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Monday, April 29, 2013
In its April 11 editorial piece (“VDOT has a plan for Elm; so should you”), The Roanoke Times offered some suggestions to commuters preparing to face the ordeal of traffic jams, long delays and potential near-misses as the infamous Elm Avenue interchange goes under construction this summer.
While the paper’s recommendations for commuters to reconsider their routes — or at least to accept the construction snarls with patience — are sound, it missed an opportunity for possibly the most helpful suggestion: Avoid driving altogether.
Downtown Roanoke and the Jefferson Street Corridor — the destination of most of the people caught up in the Elm Avenue traffic mess — has the highest employment density in the region, which means commuters have some of the widest range of options available to them to avoid getting in their cars in the first place.
Roanoke, Salem and Vinton residents can leave their cars behind and hop the Valley Metro bus to the heart of downtown, no more than a few blocks away from where they work. The Smart Way bus can connect longer-distance commuters from the New River Valley and Salem into Campbell Court as well.
In both cases, commuters can both avoid the stress of maneuvering through bumper-to-bumper traffic as well as the hassles of finding parking once they arrive downtown. Smart Way riders can even use the onboard WiFi to start their workday even as they creep along Interstate 581.
Many residents along the Jefferson Street corridor can also access downtown and the Carilion complex by taking the free Star Line Trolley, which runs every 10 minutes.
Now that the region’s bus systems have route information available through Google Transit, it’s easy to know exactly where and what time to catch the bus, taking the doubt out of using transit.
As we enter spring, some commuters might want to turn their daily trips into an opportunity to enjoy the region’s outdoors by bike commuting.
Elm Avenue and other high-traffic roads can be bypassed entirely by the Roanoke River, Mill Mountain and Lick Run greenways. The city’s recently installed bike routes through Old Southwest and the Wasena and Grandin Village area make connecting to downtown through scenic neighborhoods and parks even easier, and recent road work has added new miles of bike lanes and wide shoulders to give cyclists plenty of room to share the road.
The RIDE Solutions interactive bike map and Google biking directions can help a new bike commuter plan a safe route that not only avoids the worst of Roanoke’s traffic, but gets in some morning exercise and is more fun than waiting for the next green light in the Elm Avenue on-ramp.
Commuters can also take advantage of carpool matching through RIDE Solutions and the region’s many formal and informal park-and-rides to meet up with coworkers and neighbors, sharing empty seats, splitting gas costs and cutting down on the number of cars contributing to those rush-hour traffic jams.
By taking advantage of commute options, drivers not only can avoid the worst of the upcoming construction congestion, but also save money on their fuel costs and improve regional air quality. Not only that, it maximizes the public investment being made in projects like Elm Avenue by reducing the number of vehicles our roads need to serve, extending their life and reducing their maintenance costs.
After all, building our way out of congestion by adding lanes to Elm Avenue won’t last very long if all we do is fill them back up again.
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