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

Commuter Rail 2

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

State Capitol

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.

Commuting Solutions Goes to Washington, DC

April 20, 2016

USDOT MCC v2

This month Commuting Solutions proudly donned our advocacy hat and joined the US 36 Mayors & Commissioners Coalition (US 36 MCC) for an annual trip to Washington, DC (RTD, CDOT and HPTE also joined the coalition on their trip). Each year the coalition meets with a congressional delegation, the House and Senate transportation committees, and even federal transportation agencies! Each trip is focused on building relationships and setting the stage for future funding requests, and this year’s trip was no different.

During these meetings, the coalition thanked congressional members for their support of US 36 infrastructure improvements, found out more about new grant programs and discussed continued investments in the Northwest corridor. When thanking the delegation, we were able to share news of what these infrastructure improvements mean for the US 36 corridor – RTD reports that there is a 45% increase in US 36 ridership compared to August 2015, and CDOT reports that the US 36 Express Lanes have increased travel speeds by up to 29%.

The meetings are not just a time to provide updates, but to advocate for transportation and infrastructure improvements. These annual trips set the stage for acquiring transportation funding in upcoming years, and this trip helped identify 2016 and 2017 funding opportunities for both the US 36 corridor and arterial Bus Rapid Transit corridors. Specifically, we were able to identify both Federal Transit Administration Small Starts funding and a TIGER grant that the US 36 coalition will pursue in partnership with CDOT, RTD and the NATA.

And, while not directly related to the traffic congestion in our corridor, the coalition made a point of focusing on train horn noise and sharing feedback with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on train horn noise and quiet zone requirements (this is an issue specific to the Northwest region, where many residents and businesses are located near the Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail line).

The trip takes our coalition to the heart of transportation advocacy and legislation, and is a place where opportunities to improve the corridor’s transportation infrastructure are abundant. We left the trip with a number of action items that will help us improve the US 36 multi-modal transportation infrastructure and related technology.

Regards,

Audrey DeBarros

Advocacy: A Lot of Progress is Being Made

February 18, 2016

Audrey DeBarros
Commuting Solutions Executive Director Audrey DeBarros

Getting to Work Happy: So much to be happy about in 2016 and our new campaign reflects all of that and more with its “Get to work happy” theme. The campaign continues to offer incentives for those who want to try transit, carpooling and vanpooling. Filling out a short application is all it takes to get commuters thinking about the new commute options available with the completion of the US 36 Express Lanes Project.

Legislative Bills of Interest:
House Bill (HB) 16-1008
Commuting Solutions took a position to support House Bill 16-1008, which will allow buses to use the shoulder of state highways. The bill passed the House of Representatives and has been referred to the Senate. Thanks go to Rep. Max Tyler, chairman of the House Transportation & Energy Committee, Rep. Faith Winter who brought forth this bill and Rep. Jon Becker who co-sponsored the bill. Thanks as well to Sen. Rollie Heath and Sen. John Cooke who will co-sponsor the bill in the Senate. The passage of this bill is a key step forward to ensuring the reliability and speed necessary for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service.

Colorado Senate Bill (SB)16-123
36 Commuting Solution is monitoring Colorado Senate Bill 16-123, which will go to the Senate Transportation Committee on Thurs., Feb. 18, 2016. The bill, if approved, would prohibit Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) or the High-Performance Transportation Enterprise from requiring a vehicle owner to use a switchable transponder or other device to travel in a high occupancy vehicle on either a high occupancy vehicle lane or a high occupancy toll lane on a toll-free basis.

US First and Final Mile Elements Moving Forward: While not easily “Googled,” addressing the “First and Final” mile of a commute is pivotal in creating a successful multi-modal transportation system. Commuting Solutions has been awarded two grants by the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG). The grants provide funding to support many of the recommendations sited in the US 36 First and Final Mile Study as being essential to maximize use of the multi-modal system. Funding will be used to develop way finding plans for each RTD transit station and to design and build Bike-n-Ride shelters at the Broomfield and Sheridan transit stations.

2016 Will Be Another Big Year for Commuting Solutions

January 26, 2016

The Commuting Solutions board of directors recently approved its 2016 Action Plan to define the primary focus areas to achieve our mission for the next year.

Highlights of our priorities include:

Audrey DeBarros
Commuting Solutions Executive Director Audrey DeBarros

Advancing the US 36 Multi-Modal System: While we’ve accomplished a great deal through the soon-to-be completed US 36 Express Lanes Project and launching the Flatiron Flyer service, further improvements to our transportation systems are needed. This is just the beginning.  Implementing recommendations from the US 36 First and Final Mile Study, providing constant vigilance to monitor and improve the Flatiron Flyer service, furthering progress for the North I-25 Bus on Shoulder Feasibility Study, and implementing recommendations from the Northwest Area Mobility Study are a few of our most pressing concerns.

Funding: To provide a consistent level of service for the corridor and to maximize the use of the new infrastructure, we are exploring the formation of metro districts surrounding each of the six RTD stations.  Funding would be used to construct and operate recommendations from the US 36 First and Final Mile Study and support ongoing funding for Commuting Solutions.

Programs and Services: We are excited to offer incentives to try commuting via carpool, transit and vanpool through the final year of our congestion mitigation programs for the US 36 Express Lanes Project.  As we look ahead, we are planning how to manage demand in the corridor once the construction project is complete.

