By Justin B. Schor and Brian J. Horan
Metropolitan areas around the country are drooling over the idea of landing Amazon’s HQ2 in their neck of the woods. After all, jobs and prosperity are hard to argue against.
But with Denver announced as a finalist city, do Denver residents even want HQ2? Traffic is bad enough, and getting worse. And many in the region don’t want any part of Amazon’s plans. This sentiment is understandable – residents don’t want the character of their neighborhoods and Denver itself to change from what currently makes them great.
Whether HQ2 arrives in Denver or not, the traffic generated by existing businesses and a growing population raises a question:
How can Denver’s current businesses improve transportation for their employees now?
The Easy Button macro solution is right there: Build more transit, widen roads, and continue to expand light-rail and commuter-rail systems. But we know where those discussions tend to go in Colorado. There’s not much appetite for more projects like T-REX and the I-70 expansion – projects that are not only expensive, but seemingly threaten to change the character of the region.
As Shailen Bhatt, former executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation, put it in 2015: “The challenge is that Colorado is not a typical state. We’re a growth state, and we’ve been growing and we’re going to continue to grow.”
In such conditions, we suggest three “micro” transportation solutions that can contribute to maintaining the character of the region’s neighborhoods and the City of Denver itself while helping employees improve their commuting experience:
- Develop micro-infrastructure solutions
- Avoid the traffic
- Adopt new transportation solutions
1. Develop Micro-Infrastructure Solutions on or Adjacent to Office Properties
On a “micro” infrastructure level, our firm’s traffic engineering and transportation planning teams work every day at improving existing transportation infrastructure around businesses, including updating roadways, improving traffic signals and intersections, upgrading facilities for pedestrians and bicyclists, and modernizing parking.
When considering such transportation improvements, there are a few questions that can guide how and where businesses can improve their facilities, such as:
- Site Circulation: Does the subject site need to be reconfigured to provide better on-site circulation for vehicles and pedestrians alike?
- Access to Transit: Do surrounding roadways allow for safe and convenient access for employees who want to use transit to get to work?
- Varied Access: Does access to and from the site need to be modified for the benefit of the varied needs of vehicular commuters, transit riders, bicyclists, pedestrians, and loading dock personnel?
Asking questions such as these can lead to incremental improvements for commuters.
2. Avoid the Traffic: Flex and Telework, Real-Time Info, Events
Flex and Telework
Aside from mitigating potential disruptions to workplace productivity due to inclement or severe weather, telework programs give employees greater leeway to balance successful professional and personal lives. While a telework policy is primarily initiated to benefit a company and its employees, as these programs expand they have a positive impact on a region’s transportation network. Telework is not simply a “work from home” initiative, but can also be a “commute when traffic is lighter” initiative.
Employers who are considering implementing a telework policy would be wise to:
- Establish a formal policy under which eligible employees of the organization may be authorized to telework
- Determine which employees are eligible for telework, since roles and responsibilities vary
- Supply telework employees with the right equipment, networking systems, and cybersecurity tools to ensure an uninterrupted workflow
Offer Real-Time Traffic Information
A key way to “beat the traffic” is to have access to the right information. Hence the huge popularity and usage of apps like Google Maps and Waze. While such technology gives commuters insight into vehicular traffic patterns, employers and office properties can offer public access to transit options such as TransitScreen. Knowing when the next bus, train, or shuttle is arriving makes for a more productive work environment and a less stressful day.
Office property amenities are becoming increasingly important to employer tenants and to the workforce. Exercise facilities, bike rooms, and flexible meeting facilities are not only de rigueur at new transit-oriented office locations, but are also being incorporated into older suburban office properties.
In addition to these, office properties and employers would be wise to offer hospitality-focused work and social spaces. Happy hours and other events offer employees the ability to focus on the “life” aspect of the “work-life” equation, all while most of the cars on the road are inching through rush-hour traffic.
3. Adopt New Transportation Solutions
Ride-Hailing at the Office
Many suburban office properties have adopted shuttle buses to carry workers between the office to nearby transit and commercial locations. In many cases, this option continues to be a smart transportation tool.
However, in our work we have found that not all shuttles deliver optimal results. Performance can vary by time of day, day of the week, and by route. In these cases, we have found that incorporating ride-hailing solutions such as Lyft and Uber can result in lower transportation costs while delivering better service for commuters.
Don’t Get Stuck in a Rut: Plan for All Options
In our experience, it’s easy for employees to assume that an automobile is the only option to commute. Oftentimes, that is the case. However, alternatives such as transit, cycling, or walking can provide an option that allows for a different kind of commute without the need to focus 100% on vehicular traffic.
These alternatives do not have to be an everyday solution. Workers may find that on particular days, using transit may work best for them by making use of shuttle buses and ride-hailing to complete last-mile connections for office properties not located directly on transit routes. Not every day is a great day to ride a bike to work but on days that it is there should be easy access to safe and convenient bicycle storage.
When it comes to office relocations, knowledge can be power and can reduce stress. The fact is, the default mindset for most people is that they can only get to their office using a car. Potential office tenants are not just concerned with their new working space, but with relocating, commuting and adapting to it.
Companies that are going through a major office move to a new location can reduce employee stress by educating them about all the commuting possibilities. Research, analysis, information assembly, and communications programs are key to ensure that a property’s tenants feel confident about their new office location and all the commuting choices that are available to them.