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Changing commuting 

More Savannahians are seeking creative solutions to rising gas prices

Just call him a “cheap skate.” Dressed in suit and tie and armed with a briefcase, Michael Frey draws stares and smiles as he zooms his way to work on a skateboard.

A sustainability associate at Melaver, Inc., a local sustainable real estate company, Frey moved to Savannah last March and has been skateboarding to work ever since.

“It’s great for the environment and it’s fun,” Frey says. “I get comments three or four times a week about it. Most people smile or make witty comments.”

Tired of high gas prices? Want to spend your time in a better way than just sitting in traffic? Frey is one of several employees of Melaver, Inc. who have found ways of getting around those problems. Even better, they’ve found environmentally friendly ways to do it.

Since he already had a skateboard, Frey’s daily commute costs him nothing. Yet in return, he gets some exercise and socialization from passersby.

Frey lives on Barnard Street, and his commute is less than a mile. “The main issue is crossing Liberty and Oglethorpe,” he says.

Drivers in Savannah aren’t very mindful of pedestrians, and Frey recently e-mailed a local organization called PACE (Pedestrian Advocates of the Coastal Empire) that works for pedestrian safety and health. He wanted to express concern about a situation he sees over and over.

Even though it’s state law in Georgia for cars to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, they often don’t, Frey says.

“In Cambridge, Mass., if you just twitch toward the sidewalk, cars will slow down for you. Drivers here don’t stop,” he says. “Even buses don’t hardly stop for you at all. I’ve ended up stopping a lot in the morning, waiting for cars.”

Frey began skateboarding when he lived in Chapin, S.C., outside of Columbia. “I’m actually not very good on a small skateboard, so I ride on a long skateboard, maybe four feet long,” he says.

“I’ve probably been doing that for about two years,” Frey says. “It’s not as hard as it looks. On a small skateboard, it’s pretty scary. Anyone can balance on a long board. I even got my uncoordinated girlfriend on one.”

So far, Frey hasn’t fallen down, but he had a close call. “I hit a bump in the road, lost my balance and jumped off,” he says. “My skateboard went almost all the way down a sewer drain and I had to fish it out.”

The benefits far outweigh the challenges. “It for sure saves on gas,” Frey says. “I usually move my car only for street sweeping.”

Tommy Linstroth, head of Sustainable Initiatives at Melaver, rides a bicycle to work.

“One of the reasons is because I can’t stand sitting in traffic,” he says. “If I have a meeting off-site, when I leave work, I’m always sitting in traffic.”

Linstroth lives just a few miles away, and says riding his bike to work has many benefits. “I’m certainly not having to pay for gasoline,” he says. “It clears my head in the morning and gets my blood pumping. Obviously, if you’re not burning gas, you’re making yourself a little less reliant on oil.”

Like Frey, Linstroth has to watch out for impatient drivers.

“I don’t think there is biker awareness here, like there is in Portland,” he says. “They aren’t necessarily looking out for bikers or pedestrians. State law says to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks and nobody ever does.”

Unexpected downpours can be a problem, but one that’s easy to overcome. “When I hear thunder, I get a ride,” Linstroth says. “I’ve mooched plenty of rides from co-workers when it’s been storming.”

Linstroth is hopeful others will begin biking. “It can be uncomfortable in the summer,” he says. “In the morning, it’s still cool and when you head home -- well, you’re heading home.”

Cathy Rodgers, marketing coordinator and brand manager at Melaver, commutes by scooter. “I’d wanted a scooter for two or three years,” she says. “I had paid off my car, so I had a little extra money.”

Rodgers says rising gas prices helped her make the decision. On the scooter, her commute takes about 25 minutes. Now she drives her car to work only on rainy days.

“You think a little differently when you ride a scooter,” Rodgers says. “You have to plan better. You have to think if you’re going to have to change shoes or if you have to have a jacket.”

Because she drives a gas-powered vehicle, Rodgers must follow the rules of the road. Unfortunately, other drivers sometimes fail to do the same.

“It’s not quite like a bike. If I get over to the right-hand side, I’m worried about car doors opening. The cars also treat me like a bike and want to pass me. I constantly have to be watching, and always have to be defensive,” she says.

“I take the back roads, so I don’t feel in danger. It does bring on awareness of all fumes out there, though.”

Even so, Rodgers would urge other potential scooter owners to “Go for it!”

“I have no regrets,” she says. “It’s more fun than anything, plus I’m saving gas. I’m kind of hitting all the pluses.”

For those who want to make changes but live too far from work to bike, skate or walk, Coastal Commuters, which was launched in April, can help.

“It’s a promotional program mainly that promotes all sorts of alternative transportation modes,” says Jane Love, transportation planner for the Metropolitan Planning Commission.

“We’re especially focusing on carpooling, mass transit, bicycling and walking,” she says. “Also telecommuting, which is not a mode of transportation, but is another trip-reduction strategy. What we’re offering now is a ride-matching system.”

Some large employers are setting up their own commuting networks through Coastal Commuter. The MPC, St. Joseph’s/Candler and Memorial Health all have had networks in the system since it was launched, Love says.

Participating in the program frees up parking spaces at work sites. It also reduces employee absenteeism and tardiness.

SouthCoast Medical Group and Gulfstream Aerospace are in the process of establishing commuting networks for employees. Still others, include Melaver, Inc., are using the Commute Calendar offered through Coastal Commuter’s web site at www.coastalcommuter.org.

Through the calendar, users can see how much money they’re saving and how many pollutants and emissions they’re avoiding by not driving alone. This service is available to carpoolers, transit riders, bicyclists and walkers.

Some employers haven’t set up networks of their own, but are encouraging employees to use the ride-matching assistance through Coastal Commuter. They include IKEA and Select Source staffing agency. “I’m talking to more and more people about it all time,” Love says.

Since gas prices have soared, Coastal Commuter is getting a lot of attention. But the program was being planned long before the present energy crisis.

“It all started back in 2004 and 2005 with the Connecting Savannah process that looked at transportation needs in the area,” Love says. “It’s one of the only strategies that had to do with decreasing demand.”

The Chatham Urban Transportation Study/Metropolitan Planning Organization approved the Connecting Savannah Action Plan in 2005.

“To get it up and running, the MPC hired additional staff,” Love says. “We first focused on cooperating with the two hospitals because they are large employers with facilities on the same major arterial routes. This was seen as a way to reduce congestion even before gas prices went up.”

Employers can choose to offer incentives to employees, such as preferential parking spaces for carpoolers. They can even give away prizes, such as T-shirts, to employees who log a certain amount of miles.

In addition, employers can choose to donate funding to the MPC for the Emergency Ride Home program. The money is used to cover the costs of taxi rides for employees who are called home unexpectedly.

The program can be used by anyone at any time.

“People can use the ride-matching system for rideshare for any kind of trip,” Love says. “You can also log on a bike trip to the grocery store on the weekend.”

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Linda Sickler

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Connect Today 12.06.2016

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