My Ideas For Bannock Transportation Planning

I recently received an invitation from the Bannock Transportation Planning Organization to attend an open house to discuss needs and strategies to address problems with our streets and highways, how these problems effect cyclists and pedestrians, and problems with our transit system.  I won’t be able to attend the open house due to prior commitments, however I would really like to contribute my thoughts to this extremely worthy cause.  So, I’m writing my thoughts here on my blog!  Feel free to link or post this article anywhere you deem appropriate.

My Perspective

Just so you know where I’m coming from when I write this, I’ll give you some basic information about myself.  I am 30 years old, I live on the east side of town with my wife and 2 children (a 3 year old and a newborn), my job is 2 miles away from my home, and I work in the Information Technology field.  I’m a home owner, and I own 1 car and 4 bicycles.  I very seldom drive to work because my wife usually needs the car to run errands, take the children to activities, etc. Additionally, I would really like to use my personal savings for other things besides buying another vehicle.  Along with these logistic and financial reasons, here is a description of my reasons for my transportation choices.

Reasons I Ride My Bike And Take The Bus

Have you ever stood on the corner of an intersection at rush hour and watched everyone driving by?  Stop and go traffic, engines heating up, exhaust filling the air, tempers flaring, inattentive drivers on cellphones.  People get from place to place hauling 4,000 pounds of metal along with them just so they can sit in a sofa-like seat while doing it, and so that they can get to where ever they need to go in the shortest amount of time.  There has got to be a better way to get a few miles across town than this.  I really think a single occupant in a motorized vehicle is a pretty danged inefficient method of doing this.  With some strategy applied to this need for short-distance travel, we should be able to save a lot of money and make the air cleaner, wouldn’t you say?

By choosing to ride my bike and take the bus, I have saved a lot of money that would otherwise been spent on another car, more vehicle maintenance, more gasoline, more insurance, and so on.  I have also stayed in good physical shape and discovered a love for cycling.  Because of my cycling, I have a good chance of avoiding common heart and metabolism illnesses that appear to be becoming increasingly more common nowadays.  Also, cycling to work is a stress reliever, while driving to work only adds stress to your day (unless you listen to soothing New Age music on the way, or something).  :-)

Reasons People Don’t Ride Their Bike Nor Take The Bus

Most people automatically assume that driving a vehicle all by themselves around town is the most convenient and quickest way to get to their destination.  They don’t have to consider the transportation needs of any other occupants of their vehicle (since they’re all by themselves),  and they can accelerate up to the speed limit as quickly as possible in order to get where they are going in the most time-efficient manner.  Why would anyone use any other kind of transportation?  Single occupant motorized vehicles are surely the best of all transportation types.

Pocatello and Chubbuck together only cover about 5 miles east to west (at its widest point) and 6 miles north to south.  And there’s a ton of intersections with stop signs and traffic lights in between.  It would be efficient to be able to cruise 30 miles per hour without stopping from point A to point B.  But, that isn’t possible.  With all the stops and slowing down you have to do in town, the best you can hope for is maybe a 20 mile per hour average.  You aren’t going to do much better than that unless you are flooring it away from every stop sign, and then you’d be wasting a lot of gasoline.

By bicycle, you can easily average 10 miles per hour in any journey across town, even if you aren’t in the greatest shape.  According to Idaho code, cyclists may treat stop signs as yield signs, and red lights as stop signs.  Many times, this law allows a cyclist to look around for traffic while still moving, and pedal right on through a stop sign.  It’s perfectly legal.  I commute by bicycle on the residential back roads, and I’m usually the only one at most intersections.

So, really, the only reason people are driving motorized vehicles is to get that extra 10 miles per hour of speed?  You’ve got to be joking.

Ok, sorry, I’ve gotten off on a tangent there.

A lot of people don’t ride their bikes for transportation because they don’t like to be sweaty, they are afraid of getting hit by a car, they are unsure of their cycling skills, and they don’t know what to do if it gets too dark, too cold, or too hot.  I think that about covers it.

People don’t ride the bus because they assume it’s not going to fit their busy, hectic schedule.  They want the freedom to be able to drop their daughter off at soccer practice in the morning, run a few errands at lunchtime, and pick up a loaf of bread after work on the way home.  Sorry, but trying to fit all that into a bus schedule would be a serious, and probably futile, endeavor.

So, What’s Wrong With Our Transportation Infrastructure?

Nothing.  It’s just fine for Pocatello and Chubbuck.  I’ve been using my bicycle and the bus for 3 years now, and I have no complaints.  Sure, that’s easy for me to say.  My life isn’t terribly hectic, and I live only a couple of miles from the middle of town.  Then again, I would wager that at least 60% of the population of Pocatello and Chubbuck has a similar life as mine (in terms of busy-ness) and live approximately 2 miles from the center of town or less.  Remember, this town is only 5 miles by 6 miles.

So, What’s The Solution, Mr. Bike-And-Bus Guy!?

There’s 2 really good ways of selling any idea.

Simple and accessible education (otherwise known as good marketing strategies). People don’t know if commuting by bicycle and by bus is right for them or if they’re going to like it.  Well, show them what to do.  Show them what bicycles to buy, what cycling clothing to wear, what bicycle accessories they’ll need to make their bicycle commuting experience as comfortable and enjoyable as possible!  Make it SIMPLE and EASY or people aren’t going to do it.  The auto industry has made using cars ridiculously easy (at a big price, but who cares, right?) and that’s why everyone is doing it.  We can do the same thing with bicycles with some strategy and effort.  People don’t know if taking the bus is going to meet their needs on a given day.  Well, why isn’t there a nice little online web application where they enter in all the points they’d like to go today, and the web application spits out a bus schedule for them?  Wow, that would make taking the bus SIMPLE and EASY, wouldn’t it?  People also need to be educated on the idea of lowering the number of trips they have to make around town.  Buying a few loaves of bread on the weekend saves more time and effort that buying one loaf of bread several times a week.

Show them their return on investment, and remind them of it every now and then. No one does anything without reaping a decent benefit.  And they aren’t going to do it in the first place if there’s too much risk involved, no matter what the benefits are.  With cycling, people need to learn how to cycle safely and how to buy bicycles and accessories that aren’t going to cost them as much as the car they bought last year.  People need to be sold on the health and environment benefits of cycling.  People need to be reminded of the money they’ll save and pollution they’ll reduce by taking the bus.

So, How Should BTPO Invest Its Time And Money?

In my opinion, the best way for the Bannock Transportation Planning Organization to spend their money and time in the next few decades is to get that 60% of eligible citizens I mentioned previously to ride their bike and/or take the bus at least a few times a week.  And they should do it by creating a variety of tools that educate the masses and show them the return on investment of commuting by bicycle and bus.  We know that doing these things is good for the people and good for the community, now all we need to do is help the people understand how and why.

In closing, I would like to say that so far the BTPO is doing a really good job of increasing community awareness about alternative transportation and I truly applaud you for it!  Keep up the good work, you are going in the right direction!


Korey Pelton

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