative to Detroit. Many cities in California like Berkley are also doing some good things.

In terms of larger Metro areas, I am impressed by what Charlotte, North Carolina has accomplished as well as Minneapolis, MN. Charlotte especially has shown that creating a great transit infrastructure with rail and buses has a dramatic effect on economic development.

And of course, Seattle and Portland are doing some great stuff. And our rivals to the south in Columbus, OH are moving forward with some plans for a Streetcar. Even in Grand Rapids a lot of transit is afoot. And a major reason for all of this transit talk is that where there is good transit, especially rail, there is economic investment.

MARK: Are you familiar with the old Ypsi-Ann, the trolly that ran between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti?

NANCY: I am afraid that is before my time. I’ve only been in Ann Arbor since 2002 and haven’t heard much about the Ypsi-Ann. But I do know that this area used to have streetcars.

MARK: Yeah… I wasn’t suggesting that you were alive in the 1800’s, just that you might be aware that there was once local rail service.

NANCY: Ha, ha. Yes I am aware there was local rail service. And there will be again!

MARK: Care to guess how long it’ll take? And what do you suggest that people do if they want to see it here sooner rather than later?

NANCY: In terms of the Ann Arbor-Detroit Rail the last I heard is that it could be here by 2010. That was from SEMCOG. As for the WALLY (the North-South rail), it might be the same time. The big issue is getting the funding for the projects. I would say that folks should keep their eyes out for action alerts from getDowntown, TRU and WBWC as to how they can take action. Not sure when these will come out, but I am hoping at least by the end of this year.

MARK: Cool. Any parting words for the MM.com audience? Any interesting things come up that we should know about?

NANCY: Just let people know that Curb Your Car Month is coming up in May. If you work in Ann Arbor, please sign up for the Commuter Challenge.

Find out everything that is happening during Curb Your Car Month here.

The 8th Annual Ann Arbor Green Fair will be on Main Street in Downtown Ann Arbor on June 13 from 6-9pm. There will be biking fun and excitement as well as info and activities on other Green Commuting options.

For the most current info on commuting and getDowntown check out our blog.

Thanks for this opportunity.

MARK: Oh, one last thing, Nancy… What’s your take on Ypsi and the AATA? As I understand it, Ann Arbor has been carrying Ypsi for the last year or two, due to the fact that we have no money. Word is they’re saying they can’t carry us any longer. I’d always heard that the AATA needed the Ypsi ridership in order to qualify for grants and subsidies, and that they couldn’t afford to cut service because of it. It’s also the case that most people working service jobs in Ann Arbor probably can’t afford to live there. As that’s the case, you’d think that it would be in Ann Arbor’s best interest to provide mass transportation to outlying areas where those employees live. So, what’s your take on it? Will the AATA start cutting Ypsi routes? And that’s my last question – I promise.

NANCY: My take is that it is incredible important to continue to maintain bus service from Ypsi-Ann Arbor. I don’t know about AATA needing Ypsi to qualify for grants, but I do know that the AATA and others are trying to find solutions to this problem as we speak. There are definitely a significant amount of workers coming to Ann Arbor from Ypsilanti who need bus service. I believe that the AATA and others are extremely interested in finding alternatives to cutting service. And I will definitely be advocating for workers and other alternatives if AATA makes a decision that hurts workers.

Thanks to Nancy Shore for taking the time.

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21 Comments

  1. CKL
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    “A chance to try all of the great commuting choices”?

  2. Walter Kleston-Smith
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    I’d be curious to know if she has advice on the topic of Ford Blvd. bikes lanes, the subject of a thread here a few days ago. Are there strategies that other communities have used to hold on to bike lanes that are in jeopardy?

  3. Meta
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    “The president of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority told members of the Ypsilanti City Council Tuesday evening not to rely on subsidies from the transportation authority anymore.”

    http://www.ypsilanticourier.com/stories/040308/loc_20080403002.shtml

  4. Andy C
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    I’d love to see rush hour express buses running straight from the Ypsi station to the Ann Arbor station between peak hours. Maybe one stop between. The biggest problem with taking the bus from Ypsi to A2 right now is it takes an hour one way. Two hours a day is a lot to give up. I know a lot of people who’d ride if it didn’t take so long.

  5. Posted April 8, 2008 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Hello all,
    Thanks for the comments. I want to try to answer some of your questions.

    CKL: When I said commuting choices I am talking about all of the different ways people can getDowntown including walking, biking, busing, carpooling, vanpooling, etc. Sorry if I got a little wonky on this.

