Commuter to watch: Martha Brown

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Once or twice a week, Martha commutes to Boulder from Arvada by carpooling with a neighbor and co-worker. With access to the Express Lane, her carpool can bypass traffic, saving about 30 minutes each way. Adds Martha, “A few weeks ago there were a lot of accidents on the road and traffic was horrendous. It was really great to be able to bypass it all and still get to work on time!” Martha invites you to become a fellow carpooling co-worker hero.

Bridging Colorado’s Transportation Funding Gap

Did you know that Colorado’s state gas tax has not been raised in 25 years and that a crucial $100 million could be cut from the state’s 2017 transportation budget? While it may seem as though our state is flourishing, and it is in many areas, there are serious decreases in our state’s main transportation funding source (the gas tax) and our ability to comprehensively fund transportation.  With insolvency of the federally operated Highway Trust Fund projected for 2021, Colorado is not the only state looking to new funding sources as a way to maintain and expand transportation growth. (According to Colorado 2040 Statewide Transportation Plan,  the insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund will result in a $1B annual funding gap for the state over the next 25 years.)

Colorado’s population and vehicle miles traveled will nearly double by 2040, which means the strain on our transportation system and the need for expansion will also increase. Much of the state’s transportation funding comes from a gas tax, but more fuel-efficient vehicles, a reduction in driving and a 25-year-old gas tax are contributing to significant funding shortfalls. Looking ahead, it is imperative that state officials implement a long-term funding solution to secure our transportation future.

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In Utah, we see that a minute sales tax and recently adjusted gas tax make a significant contribution to a state’s annual transportation budget. According to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), Utah has a comparable DOT budget ($1.3B to Colorado’s $1.4B), but has 2 million fewer residents and around 8,000 fewer miles of road to maintain. While Utah has achieved their own success, Colorado must look at creative funding mechanisms and the possibility of an increased gas tax to bridge our funding gap.

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In lieu of a permanent and sustainable funding source, Colorado has embraced public-private partnerships (P3s) to ensure that infrastructure is built, while recognizing that additional funding will be needed for future maintenance, transit, bicycling and congestion management. CDOT’s move to High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) 3 on Express Lanes is another way our transportation department is looking to generate revenue while maintaining clear roads for transit, carpools and individuals who choose to pay a toll. CDOT is also launching the Road Usage Charge Pilot Program, a pilot program that will assess charges based on vehicle miles traveled and could one day replace the gas tax. Along with an increased gas tax, new sources of revenue are needed to meet anticipated demands and address the state’s face-paced growth.

As part of Commuting Solutions’ ongoing commitment to enhance the economic vitality of the Northwest region, we will represent the private sector in our 2017 legislative agenda and provide opportunities for the public and private sectors to engage with one another. Our 8th Legislative Breakfast will be held on Thursday, January 5 and will provide employers, governments and residents with an opportunity to engage with one another and set the tone for making regional progress in 2017.

Carpool Buddies Wanted.

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Are you driving solo during your daily commute and watching in envy as carpoolers cruise by in the US 36 Express Lanes?

Sure, you’ve considered carpooling–it  saves time, money and you can enjoy being a passenger every once in a while. But where do you start? Commuting Solutions is your trusted transportation resource, and we’ve helped hundreds of local employees find their carpool matches.

With the HOV (that’s High Occupancy Vehicle) rules changing on January 1, 2017, current twosome carpoolers will soon be searching for another buddy. The new HOV 3 rules mean that in order to travel for free in the US 36 Express Lanes, there must be at least three passengers in the vehicle.

Whether you’re looking to make your carpool a threesome or you want to just get started, here are a few ways other carpoolers have found their match:

1. Recruit from your network
This may be obvious, but you’d be surprised at who you’ll meet by just putting the word out there. Let your co-workers and friends know you’re looking for a carpool buddy – email or post within your company, post on Facebook, LinkedIn or Nextdoor.

2. Register your trip on MyWayToGo.org
MyWaytoGo.org can help you find registered users who are either part of an existing pool or are looking for a buddy. When you register on MyWaytoGo.org, you become part of a regional database with over 10,000 users. To post your interest in carpooling, enter your starting location, ending location and the details for when you would want to meet. The site will then show you existing carpools and potential carpool buddies you can contact. And, when you “favorite” your trip, others searching for a buddy can find you.

And, better yet, from now until the end of January 2017, Commuting Solutions is offering cash incentives for new carpools. Yes, you can earn up to $75 just for carpooling! Incentives are also available for vanpooling and transit. To receive your incentive, fill out this short application and track eight carpool trips using MyWayToGo.org.

Short of hitchhiking, there are many ways to find a buddy or three and make for a more enjoyable commute. The more solo drivers we can get into carpools, the less congestion we’ll have on our highway, and that’s good for us and our environment.

Still need help? Feel free to drop us a line at info@commutingsolutions.org.

Happy Travels!

