Another Step in Reducing Auto Dependence

If you’re a person who is accustomed to getting around the place you live without a car, you’ve probably spent at least some time trying to sell your auto-dependent friends on the concept. Maybe you’ve even gone so far as to map out a route for them so that they wouldn’t get frustrated. And sometimes you’ve succeeded in getting another person onto a bike, bus, train or trolley to make a trip across town. It’s a good feeling, right?

one_choice.jpgIn Chicago’s Southland, Streetsblog Network member Active Transportation Alliance has created a program called Footprints that makes this kind of friendly advice available on a wider basis. Footprints pairs anyone who asks with a "coach" who will "create with you a personalized program of biking, walking, and transit options that meets your needs where you live."

In a recent blog post, Footprints coach Mary Lynn Wilson talked about the work she does:

For most of the people we sign up, using a bike for transportation is a novel experience. Using the recommended streets on the Chicagoland bike maps and having the fledgling go at it would bring their noble experiment to a quick halt. So, we coaches poke through maps, Google and Bing only to be faced with a myriad of cul-de-sacs, canals, railroad tracks and streets where a speed limit is merely a suggestion. Persevere we do and manage to come up with a decent route with minimal fast-moving cars, sometimes connecting the rider with a train or bus. We sweeten the pot by offering to make the ride with them. Never give someone a route you wouldn’t ride yourself.…

[W]e have gotten people from the South Suburbs to downtown Chicago, someone from Oak Forest to Roselle, a teacher from Harlem and Northwest Highway to his school in Orland Park, and an intrepid rider from Tinley down to Kankakee State Park. Some trips are strictly by bike, some by bike/public transportation. And for those who see their commute as too long or too difficult, we continue to encourage everyone to think before they get in their car for that 1, 2 or 3 mile trip. This is where Footprints makes its biggest impact.

Services that help people navigate non-car transport are proliferating. Ride the City, which provides bike routes rated for safety and speed, just expanded into Austin. Google’s public transit function is being offered in more and more places. And individual municipalities are working on their own web-based route guides. This is all great news.

But Internet-based guides sometimes struggle with common sense (a recent trip to SF and some frustrating encounters with the MUNI online system were the proof of that for me). Another human being can often do a more nuanced job of evaluating a traveler’s priorities and proclivities. So the Footprints idea — of making transportation advice into a connection between two people — definitely has a place. We’ll check in with them in the future to find out how the service is doing.

More from around the network: Orphan Road writes about the California precedent on high-speed rail; Next Stop in St. Louis notes that real estate agents there are touting proximity to transit when they’re selling; and World Streets is calling for help in improving the Wikipedia entry for car-sharing.

  • The original blog post for the footprints program explains it better: some of the itineraries they plan are quite complex. In NYC we are used to a compact city with easy visibility of transit options; this is apparently not the case in Chicago. It would be great to do a study after a year to see how many people are still using their routes (or not using their cars) in order to attract funding to the project.

  • When I moved back to my hometown of St. Louis, I moved to an area that was easily accessible to transit since my options seemed to be buying a car or paying for student loans and health insurance. Pretty easy choice for me.

    Now I just appreciate the lifestyle…biking to my station, the extra exercise and chance to read during my commute. And I lot of my friends think similarly. It’s not as easy to do in St. Louis as some metropolitan areas, but I think it’s a choice more people are making. Why spend hours traveling in a car when we could live near restaurants, theaters, parks, transit within a walkable or bikeable distance?

  • I \v/ NY

    well first the auto dependent person has to be willing to try traveling without an auto. most of them literally can not comprehend life outside their car, to them its about as odd an idea as living on the north pole.

    secondly living without an auto only works near the heart of a major city with a halfway decent transit system and in neighborhoods with a variety of goods and services available and with sidewalks…

    considering that, that doesnt leave too many places left, so I can completely understand the extreme dependence on the auto. if you lived in ultra-suburbia of course youre only going to travel by auto. this only works by self-selection where all those that like a car-free lifestyle move to and live in/near the central city.

  • Cephas

    “Never give someone a route you wouldn’t ride yourself.…”

    That’s good advice, but personally, my rule is that I never give most people the routes I ride. I don’t want to scare anybody! and my routes often involve more faster traffic than most people are comfortable with. So, I analyze carefully the routes I give out so that I don’t scare anybody off from biking from the first route!

  • secondly living without an auto only works near the heart of a major city with a halfway decent transit system and in neighborhoods with a variety of goods and services available and with sidewalks…

    So then why do most cities, even small ones, have about 10% of households car-free? Living car-free in these places may not be much fun, but it “works” in terms of survival.

  • I \v/ NY

    well i dont think these households you talk of choose to take a bus that runs once every hour and a half on weekdays only to the supermarket on the outskirts of town as is the case in most small cities. these are not choice transit riders. choice transit riders are only in the major cities where it is easy and pleasant to live car-free.

  • And your point is?

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