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Sustainable Missoula: Education, encouragement key to reducing drive-alone trips

Editor’s note: Sustainable Missoula is in the midst of a series of articles to build broader understanding of the 0/50/100 sustainability framework – Zero Waste, 50% sustainable trips, and 100% clean electricity for Missoula. This article is the third in a series on 50% sustainable trips. Read the first one here and the second one here.

Some habits are hard to break. Turns out they are even harder to ditch if you aren’t even fully aware of the negative impacts associated with the habit or the alternatives to the behavior. Car culture runs deep in our country, and for many of us, hopping into a car for every trip is second nature. We may be sustainability minded in other aspects of our lives, but overlook the impacts of our drive-alone habits.

As our community continues to grow and develop into a regional urban center, our transportation habits must undergo significant changes in order to preserve our clean air and ensure mobility options for all. In this third installation to our four-part series on transportation, we’ll discuss the importance of education and encouragement to increasing the use of sustainable transportation.

Missoula’s 2016 Long Range Transportation Plan formally adopted ambitious mode split goals for our community, which call for roughly tripling the percentage of bike, walk and transit trips and reducing the drive-alone rate by half over the next 25 years. Achieving these lofty targets requires more than just building new infrastructure. Don’t get me wrong, we must provide safe, comfortable and convenient facilities for people to travel sustainably. But we will not achieve our mode split goals by adding quality bike paths and high frequency bus service alone.

It is crucial that improvements to the built environment happen in conjunction with efforts to change how we as a community think about how we get around. For many of us, that means redefining our relationship with cars as the default option for local travel and, instead, seeing driving as one of many mobility options available within a multi-modal network.

For over 20 years Missoula In Motion has focused on educating and encouraging Missoulians to use sustainable transportation options. By simply helping people discover ALL of the transportation options available to them, as well as the costs and benefits associated with each, they tend to start making different decisions about how they get from A to B. The financial and health benefits associated with reducing drive-alone trips further encourage these sustainable habits.

Missoula In Motion also offers a variety resources to assist individuals in overcoming common barriers that discourage people from choosing to bike, walk, carpool, vanpool or ride the bus. Services like individualized route planning, bike routes by level of comfort, carpool matching technology and emergency rides home empower travelers to confidently take advantage of the options available to them.

For instance, when someone contemplates biking to work for the first time, they typically visualize biking on the same streets used to commute by car. Often, that translates to biking on busy streets with high speeds and high traffic volumes. However, when we connect them with the local greenway network of bike-friendly neighborhood streets and offer guidance to identify a route that is both convenient and comfortable, they are much more likely to choose the active commute.

Through the Way to Go! for Workplaces program, Missoula In Motion supports employers in cultivating workplace cultures that promote sustainable commuting options. Strategies range from offering workplace incentives programs, to establishing preferential carpool parking or installing workplace showers and lockers to accommodate active commuters. Encouragement programs initiated by employers send a strong message that an organization’s leadership values employee commute efforts and supports sustainable initiatives.

Getting workplaces on board helps normalize the use of sustainable transportation as a viable option for anyone. Employers benefit as well. Not only do they enjoy significant cost savings by reducing the demand for employee parking, but they also benefit from improved recruitment, retention, staff morale and productivity.

New this spring, Missoula In Motion in partnership with the city of Missoula Bicycle/Pedestrian Program will launch a neighborhood-focused program to connect with residents in a new way. Sustainable transportation ambassadors will go door-to-door to discuss the transportation options available within a specific neighborhood and also provide transportation-related resources like bike lights, bus maps and more. Communities throughout the nation have found that one-on-one interactions with residents that include a personalized trip planning component result in lasting behavior change.

Of course, we understand that many individuals have valid reasons for choosing to drive for certain trips. Yet when one person is able to leave their vehicle at home, it truly benefits us all.  And while we certainly don’t expect everyone to sell their cars and become sustainable transportation champions, there are many opportunities where with a little education and a small nudge, individuals can discover a better way.

Katherine Auge is the Program Coordinator for Missoula In Motion.

This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every Friday by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Upcoming Sustainability Events:

April 27-28. The Bike Walk Alliance of Missoula (BWAM) hosts the 5th annual Bike Swap at Free Cycles (732 S. 1st St. W). Bike drop off: Saturday, 10am-4pm. Sale: Sunday, 10am-4pm.

May is Bike Month Visit pedalmissoula.org for full list of group rides and events.

May 1. Forward Montana Foundation hosts reCharge Montana: Clean Energy Happy Hour at Imagine Nation Brewing. 4:30-6:30. Details here.

May 2-3. Missoula Gives!  A 24+ hour day(s) of giving where everyone can be a philanthropist. Find your favorite non-profits HERE, give generously, and encourage your friends to do the same!  Join Climate Smart and Home ReSource outside the Florence on May 3!

May 5- 18. Missoula In Motion Commuter Challenge. Sign up your workplace today here.

May 9. Climate Smart Missoula’s Monthly Meetup: Health and Climate Change. Imagine Nation Brewing Co., 5 – 6:30pm.

View more climate and energy events via Climate Smart Missoula’s Calendar.

There are many more climate, energy and conservation events for 2019 HERE.