Mode shift means having populations change their travel behavior, usually through economic and infrastructural incentives. What I’ve found though is that’s just half of the solution, because these incentives are created by organizations — legislatures and agencies. Just as we ask populations to shift their behavior, the other side has to change as well. Both the producers and the consumers of transportation have to broaden their field of scope to see other ways of accomplishing goals. It’s a mind set.
In transportation terms, agencies and planners have previously focused on narrow methods to achieve objectives: residential areas are far from commercial areas. Traditional planning says the best possible solution is to build four lane divided highways between these two land use areas, allowing trips between the two places. Where we can’t do so because of space or financial limitations, we’ll build as close to that as possible. Done.
Mode shift takes a step back though. The mind set of mode shift says we can get from origin to destination in a variety of ways, and as policy makers, planners, and builders, we should equitably support this daily journey.
Agencies charged with making these options available may try to accomplish the goal in the same manner it built highways: come up with a solution, budget for it, and implement. Anything outside that scope might seem hard to integrate.
Taking a trip is very different than taking a journey.
Last week I was in meeting with MassDOT about, among other things, how the GreenDOT directive could influence and achieve mode shift. A host of advocacy groups were represented, though lacking any driver advocates. Perhaps we didn’t need them, as this is an agency up until a few years ago a large part of it was nearly solely focused on building highways for automobiles to get from point A to point B as quickly and safely as possible. No more. MassDOTs focus is now multimodal; planes, trains, and automobiles. Plus walking and biking.
The agency is growing into its new identity. We talked about how to achieve better mode shift and how we, as advocates could help. So many ways. There are so many projects that are being planned that there isn’t even enough time to promote them to advocates. Projects that improve pedestrian and cycling environments are being implemented at highways speeds.
There is no time to do a power map, research case studies, visualize data, or suggest bibliographies. There isn’t a quantification of what you can do, or even should do. Only what you have to do.
Our hosts were gracious. We were often thanked for our time, our insight, and our passion to partner with a state agency. But concurrently apologizing for the rushed nature of the meeting. There were projects to complete!
It is in this academic study I got to take that step back, to equitably include additional methods for mode shift: coalition building, power mapping, court cases, media and messaging. In my first post, I described mode shift partially as the perception of the public of what is possible. The “I need to go to work each day, as safely and quickly as possible at the least cost.” Right now, the only perception is generally narrow: buy a car, drive it work, park it. MassDOT has changed their focus though; all modes must be accommodated.
The outcomes of mode shift is that populations change their behavior. The challenge is letting them know that this new freedom to choose is possible, encouraged, and supported in the same way we used to do for automobiles.