The sound of a loud engine accelerating reverberates through the quiet neighborhood as Shanna Draheim gets ready to leave for work. Breakfast bar and a change of clothes secured tightly in her backpack, she takes off at a steady pace. The morning air is chilly, but not enough to deter Shanna from continuing on her bike ride. As she rides towards the horizon, the rising sun is inspiration.
A different set of gears
At Public Sector Consultants, employees are encouraged to take alternative ways to work. In fact, it’s incentivized.
“PSC has had a healthy workplace program in place since 2005 focusing on the wellness of employees. We’ve sponsored activities and encouraged behavior designed to help keep people active and healthy for their overall wellbeing,” says Jacquie LaFay, a consultant in the health division who initiated many of the firm’s wellness activities. PSC received a Diamond Award in the 2014 Governor’s Fitness Awards as recognition of their activities’s success.
The idea of promoting wellness resonated with the firm’s owners, who are always looking for ways to encourage their employees to be happier, healthier, and more productive. Peter Pratt, PSC President and head of the health division, says, “Our program is based on voluntary involvement in organized activities. After we moved to our new building last year, we had to start reimbursing employees for regular parking. So we developed an option that encourages people to take a different way to work in exchange for the cost of a pass. Several of our colleagues are walking or riding their bikes to work. Not only were we aiming for productivity, but we’re also giving people tangible incentives for greater health they could implement daily—and we’re keeping up with current trends.”
As part of a growing movement in Michigan and across the country, PSC urges its staff to share rides, bike, walk, bus, or even work from home in order to engage in what Mid-Michigan Environmental Action Council (Mid-MEAC) calls a Smart Commute.
In a push to get more people involved, Mid-MEAC launched their annual Smart Commute Challenge from June 8-21 this year, promoting the slogan, “Your Health. Your Wallet. Your Planet.” Teams were formed for local businesses, schools, faith communities, neighborhoods, organizations—including families, friends, and neighbors—to compete for the most trips logged via smart commute versus motorists driving to work alone. PSC employees were happy to participate, and some still take to the streets in alternative ways.
“About 20-25 percent of our staff take advantage of the commuter credit,” explains Rachel Rochefort, an executive assistant at PSC and regular Smart Commuter. “But there are also some people that carpool on certain days. We have quite a few people that live in the same area arrange to ride in together.”
As Shanna waits for the traffic signal to change so she can cross Washington Street, she hears a friendly honk on her left. Mary and Kirk, co-workers at PSC, wave through the windows of the vehicle next to her. It’s Thursday and they’re carpooling to work.
Even without a credit, carpooling has always been suggested as a way to get to work that is cost-effective, energy efficient, and environmentally friendly. Supported by policy in many states as a way to reduce environmental impact, the practice lowers vehicle emissions, reduces fuel costs and consumption, and decreases the amount of traffic on the road.
Draheim, a senior consultant at PSC, says that less traffic is a good thing. “I usually bike through quieter neighborhoods because the main roads have too much traffic during the work commute and they don’t all have bike lanes.”
Along with turning motorists into cyclists on the streets of Lansing, PSC is providing cause to advance the progress of Michigan policy and the Michigan Complete Streets Coalition. The coalition formed in 2009 to help Complete Streets movements across the state make roadways safer and more accessible for nonmotorist users in addition to repairing roads and reducing safety hazards.
Though Lansing has continued to add bike lanes in recent history, there is still an increased risk when cyclists have to share the road with motorists. Data from The Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning (MOHSP) disclosed that the state’s total reported traffic crashes increased a little over 5 percent from 2012 to 2013 and were most frequent in denser transit communities like Lansing.
But that doesn’t deter PSCers from the road. Even though employees know there are risks, they know the facts err with safety and experience. The MOHSP report reveals that about 31 percent of pedestrian fatalities occurred while crossing streets not at intersections. The League of American Bicyclists reports 85 percent of all serious bike accidents don’t involve a moving vehicle and cyclists who learn and obey the rules of the road have 80 percent fewer collisions than those who do not.
Michigan recently enacted legislation to promote safety when cyclists and drivers share the road. On October 14, 2014, Governor Rick Snyder signed the Nathan Bower Act (PA 317) which, among other things, requires training for new drivers in their coursework that includes “information concerning the law pertain to bicycles and motorcycles and shall emphasize awareness of their operation on the streets, roads, and highways of the states.”
Rochefort says that a helmet and experience is all it took to get her out of her car and into the streets. “Once I started to bike and walk to work, I found it much easier to do. Even in the winter, I’m thinking of taking the bus so that I can keep getting the Smart Commuter credit to save for a new bike.”
“And with no car to warm up every time I want to go somewhere, I don’t have to wait to take off.”