Working With the City: February 5, 2014

Looking out the window at our 10 inches of snow and 8 degree temperature, I’m not very inspired to go out with my rideboard this week.  That’s one limitation of Lawrence OnBoard, but hey, I can’t drive my car either until the county comes by with the snow plow!  I did car surf into town last week though, just to keep in practice.  The temperature at 9am was around 25 degrees, so I bundled up.  Wait time: 8 minutes, car number 5 stopped.  My driver works at a job training center in McLouth and he told me that many of the clients there have transportation issues, so Lawrence OnBoard would be very helpful for them.

While I was in Washington DC, I met Sheryl Gross-Glaser from the National Center for Mobility Management.  She was pretty excited about our project and thought other transportation professionals would be as well.  We recorded a phone interview last week for the NCMM podcast which went live today.  You can listen to it here.

I bet you are wondering what is happening with that pesky Standard Traffic Ordinance 69?  Last week I met with Toni Miller, the City Attorney and we had a good long chat about it.  The plan that we bounced around is this: the city will leave the ordinance as is (“No person shall stand upon or along a street or highway for the purpose of soliciting a ride”).  However, the city can allow an exception for “permitted ridesharing organizations”.  What that permitting process will look like is still to be worked out.  The city wants to know how we will address traffic safety and personal security, and also about accountability for members who don’t play by the rules.  I’m working on a security plan this month, and we’ll go on from there.

Even though the permit solution is much more complicated than just erasing the word “along” from the traffic ordinance, I am actually quite pleased with that solution.  It gives our program a higher degree of legitimacy, and is will be a good model for other municipalities that might want to try roadside ridesharing.  The permit requirement keeps people who are not in our network from hitching rides on their own (with no training or support), and allows for enforcement of our rules and regulations.  The permit process would be for Lawrence OnBoard as an organization, not for each individual rider, so that makes it easier and cheaper.  I also like the accountability that this system requires for us as an organization- it wards against my natural desire to hurry things along.

Speaking of hurry, my carpenter friends talk about the 2 out of 3 rule.  If you want to do a project well, quickly and cheaply, you can only choose two out of the three.  For Lawrence OnBoard though, the only choice is to do it well.  It will take time and it’s going to cost money, but the results will be worth it.  This week, I started the process of shutting down my business so that I can devote all of my time to Lawrence OnBoard.  It’s a big cliff to go over, but I feel as though this is my calling and I can no longer do it just in my “spare time”.

My Day as a Slug: January23, 2014

Last week, I went to Washington DC to attend the Transportation Research Board annual meeting and present my paper about Lawrence OnBoard.  While I was there, I had the chance to try out the famous Slug-Lines.  For those of you who don’t know, slugging is a way for drivers who want to access the fast carpool lane to pick up a couple of riders to fill the HOV3 quota without needing to arrange ahead of time.  Riders stand in line at designated park and ride lots outside the Beltway and wait for drivers to pick them up.  It’s completely self-organized, grassroots and historically free of mayhem.  What struck me most about slugging was how completely matter-of-fact everyone was about it.  The closest comparison would be standing in a check-out lane at the store.  I stood in a line behind 8 other people.  Drivers pulled up and announced their destinations and riders piled in two at a time and off they went.  I waited perhaps 3 minutes before a smartly dressed woman pulled up in a clean, shiny car and announced “2 for L’Enfant Plaza”.  That was my destination, so I hopped the front seat and a fellow in his 50s with briefcase and topcoat jumped in the back.  We blew  past 4 lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic, and in 20 minutes I was at the L’Enfant Plaza Metro.  On the way, I asked the other two about slugging.  The man had been doing it for 15 years and the woman for 5, and in all that time they had never ridden together.  So these two absolute strangers had immediate and complete trust in each other because they slug.  How astonishing and how beautiful!

Lawrence OnBoard was well received, especially among the professionals working in shared mobility-carsharing, ridesharing, bike sharing, van pools and buses.  The folks working in small cities and rural areas were the most interested.  I discovered that several other communities are experimenting with variations on roadside ridesharing.  The most notable is a project in Berkeley, CA.  I may have to hitch out to California and check it out.

See you on the road!

Find a Way to Get To Yes: December 22, 2013

I love Lawrence!  And right now I especially love the Lawrence City Commissioners who voted unanimously to work toward changing the Standard Traffic Ordinance in order to allow Lawrence OnBoard to go forward.  They directed staff to “Find a way to get to ‘yes'”.  The atmosphere was overwhelmingly positive last night, with dozens of supporters turning out to sit in and speak up in favor of roadside ridesharing.  See Jenny’s presentation here.  We had some great news coverage as well.  You can check out stories in the Lawrence Journal-WorldKansas Public Radio, local station Channel 6 news and Kansas City’s KCTV Channel 5 news.  

