ARCHIVED  November 1, 1997

The Great Commute

Growth spurs long trips, more traffic

Anyone who drives around Fort Collins, Loveland or Greeley between the hours of 5 and 6 p.m. on a weekday knows that Front Range traffic is bad and getting worse.
Imagine, however, how the roads might look if everyone who drives to and from work carpooled, rode a bike or took the bus just one day a week. It˜s a lofty goal, but for the sake of cleaner air, less congestion and a more pleasant way of life, the wheels are in motion to make it happen, before it˜s too late.
As it stands now, Northern Colorado residents make almost 2 million trips each weekday. Most of our travel is done by automobile, and most of our automobile travel is done alone.
Eighty-three percent of us commute alone to and from work each day. Compare that to the 9 percent who use multioccupant vehicles, 4 percent who bike, 3 percent who walk and a mere 1 percent who use public transit.
If these trends continue, traffic and travel on Northern Front Range roadways will increase by more than 85 percent over the next 20 years, and congestion on arterial streets and highways will be substantially worse.
Also, it˜s predicted that the region would need $900 million over the next 20 years to satisfy demand for transportation infrastructure and maintenance needed to handle the increase — more than twice what will be available.
These sobering figures were included in findings presented by the North Front Range Transportation & Air Quality Planning Council in 1996.
As the region˜s Metropolitan Planning Organization, the council developed a regional transportation plan in 1994. The group conducted several studies and determined a primary focus: to reduce the number of single-occupant vehicle trips by 10 percent by the year 2015.
More importantly, the plan shifted focus from "supply-side" to "demand-management" strategies. The North Front Range Transportation Demand Management program, like other transportation programs in the United States, says, let˜s reduce use of the region˜s transportation infrastructure rather than just building and widening more roads to accommodate a growing demand.
The Transportation Demand Management program has been in place for a little more than two years and has met with moderate success.
The program˜s theme, "regionally coordinated, locally implemented," charges the cities, counties, universities and employers along the Northern Front Range with meeting the program˜s goal.
The North Front Range Transportation & Air Quality Planning Council, comprised of representatives of Fort Collins, Greeley, Loveland, Timnath, Windsor, Berthoud, Garden City, LaSalle, Evans and Larimer and Weld counties, funnels federal grant money to the Transportation Demand Management program. Funds are subsidized with vanpool fares, and the total — about $700,000 annually — is allocated to projects based on priorities for the region.
One priority is to change the way people commute. The percentage of single-occupancy-vehicle commute trips must be cut almost in half in order to fall in line with a 10 percent reduction in other single-occupancy-vehicle trips. But who among us will give up our beloved auto and the freedom it affords us to buzz around town at lunch time, work late, leave work in case of an emergency, etc.?
The Transportation Demand Management report determined that in order to get people interested in alternative forms of transportation, they must be enticed by better transit service, complete and safe local bike networks, more flexibility in their schedules and more carpools and vanpools.
Not all of that will materialize overnight, so in the meantime, the program has directed some heavy-duty marketing toward the business community via SmartTRIPS. As the voice of the program, SmartTRIPS finds creative ways to get people to think about how they travel.
Evolved from the Fort Collins Commuter Pool program started in 1989, SmartTRIPS reaches out regionally to employers, schools and local governments with an array of programs. In particular, the organization works with chambers of commerce and corporate representatives called employer transportation coordinators.
Pam Ross, chairperson of the Transportation Coalition for the Greeley/Weld Chamber of Commerce, said that as a business organization, they˜ve become more involved in education and efforts to promote awareness of the transportation problem and how to correct it." "The business communities in Greeley, Loveland and Fort Collins have been receptive to SmartTRIPS programs," she said, "but you˜re looking at changing people˜s habits in a culture where autonomy is important. In order to work, it has to be a partnership where people are involved and you˜re not just dealing with them from a governmental approach."
The Greeley/Weld transportation committee has been in place for about 14 years. However, the Loveland Chamber of Commerce has had a transportation committee for just a year now. Committee chairwoman Pat Spotonski said the past 12 months have been spent learning more about the region˜s transportation issues. Now they˜re determining a focus.
Mike Hauser, president of the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce, said that chamber has determined that a separate transportation committee isn˜t necessary.
"We basically do the same thing the Greeley and Loveland chambers do; we just run it through a larger program," he said. "We cooperate with SmartTrips and help them get their materials out to our members or whatever they need."
On the employer side of the coin, it still comes down to what the employees are willing to do. Employer transportation coordinators such as Kay Stockton at Hewlett-Packard Co. in Loveland are encouraged by notable progress yet daunted by the enormity of their task.
Incentive programs, a guaranteed ride home in case of emergency, free bikes and a pay-as-you-go vanpool program all help, Stockton said, but she˜s not sure how many employees at the site use alternative transportation regularly.
"We encourage people to carpool by offering preferred parking, several of our buildings have showers for people who bike, and the company offers services to keep employees onsite during the day." she said.
"We work right in tandem with SmartTRIPS," she added. "I˜d say we˜ve seen steady but slow growth in our participation level."
At Symbios Logic Inc. in Fort Collins, employer transportation coordinator Mike Doten said that about 15 percent of the company˜s 875 employees use different forms of alternative transportation.
He˜s particularly proud of the south-side shuttle, a Fort Collins bus service shared and subsidized by Symbios Logic, Hewlett-Packard, Platte River Power Authority and the Fort Collins High School, but says he can˜t spend as much time as he˜d like on alternative-transportation promotion.
For its 1996 report, the North Front Range Transportation & Air Quality Planning Council conducted three surveys, which determined, among other things, that members of each household in Fort Collins, Loveland and Greeley make an average of 11 trips each weekday compared with a national average of eight trips per household.
In addition, The 1990 "Journey to Work" census data reveals that the number of daily commute trips from county to county has skyrocketed. Inter-county trips from Weld County to Larimer County hover around 3,000 daily, but commute trips in the other direction — from Larimer to Weld —almost doubled from 1980 to 1990, from 2,996 to 4,215 daily. And none of those numbers reflect the frenzied growth along the Northern Front Range since 1990.
More people , more households with at least two commuters and more long distance commutes all threaten to keep the Transportation Demand Management program from reaching its goal.
SmartTRIPS manager Meg Corwin says that in order to bring the single-occupancy-vehicle numbers down, a mix of approaches is necessary. "This is not a campaign to stop growth or take people˜s cars away," she said. "We support economic growth. We˜re attempting to preserve our way of life, while we encourage people to think about travel behavior even for one day a week."
Corwin is encouraged by the business community˜s involvement, a growing carpool database and the VanGO vanpool program, which is almost at capacity. She said the SmartTRIPS program has spent about $700,000 and reduced the number of vehicle miles traveled in the region by four million — a cost of about 18 cents a mile.
"It˜s not a lot, but it˜s a start," she added. "Especially if you consider that it will cost $10 million a mile to widen some segments of Interstate 25 from four lanes to six."

Growth spurs long trips, more traffic

Anyone who drives around Fort Collins, Loveland or Greeley between the hours of 5 and 6 p.m. on a weekday knows that Front Range traffic is bad and getting worse.
Imagine, however, how the roads might look if everyone who drives to and from work carpooled, rode a bike or took the bus just one day a week. It˜s a lofty goal, but for the sake of cleaner air, less congestion and a more pleasant way of life, the wheels are in motion to make it happen, before it˜s too late.
As it…

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