Commuter to watch: Pietro Simonetti

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Pietro lives in Westminster and commutes to Superior, riding the US 36 Bikeway three to four times a week. When the cars on US 36 are backed up and he’s going faster than all of them, you can bet he’s got an ear-to-ear, bugs-on-teeth grin as he pedals ferociously. Adds Pietro, “There’s nothing better than riding to work on a crisp day with the sun over the horizon and the white mountains in the distance. Everyone should join in!”

The Movement of People, Not Vehicles

When you look at moving 200 people by five different modes (here), you see that 133 vehicles with 1.5 riders simply cannot travel with the same efficiency as other modes. Moving as a Single Occupancy Vehicle (SOV) is increasingly becoming less and less efficient, yet persists as the norm in transportation. Even in cities where transportation budgets allow for massive widening projects, we’re seeing that adding more lanes actually creates more traffic congestion (see Houston’s Katy Project here and more on induced demand here).

hov-3Contemporary transportation policies, such as the move from High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) 2 to HOV 3, are curbing the number of vehicles on the road by focusing on the movement of people and maximizing use of existing infrastructure. By implementing these policies, transportation demand is improved in the short-term and so is how a region will accommodate travel demand over the coming decades.

CDOT’s decision to move from HOV 2 to HOV 3 (effective January 1, 2017) is a smart change, but that does not mean it is met with wide public approval. It is a divisive move and one that leaves many who travel the corridor wondering what the fallout will be.

Those who currently travel in the US 36 Express Lanes in a carpool with three or more riders or on transit will most likely not be impacted by these changes, but others will. Carpools with two riders will need to find a third buddy to continue riding in the Express Lanes for free, while those who drive solo and in the general purpose lanes will be the most impacted by these changes (there will likely be influx of vehicles moving away from the Express Lanes, thus causing more congestion in the general purpose lanes).

As your local resource, Commuting Solutions is here to help you make a smooth transition into HOV 3. Through the end of January, we are offering US 36 commuters a $75 incentive to car/vanpool or a free RTD 10-ride ticket book to try the Flatiron Flyer. If you’re still not sure if these options are a good fit, try signing up for mywaytogo.org to see if there is a carpool match waiting for you or find your transit route with this trip planner.

Sharing a ride, taking transit, teleworking and biking to work (or even to a transit stop) are all great ways to make an impact on how our region moves people, not vehicles. We encourage you to just try one new commute for one day to see how it goes.

Colorado’s ability to maintain, let alone expand multi-modal infrastructure to meet the burgeoning population is a major issue for our state, regional and local government officials, as well as for the private sector.  Stay tuned for next month’s blog post on Colorado’s current budget constraints and how creative funding mechanisms, such as toll revenue, are needed to help to fill the gap.

Improving the Speed of Transit one Bike-n-Ride Shelter at a Time


You may be wondering, “But wait, I am a non-cycling transit rider, how do Bike-n-Ride shelters affect me?” These secure, covered structures keep the wheels of transportation moving by eliminating (or significantly decreasing) the need to load bikes on buses and thus increase overall operations.

Cycling is one of the best ways to make a first-and-final mile connection – it’s environmentally friendly, cost-effective and provides remarkable health benefits, but what happens as more people opt for this connection?  Racks on buses will become overcrowded (meaning cyclists have to wait for the next bus) and the loading/unloading process will delay service for all passengers.

Bike-n-Ride shelters are key to maintaining a consistent schedule and offer a unique opportunity for cyclists. Just imagine being able to park one bike at the US 36 and Sheridan Station, bus to Boulder and pick up a second bike at the US 36 and Table Mesa station. With Bike-n-Ride shelters at each US 36 station, options such as these will soon become a reality.

With all of these pluses, it is no wonder that Bike-n-Ride shelters are the number one recommendation from the US 36 First and Final Mile Study (2013) – a study that assesses what enhancements could be made to improve US 36 transit connectivity. The study has guided our efforts for the past three years and currently has us working alongside RTD to secure funding for seven Bike-n-Ride shelters in Broomfield, Westminster and Boulder.

Bike-n-Ride shelters are key to streamlining and expediting service for the over 14,000 transit riders who travel the corridor each day. Without a consistent level of service that is frequent and reliable, it is likely those numbers will decrease. So, the next time you are on the bus, take a mental note of the time spent loading/unloading bikes and calculate how much faster the service would be with this one simple elimination, I think you will be surprised.

Small but Mighty: TMOs and Their Role in Shaping Regional Transportation Systems

ACT attendees gather for a breakout session.

Transportation Management Organizations (TMOs) bring together businesses and local governments to improve a region’s economic growth, sustainability practices and overall health by reducing the number of vehicles on the road, and they tend to do it with an average of two staff members. TMOs, like Commuting Solutions, cover one geographic area and hone in efforts to address the transportation issues affecting that region. (To put this in perspective, there are seven TMOs in the Denver metro region alone!)

Each TMO is highly specialized and focused on how they can most effectively impact their region’s transportation system. Yet, once a year TMOs and other Transportation Demand Management (TDM) organizations convene at the Association for Commuter Transportation’s (ACT) international conference. The conference’s candid discussions of program successes, regional wins and even failures help TDM organizations that are normally segregated in their work come together to help one another achieve regional goals. ACT itself plays an important role in advocating for increased policy and funding support for the TDM trade industry, which maximizes the use of existing infrastructure to focus on the movement of people, not vehicles.

