Friday, December 7, 2018

McDonald’s attracted talent by making its headquarters transit accessible

I wrote this post originally at

CEOs and business leaders could do a lot to improve terrible traffic. Quite a few businesses are starting to understand this concept.
But what’s missing is a sustained, large-scale effort to assure businesses that a focus on improving the transportation habits of their employees is good for their bottom line. Perhaps even better for those CEOs and businesses to hear is the message that getting non-driving customers into the store is a formula for success.
Chicago’s Metropolitan Planning Council recently released an impressive report down this path entitled Transit Means Business. It features case studies of efforts by McDonald’s, Caterpillar, Bosch, Method, Revolution Brewery, MB Financial, Motorola Solutions, and other businesses and universities throughout Illinois to locate near transit as a way to survive and compete.
McDonald’s had been headquartered in the Chicagoland suburbs for 40 years before making the decision to relocate the West Loop earlier this year.
“McDonald’s couldn’t get people to apply for jobs anymore. Ninety percent of their employees were driving to work. They moved downtown in May to help people take transit. Now 90 percent of their employees take transit,” said Audrey Wennink, transportation policy and planning director at the MPC, during a roundtable discussion this week at Transportation For America’s Capital Ideas conference in Atlanta.
From the report:
McDonald’s planned only 295 parking spaces in its new building for its 2,500 employees and employees must pay to park. Before the move, employees were encouraged to drive downtown at rush hour one day to experience the commute by car. While before the move only one-third of employees planned to ride transit to work, now more than 90 percent of workers arrive via non-auto modes, mostly Metra and CTA.
And it’s not just companies moving their headquarters to a new, transit-friendly location. Take State Farm Insurance, which closed up tons of small offices across the country to consolidate into bigger spaces near transit in Atlanta and other cities, said Steve Davis, who leads communications for T4A and Smart Growth America.
It remains a mystery why McDonald’s and others have waited so long with their corporate moves. After all, they know their storefronts do really well near transit, so why wouldn’t they consider also placing their headquarters there? According to a former McDonald’s senior director, the consistently top-performing U.S. and international locations are the “Rock & Roll McDonald’s” in downtown Chicago and Moscow’s Pushkin Square. It’s no coincidence that those are extremely transit-friendly places.
To hone in on helping businesses embrace transit-oriented strategies,Wennink said that communicating about “return on investment” hasn’t seemed to resonate; hence, the MPC’s strategy to produce a beautiful, glossy report with real-world business examples of success that others can emulate.
McDonald’s is already attracting larger numbers of high-quality job applicants since its move to the West Loop. Company officials have called its discovery of the wonders of transit “a culture change.”
Photo by Thomas Hawk on Flickr’s Creative Commons. 

Friday, November 16, 2018

What will Amazon mean for Metro riders?

I was quoted in a Washington Post article (it was also the cover story in the Washington Post Express) about Amazon's announcement to open one of its second headquarters in the Washington DC region.
The article about it is excerpted from
A key part of why Amazon, the world’s second trillion-dollar company, chose Crystal City in Arlington, Va., today as a second headquarters location is transportation.
The office-park neighborhood is supported by Metrorail, Metroway (the Washington, DC region’s only bus rapid transit route), plenty of bus routes, and National Airport.
This is a great opportunity for Metro to boost its declining ridership. But with Metro’s sometimes poor reliability and Uber and Lyft’s growing prominence, there’s no guarantee that Amazon employees and their families will choose Metro.
My quote in the article:
“Metro has to make itself really attractive to get [Amazon employees] to choose Metro over any of the other options perhaps people are finding more attractive at this point."
Some observers predict that Amazon will attract high-earning millennials to the DC region. This might not bode well for Metro, as this is the demographic reducing its ridership the most. 
Luckily, there’s a good chance that Amazon will provide unlimited transit passes to employees, as it does for employees at the Seattle headquarters. This strategy is known to both boost transit ridership and increase employee satisfaction.
Yet Amazon’s arrival means that many more people – not just Amazon employees – will be moving to the DC region. For Metro to win those riders too, the agency needs to up its game. That means improving service and making it easier for people to ride Metro, with better signage, real-time information, and marketing.
And for Amazon itself to help improve the quality of transportation options throughout the DC region, it can start by offering its own employees the very best corporate transportation incentives.
Photo of Arlington Cemetary Metro station by Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab. 