Organizational Leadership: This year, we are strengthening our board leadership by activating the Executive Committee, enhancing the four board committees through increased board engagement and adding a new US 36 Multi-Modal Systems Committee.

We look forward to partnering with you as we embark on this exciting year ahead.

Flatiron Flyer Service: An Investment to Enhance the Northwest Region

December 16, 2015

Last Slide of slideshowWe believe the Flatiron Flyer Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service, which begins January 3, 2016, represents a pivotal moment that will transform how people travel in the US 36 corridor and beyond. A part of the RTD FasTracks voter-approved program from 2004, the Flatiron Flyer service is an incredible asset for our region, connecting our businesses, CU-Boulder, the federal laboratories and the communities of Boulder, Louisville, Superior, Broomfield and Westminster to each other and the rest of the Denver metro area.

US 36 Bus Rapid Transit was developed through a partnership started back in the 1990s between CDOT, RTD, the US 36 Mayors & Commissioners Coalition and Commuting Solutions. As a coalition, we recognized that we do not want, and cannot afford, to build our way out of congestion. Instead, we worked together to create an innovative model of giving people a choice. No matter how you choose to travel for any particular trip, whether carpooling, biking from one town to the next, using the toll lane when you need to drive alone for that critical appointment, or by using the new Flatiron Flyer Bus Rapid Transit service, the new US 36 provides an alternative to the traditional congested highways of the past.

The Flatiron Flyer means there will always be an uncongested optio
n to travel the corridor from one end to the other, and every community in between. The Flatiron Flyer service brings many benefits. We will have six easy-to-navigate routes that connect you to every community along the corridor, as well as downtown Denver. The service will be schedule-free, which means a bus comes every 4-15 minutes all day, in both directions. It means that you don’t need to schedule your day around the service; rather, the service—one that’s better than most light rail service in Denver—will be there when you need it. Plus, we will be getting better service to the Denver International Airport (DIA), Union Station and the Anschutz Medical Campus. And the service plan is flexible and will improve over time to serve even more activity centers.

Best of all, it’s faster—and cheaper—than driving solo. The fare to use the Flatiron Flyer service will always be less than driving solo in the US 36 Express Lanes. When compared to driving in the general purpose lanes, riders going from Table Mesa Station to Union Station will save 18 minutes during the morning peak commute and 12 minutes in the reverse direction during the evening peak because the bus will always be able to bypass the congested lanes.

The launch of the new Flatiron Flyer Bus Rapid Transit brings many positive changes to the US 36 corridor, an area undergoing a remarkable transformation. Contact Commuting Solutions if you need help…we’re here to answer your commuting questions. BUS RIGHThttps://www.commutingsolutions.org.

Gina McAfee, Debra Baskett, George Gerstle, Tracy Winfree, Ken Hotard and Audrey DeBarros
Commuting Solutions Executive Committee members

A Healthy Look at Transit

November 18, 2015

TDM Program Manager Andrea Kaufman Robbins
TDM Program Manager Andrea Kaufman Robbins

Did you know that if one employee starts riding transit instead of driving alone to work they will reduce about 8,000 pounds of CO2 emissions every year? You might ask yourself, “What exactly does that look like?” UrbanTrans Planning Consultant Matt Kaufman came up with this visual analogy for us . . . 8,000 pounds of CO2 is more emissions than the weight of an African forest elephant. It’s actually about 1.3 elephants. People who start taking the bus also tend to lose weight. Driving is strongly associated with the increased risk of heart attack, so taking the bus can also reduce the risk of having a heart attack.

The Victoria Policy Institute and the American Public Transportation Association explored the health impacts of transit, and here is what they found: Public transit users are more active. Individuals who use public transportation, get more than three times the amount of physical activity per day, than those who don’t (approximately 19 minutes, rather than six minutes) by walking to stops and final destinations. The U.S. Center for Disease Control recommends 22 minutes of moderate physical activity each day. Walking to and from the bus is an easy way to accomplish this.

Commuting Solutions has a transportation demand management program in place that will reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by 27,000 peak trips per day . . . that’s a lot of African elephants, more than 720!

Regards,

Andrea Kaufman Robbins

Colorado Plans to Become “the Best State for Biking”

October 28, 2015

Audrey DeBarros
Commuting Solutions Executive Director Audrey DeBarros

In September Gov. John Hickenlooper announced a plan to spend more than $100 million over the next four years to make Colorado “the best state for biking.” This is great news for the state and for our region and is the result of years of hard work by many advocacy groups. Additionally, the environmental perspective and commitment of our millennial generation cannot be underestimated as we see funding such as this come to fruition. Maybe the excitement of the new US 36 Bikeway also was a factor in this important decision. And with a fresh approach under new executive director Shailen Bhatt, CDOT is supporting more bike innovation in all its projects.

Hickenlooper says the four-year initiative, dubbed the Colorado Pedals Project, will fuel the state’s economic growth and tourism, benefit the environment and help cement Colorado’s status as one of the healthiest states in America.

The plan calls for $60 million to develop bike and pedestrian infrastructure, using CDOT and federal Transportation Alternatives Program and Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program funds. An additional $30 million will come from Great Outdoors Colorado’s new push for trail connectivity with grants that develop bike and pedestrian infrastructure. About $10 million will go toward sustaining and growing the state’s Safe Routes to School program.

Warm Regards,

Audrey DeBarros