According to the Washington State Transportation Commission, Bremerton is ranked third in the state for active commutes.
What does that mean?
Active transportation is commuting from Point A to Point B in a mode other than driving, such as biking or walking. Barb Chamberlin, director of Washington State Department of Transportation’s Active Transportation Department, said there are many benefits to active transportation.
“Getting exercise, setting an example,” she said. “Elderly people unable to dive (can bike and be) happy as a clam and still independent.
“Some of it is making your community more attractive and livable and making it a place people want to walk. (And) we have a huge aging population, and they can continue to live independently. If we’re planning a biking and walking community, we’re doing a better job for them.”
The WSTC set a goal of getting 29 percent of all commutes to be something other than single-occupancy cars by 2020. Chamberlin, who joined the department this year, said that’s a goal she inherited and doesn’t know why the goal is 29 percent, but that it’s important to set goals to work toward. And while that goal includes ride sharing and public transportation like taking the bus, biking and walking is a huge part of that figure, as well.
“One person driving alone takes the same space as a car full of people,” she said. “We don’t have the room for individual lane space for everyone driving alone. Active transportation … is a part of reaching that goal.”
Currently, the numbers known are largely coming from the most recent census, which Chamberlin said is merely a fraction of the information.
“When the census asks about your transportation, they ask what you did in the last week, and what you did to get to work, tell us what you did for the longest leg of your commute,” Chamberlin said. “Going to and from work is only about 20 percent of your total transportation.”
According to Chamberlin, nationally speaking, 30 percent of all trips are one mile or shorter; 40 percent are two miles or shorter; and 50 percent are three miles or shorter.
“A mile is about a six-minute bike ride,” she said, “but people are getting into their cars to make these trips.
“There are a lot of those short trips we could really easily do by biking in particular … a lot of those trips are being made by car that could be shifted, if people felt comfortable making the trips.”
How can cities improve their score?
“One of the most important things is for people to know they can get to where they’re going,” Chamberlin said. “That sounds so straightforward but … (as a driver) I know the street that I’m on is connected to another street. There’s always something connected to it. There’s always signage for information. I can go to Google Maps.
“That is not true for biking or walking.”
Chamberlin said it’s common for sidewalks to end, and for pedestrians to then have to walk along the shoulder of the road.
“Say you’re a parent pushing a baby in a stroller,” she said. “Do you want to be in the street? Our network is incomplete. The number one thing cities can do is think in terms of people using it, and ‘Are we completing the network?’ ”
Allison Satter, senior planner for Bremerton, said Bremerton has improved its score recently “by improving the multi-modal transportation options in the city, including large capital projects like updating pedestrian walkways throughout the downtown area, bike lanes and sidewalks through Washington Avenue and Lower Wheaton Way and now Lebo Boulevard.”
“The city is trying to reduce single-occupant trips by encouraging development into the centers — high density areas where you can live and work, such as people can live in downtown and walk or bus to the shipyard for their job,” Satter said.
The city is also working to “incentivise development” by improving access to the transit system or providing covered bike storage.
“It is important to the city to improve and provide multimodal transportation options to its citizens and visitors,” Satter said. “We ware an urban location, with all types of people who need/want different transportation options.”
Chamberlin said another option is something that was done in Bellingham.
“Whatcom County had a grant to do the work and see who’s persuadable, who would consider some other means of transportation,” Chamberlin said. “Then they spent some time working with them, pretty individually (so they would try other means).”
For example, if one person didn’t know the bus routes, they would work with that person to find the nearest stops and learn the routes. Or if they weren’t comfortable bicycling around town, they’d identify barriers and work to overcome them one-on-one.
“They had really astounding shifts in behavior,” Chamberlin said. “Those changes have lasted over time. They still have much higher rates in biking, walking and taking transit.
“This is not a low-cost thing to do, but with the model in place, it would actually be really great if more places considered doing this.”
Why should cities care?
“In terms of incentives, if you look at economic development activities, across the state and around the countries, towns are really looking at how to make themselves attractive to live,” Chamberlin said. “In downtowns in particular, but also neighborhood streets, there’s concerns that they be more pleasant. Biking and walking really add to that. There’s an incentive to being economically attractive.”
Chamberlin added that there are existing grant programs to help cities improve biking and walking safety, which are targeted to places that have an existing safety issue. She said they’re really competitive, but there is funding available.
“You want to reduce serious injuries,” Chamberlin said. “Nobody wants to think people are dying on their city streets. Everybody wants safer connections.”
The top five cities in Washington for “not drive-alone commutes” are Pullman, with 25.9 percent; Seattle, at 12.5 percent; Bremerton, with 12.3 percent; Bellingham at 12.2 percent; and Walla Walla at 11.8 percent.
To learn more visit www.wsdot.wa.gov/LocalPrograms/ATP.
Michelle Beahm is online editor for the Kitsap News Group. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.