Monday, November 12, 2018

A Star is Born comes along as shockingly great

With two little kids, I admittedly don't make it the movie theater to watch adult movies much these days. So I can't make huge pronouncements at the moment about the competition, but I hope A Star is Born sweeps the Academy Awards in a few months.

Bradley Cooper as the aging rock star. Best Actor. Check. Lady Gaga as a genuine person who goes from nothing to the top. Best Actress. Check. All the big players. Best Supporting Roles. Check. Best Picture. Check.

I went to this film thinking I'd like it but that it easily could border on romantic schmaltz. But the story is all there. And the characters are all so real. No gloss whatsoever. And oh the songs, made even better by the fact that Cooper and Gaga wrote them all and performed them often live in front of festival and other audiences. Just incredible. I actually cried during at least four songs. (Here's a good article in Vanity Fair about how Cooper became such a great singer and songwriter.)

Run out and see this before it leaves theaters as quickly as you can.

5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Aretha Franklin made us all feel like a “natural woman”

While reading the always-remarkable music journalist Mikal Gilmore’s remembrance of Aretha Franklin (there is a lot of dirt in the profile, about her nastiness to a lot of people and becoming a mother at age 12 AND 14), I was inspired to watch this performance from late in her career in front of the Obamas at the Kennedy’s Center Awards.

If anyone ever doubted her talent, all it takes is one viewing of this clip.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Kids today are fascinated by 1980s movies

My kids (and many others whose parents have told me so) have been on a real kick of watching movies from my childhood. And I’m not complaining because somehow there are still many that had escaped my viewing back then.

Recently I’ve boosted my movie knowledge by adding Teen Wolf, Uncle Buck, Adventures in Babysitting, and Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead to the list of older movies I’ve seen for the first time with and because of my kids. Heck, I’d never even seen Wayne’s World (excellent, by the way). I let my 5-year-old watch Austin Powers, thinking she would be bored within about two minutes. But she watched the whole thing and now often says “yeah baby” to me in a groooovy British-ish accent.

My 10-year-old and I watched Teen Wolf last night. It’s an awful movie - that we couldn’t take our eyes off. That's probably because Michael J. Fox is so universally lovable. But, like many of those 1980s and 1990s movies, there is a lot of not-so-subtle male misogyny and rape-y culture. Those elements would likely be much tamer today, or at least far more subtle - at least in PG and PG-13 offerings. 

Many of the more politically incorrect movie scenes remind me that kids do crazy things. It's what they do, no matter whether it's the 1980s or the 2010s. Kids are pretty much raised to either know when they’re doing something crazy and be measured about it or to simply have no clue and basically be future candidates for the penitentiary. The good thing about today is that even the ones grooming for prison should know better because of the national conversation happening with #MeToo and Trump and Brett Kavanaugh’s good old boy network. If politics were a movie, those two would be playing the drunken, rapist, pink-sweater-wrapped-around-the-neck jerks at all the parties in 80s movies.

Pop culture note: With his movies, Fox has never topped his legendary TV role as Alex P. Keaton in Family Ties. But my favorite of his films, in order, are Casualties of War, Bright Lights Big City, Back to the Future, and The American President.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Do Uber and Lyft really care about being environmentally sustainable corporations?

In my role as director of Mobility Lab, I get quoted a lot in this CityLab article. Here are some tidbits:

For Paul Mackie, director of communication and research at Mobility Lab, which studies transportation behavior and policy, the announcements are another sign of how these companies are adopting roles as “societal partners” rather than just ride-hailing services—ones that can change the way public transit is marketed to the masses. In moving into the bike- and scooter-sharing markets, Uber and Lyft are also encouraging more people to ponder driving alternatives, and making it easier for them to change their behavior.

Lyft’s campaign resembles the new subscription service the firm is experimenting with in Salt Lake City, in which participants pay a flat $200 every month for 30 rides. But by integrating bikeshare and public transit, Lyft’s “Ditch Your Car” initiative goes one step further, potentially demonstrating how public transit agencies could benefit from a new payment model. “You think of these other smart industries—like Netflix or food recipe subscriptions—those are working and its showing that its what people want,” Mackie said. “Why is public transit is so slow to have that model?”

... “It would be naive for anyone to think that Uber and Lyft aren't thinking about what’s best for their bottom line,” said Mackie. The two companies also want a seat at the policy-making table, with both ramping up their lobbying spending over the last few years. (Uber’s backing of congestion pricing, as CityLab previously reported, could be a win-win for both company and city.) Uber is still scrubbing its brand after the multiple scandals associated with former CEO Travis Kalanick, while its smaller competitor Lyft is sticking with its famous “better boyfriend” strategy, donating to the ACLU and giving voters free rides to the polls.

