A recent survey by Intercity Transit found that one of the main reasons 22 percent of commuters drive themselves to work is because they must drop their children off at school.
Think of the repercussions for vehicle traffic and the benefits for the environment, if just a fraction of those motorists were able to leave the car parked in the garage and take the bus to work. We’re hoping that a $2.1 million, 3-year grant recently awarded to the Thurston Regional Planning Council, will identify ways to get people out of their single-occupancy automobiles and onto public transportation, thereby reducing transportation-related fossil fuel consumption and its associated greenhouse gas emissions.
The money will go toward expansion of existing programs — mostly in small communities in Thurston County — aimed at vehicle trip reduction and air quality improvement.
“These kinds of innovative programs play an integral part in reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and getting us on the path to a clean energy future,” said Congressman Brian Baird, who announced the grant from the energy efficiency and conservation block grant program at the federal level.
“Right now,” said Baird, a Democrat from Vancouver, “half of all greenhouse gas emissions in Washington state are the result of transportation. We have to change our thinking on using fossil fuel consumption and we have to change our energy usage behaviors. Not to mention, we owe it to our children to be serious about energy conservation.”
He’s right. And the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is further evidence of the need to wean this nation from its reliance on fossil fuels. The grant, part of the federal stimulus package, will support six existing programs at the regional planning council. The goal is to cut miles traveled from targeted schools, work centers and neighborhoods by 15 percent.
“It’s a great opportunity to build on projects in place now in Olympia and Lacey,” said Lon Wyrick, executive director of the planning council.
The projects include:
• Picking two elementary schools in the Tumwater and Yelm districts to participate in programs for students to safely walk, bike and bus to school, rather than be dropped off by parents in vehicles.
• Expanding commute trip-reduction programs, including to schools, office buildings and churches in the Tumwater town center area.
• Working with the Legislature and governor’s office on policies and plans that encourage increased telecommuting and compressed workweeks for state employees.
• Working on new strategies to encourage in-filling and redevelopment so people can live closer to their work sites.
• Creating a website with information about alternative transportation options, including biking and walking maps, information about transit and ride-sharing and services for people with special transportation needs.
If these programs prove successful — and we hope they are — the regional planning council will share the results with other communities across the state and nation. Any progress toward the reduction of single-occupancy vehicles on our roadways will benefit the environment and is a step in the right direction.