    Walter: I know that the Washtenaw Biking and Walking Coalition and Bike Ypsi and really trying to bring awareness to the Ford Boulevard Issue. I am not sure what other strategies have been used by other communities in regards to bike lanes, but I know there are folks around here working on this right now.

    Meta: That might have been what the president said (which I am assuming means the Board Chair) but I wouldn’t take that to mean that everything is set in stone and decided already.

    Andy: Trust me, many, many people would like to see a rush hour express bus. We just need to find a way to fund it. Right now, AATA is funded through an Ann Arbor City Millage as well as Purchase of Service Agreements (POSAs) from other areas such as Ypsi. As Mark alluded to in the interview, we need to find other funding mechanisms for transit because the current one isn’t working. But I know a lot of people are working on this, so please, keep asking for an express bus!

  6. CKL
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    N.S:

    Not at all–and thank you for that. I was thinking of the choices in *my community: nasty buses and trains. I’m afraid that made me unnecessarily smart-alecky. I owe *you the apology.

  7. UBU
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    does this mean you’re not going to drive to work from ypsi to ann arbor and back for a whole month, mark?

  8. mark
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    I considered riding your mother, but the line was too long.

  9. mark
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    And that, of course, was directed at Ubu.

  10. mark
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    And, actually, all kidding aside, I do plan to start taking the bus to work at least one day a week. It’s difficult because I have to drop Clementine at school, but I’m confident that I can work out a way.

  11. Posted April 8, 2008 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    AATA services (or used to) Chelsea, Ypsilanti, and many other parts of non-Ann Arbor. I understand that is was begun as an A2 transit; but, it seems to me that it should be transitioned away from an A2 millage to a county millage. It (IMHO) should be a WCTA (Washtenaw County Transit Authority).

  12. egpenet
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    Washcotranity?

  13. Paul Schreiber
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    Washtenaw
    Area
    Regional
    Transportation
    System

    WARTS

  14. egpenet
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    Good one!

  15. UBU
    Posted April 9, 2008 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Cool, a gratuitous mother comment! Means I must have hit a nerve. Nevertheless, it does seem a little disingenuous to ask how WE are going to make THEM toe the line when, in the words of the immortal Firesign Theatre, we’re one of them and they’re one of us, I think.

  16. Posted April 9, 2008 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    Ah, a place to plug our project… Yay! Thanks, Mark!

    Bike to Work with Bike Ypsi

    May is “Curb Your Car Month” and Ypsilanti residents are joining in by getting on their bikes. Meet up with local Ypsi-to-Ann Arbor commuters every Friday in May for a leisurely ride to work. On May 2, 9, 23, and 30, we will meet at 8:00am at Bombadill’s coffee shop (217 W Michigan Ave) and 5:15pm at AA City Hall (100 N Fifth Ave). On May 16, there is a “Bike to Work Day Rally” in Ann Arbor sponsored by the League of Michigan Bicyclists at 8:00am, so the ride will leave from Bombadill’s at 7:15am. Meet at AA City Hall at 5:15pm for the ride back to Ypsi and Happy Hour at Haab’s restaurant (18 W Michigan Ave). Helmets are strongly encouraged. If you are a bike commuter who can’t ride with the group, please feel free to join us for pre-work specials on coffee and baked goods at Bombadill’s and/or happy hour specials at Haab’s every Friday in May!

    For more info and route details: http://www.bike.ypsi.org. RSVPs most welcome but not required: Ypsibiketowork@gmail.com.

  17. egpenet
    Posted April 9, 2008 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    UBU … that’s the second Firesign Theatre reference on MM this week!

    Fabulous!

  18. UBU
    Posted April 9, 2008 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    I hope I quoted it right…my memories of listening to those albums are little…hazy…

  19. Posted April 9, 2008 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

    Zoe,
    The bike ride is great! I’ll try to get it up on our website.

  20. Adrian
    Posted April 11, 2008 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    Hey thanks for the great blog, I love this stuff. I don’t usually read much into politics but with the election coming up (not to mention the dem primaries) and everyone going green these days I thought I would leave a comment.

    I am trying to find more about the government and if they are going to ratify the Kyoto Protocol any time soon. Has anyone seen this pole on EarthLab.com http://www.earthlab.com/life.aspx . It said 75% of people think the government should ratify the Kyoto Protocol on Earth Day (when I took it). I also saw something on Wikipedia but it wasn’t up to date. Any other thoughts on where the government is going with this?

    I am looking for more info on what candidates’ opinions are how are we are going to get closer to solutions. Drop a link of you see anything worth my time.

  21. Meta
    Posted April 21, 2008 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Update on Ypsi bus funding:

    http://www.mlive.com/news/annarbornews/index.ssf?/base/news-5/1208587252228420.xml&coll=2

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