Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Town Recovers from Oil Dependence, Part 3

This is #28 in a series of blog posts about recovering from the Gulf oil spill and from oil dependency overall. The first introduces the series.

Our saga of one town’s recovery from oil dependence left off yesterday with a pedestrian in a crosswalk getting hit by a car. Sadly, this is too often what it takes to motivate improvement of walking facilities. Now, as our saga continues, the senior citizen in our cast of characters is upset enough about her friend getting hit that she contacts America Walks for advice.

Based on their feedback, she and a few other concerned citizens form their own walking advocacy group and join America Walks. They start to network with other groups who are members. Based on strategies used in Atlanta by Pedestrians Educating Drivers on Safety (PEDS), they start a yard-sign campaign to encourage drivers to slow down, and encourage pedestrians to use whistles when crossing streets to get the attention of drivers. They also organize a sign-carrying campaign similar to the one used by the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition to educate drivers about pedestrian rights. More drivers start paying attention to pedestrians. As pedestrians gain more visibility, more people start to feel safer walking.

Our senior and her walking group go further by signing up for a free webinar announced on the AmericaWalks website, an online presentation on pedestrian safety from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC) (this actually does start on Tuesday, July 20, 2010, and continues into the fall with biweekly sessions). They download the walkability checklist written up by the PBIC, FHWA, and Partnership for a Walkable America and walk their downtown streets to perform a walkability audit. They also start raising money to see if they can bring in Dan Burden of Walkable Communities Inc. to give one of his inspiring presentations on how much they might improve their town with walkability measures.

Some of the walking group members are volunteer leaders for Walking School Buses. They notice that the crosswalk where their friend was hit is also used by kids on the way to one of the schools. They team up with the local Safe Routes to School effort and get a little money through the federal program to make it safer. The crosswalk where our senior’s friend got hit is outfitted with pedestrian flags, which can be carried by walkers as they cross the street to raise their visibility.

Above: Dog carries pedestrian flag to help street-crossers. Photo credit: / Jan Moser
Below: Pedestrian flags waiting to be used. A similar holder at the other side of the street holds flags after pedestrians finish crossing. Photo credit: / Dan Burden
Photo credit for crosswalk image at top of post: / Dan Burden

As conditions in our town are improving for pedestrians, conditions in a huge parking lot at one of the town’s major employers are getting more crowded. A couple of workers finally get so tired of circling the lot looking for empty spaces that they decide, independently of each other, to do something about it.

The first employee writes up and submits a telecommuting proposal to her employer, detailing how the company could benefit from such a program. The company agrees to a telecommuting trial, and enough employees love it that it grows. Soon, about a third of employees are telecommuting one or two days a week.

The second employee organizes a vanpool. After learning that there is a source of biodiesel not far away, he leases a diesel van, gets a few other commuters to sign on, and works out a deal with the company for preferential parking. The vanpool riders save money and stress, so pretty soon there are a few more biodiesel vanpools – enough that one of the filling stations in town adds a biodiesel pump. With this available, people with diesel cars and trucks start using biodiesel more often.

At this point vanpools and telecommuting have emptied enough of the company’s parking lot that management is wondering what to do with all the extra real estate. They sell off a chunk of unused parking lot to a green developer who builds apartments with solar photovoltaics for electricity, solar water heating, and permaculture landscaping. When the apartments open, some of the company’s employees move in and start walking to work.

This increases density in town enough to attract the attention of a carsharing business – maybe Zipcar. They establish a small fleet of carsharing cars parked in strategic locations around town, including a couple at the new solar apartment complex. The carsharing fleet includes hybrid cars and a biodiesel truck. Seeing how much time and money they can save by carsharing, people start joining. Several households find that they are able to sell their second cars and use carsharing instead when they have the need for more than one car at a time.

So far, citizens and businesses have initiated most of the changes in our town. Soon, though, the town government notices all the improvements wrought by these efforts and decides to make some changes of their own.

To be continued….

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