But the companies are still leaving out the one thing cities really want: data. Uber’s gift to SharedStreets may be a gesture toward handing over more of this precious resource, and Mackie thinks this could be another win-win for both sides. “Cities have curb space and parking—things that could really help Uber and Lyft,” he said. “We like to think that if they did share their data, then the governments can work with them to make cities much nicer working grounds.”

And Mackie also credits Uber and Lyft with encouraging more people to consider sustainable transit options. Despite the rise of ride-hailing, Americans are largely still holding on to their private cars, and the concept of shared mobility remains novel to many.  “So it’s another thing to be a bit of cheerleader for Uber and Lyft because we want them to incorporate this sharing mindset in all of us,” he said. “It’s a noble experiment in behavioral change.”

E-bikes: An exciting alternative

This article originally appeared in the Sierra Club's newsletter.

It’s too early to tell if electric bicycles hold the secret to grand pronouncements such as “the
future of transportation.” But there’s definitely something interesting happening.

Anecdotally, I researched e-bikes for years before I felt comfortable enough to buy one as a
way to improve my mobility options in a ridiculously congested place like the Washington D.C.
region. There weren’t enough retailers who would also be able to make necessary repairs,
something this is more complicated than with traditional bicycles. The battery technology
wasn’t good enough to carry a charge decent enough to get back-and-forth across the city.

The first e-bike I bought ended up being too difficult to get repaired and I returned it,
thankfully (after lots of headaches), for a full refund from the German company, with a
California wholesaler and a D.C. retailer.

But earlier this year I tried again. After test riding many e-bikes and researching online (and,
despite the excellent Electric Bike Reviews site, with so many manufacturers and models, it’s
still an intimidating purchase decision), I purchased an excellent Magnum Metro from Hybrid
Pedals in Arlington, Va.

I’ve never met anyone who didn’t agree that, after riding an e-bike, it changed their life. The
problem is that so few people have actually ridden e-bikes. The U.S. market grew by 25
percent in 2017, to 263,000 e-bikes sold. At that rate, it will take a long time to make much of a
dent in the still-small percentage of people who bike for utilitarian purposes like getting to
work, going to eat, or meeting friends.

Some of the good news is that new and trendy options like Uber, Lyft, e-scooter shares,
dockless bikeshares, and soon autonomous shuttles may slowly be getting people out of their
century-long drive-alone mindset. In an increasingly crowded and polluted world, e-bikes could
play a valuable role in being a gateway to switch from this bad habit to these healthier, more
sustainable, more affordable, and just plain fun choices.

If all bikes today - every single bicycle in the entire world - were suddenly thrown away and
replaced with e-bikes, that wouldn’t be good for the environment. Obviously.
But e-bikes are good for the environment in a somewhat surprising way: because riding an ebike
is less physically demanding than a regular bike, making it easier to climb hills and go
longer distances, people might ditch cars for e-bikes.

Sounds far-fetched, but research says otherwise. An extensive survey of more than 1,800 ebike
users in the United States by the National Institute of Transportation and Communities
earlier this year found that most participants switched to e-bikes to reduce car use.

“What stood out, however, is how many motives involved eliminating driving hassles,”
Bicycling’s Selene Yeager wrote of the study. “Twenty-eight percent of respondents said they
bought an e-bike specifically to replace car trips. Others pointed to craving a more car-free
lifestyle, such as using e-bikes to carry cargo or kids, avoid parking and traffic woes, be more
environmentally minded, and have a more cost-effective form of transportation.”

But Americans are buying e-bikes at much lower rates than people in China and Europe. In fact,
the Wall Street Journal quoted a transit expert in 2016 claiming that 60 percent of all battery
production in China was for e-bikes. That’s a lot of batteries.

So how can we fix this? We can educate people on the benefits of e-bikes (and make sure they
know that riding an e-bike is still good for your health). We can advocate for better bike
infrastructure, which is proven to increase rates of bicycling across the board.

The research holds for me personally as well. I definitely bought my e-bike to maneuver more
easily and efficiently through D.C.’s stressful traffic. My car trips have gone way down, and
now my 17-mile roundtrip work commute is often the best part of my day.