Current Events

How can we incentivize environmental sustainability? A Q&A with Newton’s Green Transport Queen

Nicole Freedman is an American Olympic cyclist who now serves as the director of transportation for the City of Newton. Since 2007, she has been involved in improving infrastructure for cyclists and building a culture of green transportation in the Greater Boston area. In 2007, she became the head of Boston’s first bike program, the “Boston Bikes” initiative responsible for developing bike shares and creating 92 miles of bike lanes in the city. She has also worked to improve transportation policy in Seattle, where she oversaw initiatives to spread bike sharing programs similar to Lime Bikes.


 What can we do to provide incentive for green transportation at the school?

You have both carrots and sticks when you are trying to change behavior. Carrots are things that encourage the behavior you do want. Sticks are things that discourage the behavior you don’t want. Using pricing, charging for parking, is very effective. For BB&N, charging for parking would make a big difference. [For that to happen, however, the school would need an arrangement with the City of Cambridge; see “School initiatives,” at right.]

What’s an example of a carrot?

One of the best models for carrots was developed in Seattle, where they’ve won a tremendous number of awards for their transportation programs. They had a campus, and they needed to expand [by] adding more buildings. The city said that if you want to expand and build on your campus, you can do that, but you aren’t allowed to add a single car trip. “How are we going to do that?” they said. “We are adding thousands of new employees, and none of them can come by car.” So they set up a program where people are paid not to drive. It could be a dollar a day or two dollars a day. If you do drive, you are charged. You have a stick on one end and a carrot on the other. That’s one of the absolute most effective [models] ever. 

What are less expensive or simpler policies you could suggest for the school?

One of the more modest things is providing discounts on T-passes [which BB&N offers; see “School initiatives,” at right] or Lime Bike passes so that [for] anyone from your school who wants to [use these methods of transportation], all of a sudden it’s free and maybe it makes a difference. You can add bike racks [and] bike lanes to make it safer to get at right where you are going.

Does charging for parking drastically reduce the amount of people who drive?

The second you charge, people take other means [of transportation]. There are two real determinants to how people get to work. One is how much it costs them, and two is how long it takes. So [for] anyone [who] is working downtown, the parking is exorbitant, and you are going to be sitting in traffic to get there. Suddenly you see very high rates of [public] transit and people walking. On the other hand, in Newton we have an industrial park called Wells Avenue and a couple of thousand people who work there. It’s too far to walk to T or subway stations, and there are heaps of parking lots that are free, so practically everyone drives. 

How can we ensure that people who bike or take public transit to school can get somewhere quickly from school if they need to?

There’s a program called “guaranteed ride home:” if you have an emergency, you need to get your kid at school, you get sick—you can have a free Uber or Lyft ride home. Things like that help a bit. They’re modest.

[Guaranteed Ride Home is an organization that provides up to four free rides a year to people who use a method of green transportation to commute to work.]


One Comment

  1. Folk-Man Wong

    Thank you for the interview. Who is taking this foward at BB&N?

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