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Event Recap | Mobility on the Frontline Panel at Boulder Startup Week 2020

Via hosted a virtual panel during the 11th annual Boulder Startup Week about the new mobility challenges we’re facing on the frontline. Watch the recording for a discussion with expert panelists on:

  • How the pandemic is impacting Boulder’s essential workers
  • How energy, mobility, and sustainability relate during the pandemic
  • What this might mean for the future

Panelists
  • Clark Rider, University of Colorado Boulder, Sustainable Transportation Specialist
  • Joan Lyons, Boulder Transportation Connections, Planner and TDM Outreach Specialist
  • Joshua Sperling, Ph.D., National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Urban Futures Engineer
  • Kathleen Bracke, Boulder County Transportation Planning, Deputy Director
  • Kevin Crouse, Boulder B-cycle, Executive Director
  • Natalie Stiffler, Via Mobility Services, Director of Operations

Post-Panel Q&A

Question: “Higher pollution is correlated with worse COVID-19 symptoms. What might this mean for our environment and health, especially as it relates to older adults and people with health conditions?”

Response from Joan Lyons, Planner and TDM Outreach Specialist at Boulder Transportation Connections:

So this question really fascinates me a bit. I actually reached out to another one of our partners the Regional Air Quality Council to talk through my answer to this question, but I think that COVID-19 has taught us a lot of lessons, and one of the most important is that we must resist the urge to return to “normal” as we knew it, specifically our driving habits. We have proved that by listening to public health officials and our government organizations that we can, in fact, improve our air quality. We have experienced significantly reduced vehicle travel and that has resulted in a direct improvement in air quality along the Front Range, but this positive impact is likely temporary.

In the summertime, hazardous ground-level ozone levels occur throughout our region, and vehicle emissions are a substantial source of that ozone. We know that exposure to summer ozone can result in reduced resistance to lung infections and viruses. It can trigger asthma attacks and worsen symptoms from respiratory diseases like chronic bronchitis and COPD. And it’s not just the young, elderly and those with pre-existing conditions, everyone is more sensitive. We should all be taking steps to prevent emissions to collectively protect our community from poor air quality. 

Throughout the summer, but especially on “Ozone Action Alert” days, the Regional Air Quality Council urges people to skip car trips twice a week by maintaining our current virtual lifestyle. 

Examples of this include:

  • Picking one errand day a week
  • Continue teleworking when possible

If you’re looking to learn more about how to better our air quality, the Regional Air Quality Council can help you learn about all the ways you can do your part to better our air quality at www.SimpleStepsBetterAir.org.

Also, Transit for America has a petition and information on additional funding to keep transit healthy. 

 

Question: How might the mobility challenges that people like older adults and those with disabilities be incorporated with post-pandemic transportation plans?

Response from Clark Rider, Sustainable Transportation Specialist at University of Colorado Boulder:

Being that there is going to be a wholesale look at changing/updating/adapting our approach to transportation in general, this is the opportune time to increase our focus on transportation for the older adults and those with disabilities. That said, it will be imperative that advocates like those at Via and Mobility For All (Boulder County) who work with this demographic demand to be “at the table,” and aggressively pursue those opportunities wherever they might be. 

On a related note, I think that with the rapid expansion in types of small electric vehicles that are becoming available to the public there is an opportunity to push for options that support this section of society beyond just powered wheelchairs.

 

Question: Do you have any guidance for smaller nonprofits that have depended on community transportation as part of their business model?

Response from Natalie Stiffler, Director of Operations at Via Mobility Services:

In March, when customer demand for demand responsive service like Via Paratransit dropped, we immediately started to reach out to our partners like Boulder Housing Partners and the Boulder County Farmers Market to see if we could help with grocery, meal, and food delivery. That has been a major source of business for Via over the last two months. I expect that we will continue in the food delivery business going forward, as it will likely take many months or years before some of our customers feel comfortable riding paratransit service again. My guidance would be that it will be important for organizations that have depended on community transportation as part of their business model to think about what type of transport is still needed, even if it isn’t necessarily moving people. We can still serve our customers but in a different way.