Mostly, hearing about the accomplishments of others and their unique programs help us develop plans and generate ideas for the coming year. Other times, programs are far off the mark for what will work for our region, yet seeing how these organizations utilize the tools available to shape their transportation system is inspiring.  One example of this is a TMO from Florida that uses vanpooling as first-and-final mile solution for rail commuters. This deviates from how we use vanpooling in the Denver metro region, yet it is an example of utilizing the resources available to make improvements for commuters, businesses and the region.

I leave each ACT conference full of ideas, inspiration and goals for how to improve the US 36 corridor, and I hope that this year’s conference leads to more enhancements for all who live, work and have an investment in our corridor.

 

Micro-Infrastructure and its Macro Role in Transit Connectivity

July 21, 2016

NWC-SD2 opt 2 112414-03 (small)When you think of the newly transformed US 36 corridor, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Is it the new Flatiron Flyer vehicle that provides a more comfortable trip or how to find and connect to the US 36 Bikeway? Connecting between modes of transportation in a suburban setting, which is typically lower in density, is an important factor in how commuters utilize a multi-modal system. Maximizing the system’s capacity and use typically involves engineering smaller scale projects and services to seamlessly tie the system together.

These “small” projects are what we like to refer to as micro-infrastructure improvements. These are smaller-scale capital construction projects, programs and services that are needed to improve connectivity and accessibility to transit, and thus increase transit ridership within our suburban corridor context. Micro-infrastructure improvement is a term coined in the US 36 First and Final Mile Study, where we provide a blueprint for how to improve transit access through smaller-scale improvements.

We are currently working on implementing two improvements from the First and Final Mile Study: expanding wayfinding and bike shelters along the US 36 corridor, which are integral components of a bike-then-bus or bike-on-bus commute.  Another micro-infrastructure improvement from the study is expanding bike sharing programs in the corridor, a recommendation that Westminster recently implemented and one that we are addressing on a corridor-wide level.

The corridor continues to become more connected each day, but there is still work needed to streamline the transit-connection process. Micro-infrastructure improvements are one (small) way that we will meet the ever-evolving needs of those who use the US 36 corridor’s transit system.

A Historic Year for Transit, but What’s Next?

June 16, 2016

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With RTD opening four rail lines (A, B, G and R) and launching the new Flatiron Flyer Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service, 2016 is a historic year for transportation in the Denver metro region. These lines are complemented by the prior completion of other FasTracks commitments, such as the West (W) Line and Denver Union Station. In the US 36 corridor, we have seen an exponential increase in ridership on the new Flatiron Flyer, and with certainty the B Line (formerly Northwest Rail) will impact movement between Denver and the US 36 corridor. But, even with this progress, many are curious as to when the entire FasTracks program will come to completion.

The FasTracks program still has a number of components that need to be built, but due to the perfect storm of economic decline and increased construction costs, RTD does not have the financial capacity to proceed at this time. For some time, RTD has said that the B Line would not have full funding until at least 2042, but if 2015 projections hold true, some funding for remaining FasTracks commitments may be available beginning as early as 2028.

While the funding for the remaining projects is further down the road, knowing that there is a possibility of partial funding coming 12 years earlier does provide a glimmer of hope. Once completed, FasTracks will deliver a robust, technologically-advanced transit system.

Currently, the Central Business Corridor Extension, Southwest Line Extension, Northwest Rail from Westminster to Longmont and North Metro from 124th to SH 7 remain outstanding.

Majority Rules: A Legislative Session in Review

May 19, 2016

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As we take a look back on the 2016 legislative session, it is evident that transportation issues are being addressed, yet the transportation funding gap is not. During this legislative session, Commuting Solutions took a stance on three notable transportation-specific bills.

HB16-1008, allowing CDOT to designate an area on a roadway not otherwise assigned for traffic for use by commercial vehicles designed to transport 16 passengers or more, plays a significant part in the overall operations of US 36 bus rapid transit. This small, yet effective step allows RTD buses to use the shoulders on US 36 during times of congestion and provides additional reasons to choose transit over driving.

SB16-123 was a bill that left groups and parties divided. This bill would prohibit use of Switchable High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) passes in the Express Lanes, which would ultimately impact contract commitments and mobility. Commuting Solutions, along with other transportation groups, agencies and governments, strongly opposed this bill’s long-term impacts. While this bill died in a House committee, CDOT is addressing legislators’ concern over the $15 transponder fee and is working on a timeline to implement changes in preparation for HOV +3, beginning January 2017.

HB16-1450 i.e. the Hospital Provider Fee, was not approved in the Senate. This bill would have provided funding for transportation and education, and was in compliance with the Tax Payers Bill of Rights (TABOR).

Each session brings forth opportunities to improve the lives of Coloradoans, and this session was one that brought forth improvements for both the state and the Northwest region. We are already looking forward to November and a potential ballot issue that could provide transportation funding and narrow the existing funding gap.