One of the proposed solutions to Seattle’s innumerable transportation problems: Spend money and lots of it.
In early May, Mayor Ed Murray raised his (already massive) Move Seattle levy to a whopping $930 million. If approved in November 2015, the money will add and improve infrastructure: new bus and bike lanes, repaved roadways, patched bridges, raised sidewalks and more.
But the South Lake Union Streetcar’s (or S.L.U.T., a 21st century version of the monorail) underwhelming ridership is a reminder that, if we build it, they will not always come.
Beyond infrastructure, most other solutions rely on commuters. More specifically, on changing commuters’ habits.
Which takes what, exactly? The Seattle Department of Transportation’s (SDOT) director, Scott Kubly, suggested, for example, that the City of Seattle promote telecommuting, compressed work weeks and carpooling.
But no matter how you commute – by foot, bike, car or transit – you know that your mode of choice is, in large part, a matter of habit.
If so many transportation “solutions” will rely on changing commuters’ habits, who will change our habits? And how? What will it take to get more Puget Sound-ers out of single-occupancy vehicles and onto bikes or buses?
Get people early
Celeste Gilman, the University of Washington’s transportation systems manager, operates on a campus where 82 percent of people commute by alternative transportation modes like transit, carpool and bike (i.e. anything other than single occupancy vehicles).
“We connect with people when they are most receptive to change,” said Gilman, who understands that early intervention is important. “When people are new to the university, they are more likely to choose a greener choice.”
All UW freshmen and new hires are immediately given an unlimited “U-PASS” (now powered by ORCA) and connected with a “commute concierge.” That concierge works with new students to map out their commute.
“We tell them, ‘we’ll do all the heavy lifting.’”
“Get on board”
What about the folks who are already stuck on driving?
Jennifer Rash, communications strategist and transportation policy expert at PRR, said that she turns to the “behavior change continuum” – a sort of guidebook on how to encourage people to switch up their routines.
“They need to be introduced to the new concept, then experience it,” she said.
“Then you need to get people to the next stage of feeling like there’s something they can do. Once they feel educated and aware, there is a behavior trial. Bike to Work Month is a good example: It gets a lot of people to try it out.”
Jessica Szelag, executive director of Commute Seattle, said that a key part of changing peoples’ habits is peer pressure. In a recent study, the University of Victoria found that commuters were five times less likely to drive if told that their peers were not driving.