Get Smart about a clean commute

by DGO Web Administrator

Last week, the City of Durango hosted Clean Commute Week and your lazy ass (probably) didn’t take part. So let Amber Blake, Director of the Department of Transportation and Sustainability, tell you about all of the great things our fair city is doing to promote a clean commute.

What’s “Multi Modal”?Multimodal transportation looks at bicycles, pedestrians, accessibility, safe routes to school, transit, and how all of the modes – vehicles, carpool, ride sharing – work together. The community’s vision is to create a safe, connected network that would allow a 7th grade-aged child to get around Durango independently and safely.

How did it all get started?In 2009, I was hired by the city as the Multi Modal Coordinator. Durango had been hosting one [Bike To Work Day] already and since the city had hired me, I thought, “The city is behind this, so let’s make it more than just a day.” In 2010, we expanded Bike to Work Day into Clean Commute Week. The Commuter Challenge was born that year, as well as the Pedal vs. Metal Competition. Since then, the Multi Modal programs have only grown. In 2015, the city created a new department called Transportation and Sustainability and now there are three people who focus on our programs.

What’s so great about a clean commute?Research shows that people are more productive when they use an active mode of transportation for their commute. How many times have you gotten out of work stressed out? If you get on your bike, you’re going to burn off some of that steam, you’re going to get some fresh air, you’re body’s going to be moving, and you’re going to get home in a better space. … Oh, and the environment. [laughs]

What’s the Way To Go Club?We wrote a grant and were funded to incentivize clean commuting and sustainable transportation. It’s been a huge success, and I really credit that to our amazing partners. Originally, I reached out to hundreds of companies and said, “People like free things, but people LOVE cool free things, so if you can give a good incentive, than you can hook the members.” I mean, people in Durango have a lot of water bottles and t-shirts. Most of our partners have very similar missions and once we began to explain our club to sponsorship people at each company, they were completely behind it and expressed how they wished that their community had one, too. HydroFlask, Kleen Kanteen, Buckshot Speakers, Elevation Hammocks, Smith Optics – it’s ridiculous. On top of that, we want people to spend local, which is why we also have a monthly raffle so that we can put an emphasis on our local partners. Maria’s, Carver’s, Durango Coffee Company – I could go on and on.

What’s the biggest challenge to your program?Funding. Transportation projects are not cheap. Operating public transit is extremely subsidized. General sales tax doesn’t go into our budget. In the most simple terms, we get federal and state grants, and we have parking money that pays for all of this. We get a little lodger’s tax, but it’s important for the community to understand how we’re funded so that individuals can provide the most effective input. We want to hear what you have to say, so it’s our job to educate folks on how the process works, what the sandbox is.

What are some misconceptions about clean commuting?We need to do more education and outreach on rules of the road. As a cyclist and commuter myself, I do my best to obey the rules of the road. I teach my kids to wear a helmet, signal, stop at stop signs and lights, wait for the signal. I tell them, “You are a vehicle,” and that they need to be respectful of the cars on the road because a cyclist isn’t protected by a thousand pounds of metal. At the same time, as a driver, to be respectful as a vehicle, to follow the rules of the road, and to keep in mind that a cyclist has a right to the road, too. Technically, a cyclist can take a full lane. We have to figure out how to get to the point where all modes of transportation can be in harmony. Can we please put the phones away? And that’s for cyclists, too!

What drives all of this passion you have?Most people probably don’t wake up in the morning and think, “How am I going to get from point A to point B?” until it’s taken away from them. If you don’t have access to transportation, if you have limited mobility options, your quality of life is drastically changed. Creating a transportation system that is connected and provides access for all increases the quality of life for everyone in the community. It increases the vitality, it increases our economic growth and value … Just being in the position to look at how all of these pieces fit together, we could have the greatest services and programs and shopping, restaurants and everything, but if people can’t get there, what’s the point? I’m lucky enough to have a job that I’m very passionate about, for a community that I love. I get to make Durango a better place for the next generation – for our generation, too, hopefully. We have a long way to go to be a platinum level bicycle community, but we’re making strides, we’re moving in the right direction, and we have an amazing community—

Wait, platinum? That’s a thing?It is. Right now, we’re a Gold level. It’s through the League of American Bicyclists and we started as a Silver in 2009. We were awarded Gold in 2012.

Cyle Talley is all about that platinum life. If there’s something you’d like to Get Smart about, email him at: [email protected]


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