I’d like to thank Thad Holcombe, Katrina McClure, Michael Almon, Scott White, and Lynn Luck who wrote letters of support, and Matt Kirby, Aaron Paden, Sven Longstrom, Natalya Lowther and all the other good people who spoke up our favor.  Special thanks to Eileen Horn, Sustainability Coordinator who greases the wheels and gives a great pep talk.

I’m so glad to get some movement in a positive direction before I head off to the Transportation Research Board conference in Washington DC next month.  I’m pleased and proud that Lawrence is such a progressive and forward thinking community!

City Commission, Here We Come! December 13, 2013

No person shall stand upon or along a street or highway for the purpose of soliciting a ride

I mentioned in the last post that there were some issues to clear up with the city before we moved forward.  The big issue is an ordinance that Maria Kaminska from the City Attorney’s office uncovered from the depths of the Standard Traffic Ordinance- a collection of traffic laws that have been adopted by most cities and large towns in Kansas.  If you look in section 69, subsection A, you will find this:  

“ No person shall stand upon or along a street or highway for the purpose of soliciting a ride”

Dang!  That really puts the brakes on roadside ridesharing. So, how does one go about changing an ordinance?  I learned that it’s not that difficult a process, but it’s good to do your homework.   First, I met with Kaminska and a liason officer from the Lawrence Police department, and had a long chat with transportation planner Todd Girdler.  We all agreed that the big issue is traffic safety.  The last thing anyone wants is a heinous  traffic accident caused by roadside ridesharing..  Fortunately for me, Kyle Matthews, an expert on hitchhiking law, has been following this blog and emailed me with a number of suggestions taken from other state and city ordinances.  These include things like no soliciting rides after dark, no drunken or high riders or drivers, no distracting or obnoxious behavior, and making sure there is a safe place to pull off the road before stopping.  I am  also working on a training manual that will put a lot of emphasis on figuring out where cars can safely pull over.  A map that shows good, safe locations to ride from, and a set of rules and protocols for revoking memberships of dangerous riders and drivers will help increase safety as well.

The next step was to write a letter to the Mayor and Commissioners.  In the letter, I introduced Lawrence OnBoard and requested a change in the language that would allow roadside ridesharing.  The Sustainability Advisory Board was immensely helpful and wrote a letter of support for my request, as did Jefferson County Commissioner Lynn Luck, Thad Holcombe, Trina McClure and my fellow board members at the Sustainability Action Network.  I also included the abstract and reviewer’s comments from the paper I wrote with Anne Dunning in the packet for the commissioners.   And once again thanks to the brilliant and energetic Eileen Horn for greasing the wheels.

Hooray! The city manager put us on the agenda for December 17th, so today I am busy inviting as many people as possible to come to the meeting and show support for Lawrence OnBoard.  If the commissioners approve my request, they will direct city staff to work on changing the language to the ordinance.  This would be a HUGE step forward.  Not only would it show that the city is willing to allow our activities, but I’d have a model ordinance to share with other communities who want to try out something like Lawrence OnBoard.  I hope to see all of you there at City Hall on Tuesday at 6:30.  Wish me luck!

Not so Crazy After All: October 17, 2013

Eighteen months ago, when I thought up Lawrence OnBoard, my first goal was to get myself into town without getting behind a wheel.  Little did I know that this idea would strike such a chord here in Lawrence and even across the country!

The research we have done so far was interesting enough to Anne Dunning, associate professor at the KU department of Urban Planning, that she suggested we write it up into a paper for the Transportation Research Board conference.  I am proud to announce that the paper was accepted!  We will be traveling to Washington DC in January to present our findings.  And, I guess we must be on somebody’s radar because a Federal Highway Administration official just mentioned Lawrence OnBoard at the Transit summit in San Antonio.

This past week, Lawrence OnBoard has been in the public eye on four occasions.  First, we found a supportive audience at the Mother Earth News Fair this past weekend where 12,000 thrifty homesteaders and eco-minded folk passed by the booth and many stopped to chat about the challenges of rural transportation.  On Wednesday, I presented the project to the Community Forum at Ecumenical Campus Ministries. Three mobility-challenged individuals there asked how soon we could sign them up as riders.  That afternoon, the fabulous Ann Wilson from Channel 6 news came over for a follow-up interview, and this morning I had a lovely chat with Mike Phillips from KMBZ radio station, 98.1FM.  That interview will air Friday morning, and we will watch the comments to see if this is an idea that appeals to  Conservatives as well as Liberals.

Finally, I spent a delightful 2 days with hitchhiking consultant Michael Schneider who heard about Lawrence OnBoard through a mutual contact at the New York Times.  Michael traveled all the way from Washington State to see first hand what we were doing and to try it for himself.

We are getting ready to pack up the ride boards for the winter.  There are a couple of issues to clear up with the city before we do any more rides in town, and there is the TRB paper to buff and polish.  I will continue riding into town from Jefferson County as long as the weather cooperates, and we hope to roll full steam ahead come Springtime.  See you on the road!