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Kick off the New Year with Behavioral Changes!

Below is a post from Elizabeth Floyd.  Elizabeth has two degrees in European history, worked in theatrical costume design and wardrobe for many years, and now promotes sustainable modes of transportation as a Business Development Manager for Arlington Transportation Partners. She owns three bicycles but no car, and has started sewing clothing with reflective trim that are appropriate for both work and play. You can read more of her writing on her blog: Tin Lizzie Rides Again.

I recently attended the Behavior, Energy and Climate Change conference in Sacramento, CA. I also presented all the great work that Arlington Transportation Partners does with the Arlington county employers and property managers, as well as learning from all the sessions I attended. Although the conference focus was on energy and climate change, the best part was learning about basic behavior change strategies that can apply to anything – commutes, weight loss, even buying habits. I recognized every point in myself, as I thought about my transit from a car-less Metro rider to a car-less bicyclist.

There are some basic behavior change concepts that apply to everything – people do not change their habits based on facts and figures, but rather, on information they learn from friends, family, and respected role models. Once the motivation is there, however, individuals will only change their behavior if the barriers are removed, and there are prompts, often social, in place to encourage them to repeat the desired behavior and reframe their worldview. It sounds simple, right?  However, the reality is much harder, or we would all be perfect.

I was interested in bike riding when I lived in Manhattan for ten years, but despite knowing that it was healthy, inexpensive, and fun, there were several barriers in place. I did not know anyone who did it, so my only real reference point was the huge bike messenger and bike delivery population swarming around the city every day. Watching them made me nervous about bike safety, and honestly, it was not a lifestyle or look I was interested in emulating. Moreover, in my small apartment, where on earth would I keep a bike? I didn’t want to hang it from the ceiling – that did not match my décor!

Fast forward to moving into Arlington. My parents came to visit. My dad, who used to ride his bike to work every day, helped me find a decent beginner bike, installed fenders and lights, and made sure I had the proper tire pump. So that was not only the first lowered barrier, but I was learning from someone I trusted. I still didn’t know anyone who biked for transportation, and got used to coworkers at the job I had then teasing me for biking, but then I discovered that a local bike shop was having a “Ladies’ Night” event. That made a huge difference for me – I found a large group of women, some of whom were new like me, and many of whom were more experienced. Add in some fun women leading the talk, and encouraging us, and suddenly I’d found a group of role models I could emulate. Then, when I joined the ATP team, I went from being “the person in the office who bikes to work” to “one of many people who bike to work.”

Now I’ve completed the behavior change loop. I have reframed my worldview so that biking for transportation is completely normal, I have many friends and colleagues who do it, and it is encouraged by my workplace. It only proves what the presenters at the BECC said – it takes time to change behaviors.

Wait, that’s what we say here at ATP! We know it is not easy to change behaviors, but we are here to help with the process. We encourage businesses and properties to offer not just bicycle amenities, but many types of benefits to help remove barriers to non-car commuting.  And once everyone in an office or building observes biking, Metro, busing, and walking as easy, socially acceptable behaviors, it becomes easier to do it as well. So contact ATP now to find out how to remove barriers, add benefits, and begin to reframe your transit worldview.


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