Have you ever spent more time looking for a parking space than actually running the errand, or worse, sitting in the restaurant? And did you think next time you should leave the car at home and use UberX, Lyft, or even public transit? Have you ever car-pooled? Have you started to ride your bike because it actually moves you around town faster? If you answered yes to any of these questions: Congratulations—you’ve started to build low carbon mobility!
What do I mean by low carbon mobility? Simply this: using less to move more. Low carbon mobility refers to moving people around using less fossil fuel—driving more fuel efficient cars, increasing passengers per vehicle by carpooling, or using buses and trains to commute. Walking and biking, of course, guarantee you the lowest carbon mobility.
This revolutionary concept runs counter to the United States urban tradition of making 75% of daily trips in private motor vehicles. That’s versus only 7% by foot or bike.
U.S. cities base their transportation system on individual car trips, which are incredibly inefficient when it comes to energy, space, and resources. Our roads are filled with heavy, highly sophisticated steel machines carrying just one person. The energy that powers our transit systems comes primarily from oil—it runs everything from cars and buses to planes and ships, everything except our bikes and our feet. And we know burning oil contributes to global warming and respiratory problems.
I visited Mexico City recently, and I enjoyed riding Metrobús, their Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. It reminded me of my home city of Bogotá, where we have our own BRT system, Transmilenio. Buses on the BRT run in exclusive lanes, they have their own stations and comprise a network of corridors equivalent to and more flexible than metros. Plus they cost 10 times less to build and maintain. Mexico City residents’ use public transportation at a very high rate—70% of daily trips occur in high capacity vehicles—but maintaining that high usage remains a challenge when more people want to own and drive their own cars.
Despite the increase in motor vehicle ownership and infrastructure, Metrobús has been a great success. The Mexico City government deserves credit for its leadership. And some of our grantees, including Centro Mexicano de Transporte Sustentable, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy and El Poder del Consumidor, deserve credit for their support and advocacy. Many organizations are working to implement BRT systems in the United States. But public transit usage overall in the U.S remains very small (In many cities, as few as 2% of all trips occur by public transit—New York (55%) and San Francisco (33%) are the exceptions).
There’s no reason to stop at BRT when it comes to a low carbon mobility future. A more revolutionary concept has now taken hold in many urban centers: shared mobility. One great leader I talked to in Mexico, from the group Fundación Tlaloc, remarked that low carbon mobility necessarily means sharing. Sharing space and sharing vehicles. Even for innovative cities like Mexico City, where the shared bicycle system (eco-bici) has displaced many motorized trips in the more dense areas, there’s still room for more sharing opportunities.
The younger generation—and Millennials in particular—excel at shared mobility. Young people base their decisions about commuting on cost and the quality of their experience. The US is seeing fewer vehicle registrations and drivers’ licenses issued than in previous decades. So how do these young folks move around? By using bicycles and car shares, or by choosing to live closer to work or transit. Technology has enabled new mobility solutions, and young people are making a transformational shift from vehicle ownership to vehicle access.
These solutions offer me hope. Young people and people like me who want to de-carbonize our transportation system share some things in common. We all want to avoid traffic jams. We want to reduce our transportation cost. Find ways to reduce our travel time and at the same time reduce fuel consumption (and emissions). In the end, it doesn’t matter what name you give to these trends—we just need to change the way we move!
Some people are born with great facilitation skills, and there are others, like me, who need a little help. Believe it or not, one of my New Year’s resolutions—made just as the clock struck midnight—was to get better at facilitating meetings: of my grantees, partners, and other donors, and even meetings between family and friends.
Late last year, I attended a training session on facilitation at the Foundation. Led by David Barkan, the training was, for me, transformative. And judging by the response—a third of our staff has now been through the training—I’m not alone.
One of the most useful ideas that I took away from the training was also the simplest. There are various types of meetings and many reasons to meet, but the real purpose of virtually any meetings should be to do something: engage in generative discussion, make a decision, explore a new direction, or learn about something new. If we are meeting just for the sake of meeting then we are wasting time and money, according to David. This was like a thunderclap! How many times have we all attended meetings only to walk away with the feeling that an email would have been sufficient? The purpose of the meeting, the discussion we need to have or the decision we are trying to make has to be clear and must guide the design of the session. A good facilitator has to prepare well (the preparation might take more time than the actual meeting), weighing whether or not the meeting is necessary, its purpose, its goal, and how the goal might be accomplished.
The training also gave attendees the opportunity to practice our facilitation skills—listening skills in particular—that can help move a group from disagreement to unanimity. Getting to a collective agreement can take much more than one meeting. Often the facilitator hears distinct and divergent points of view and has to deal simultaneously with difficult interpersonal dynamics that stifle productive conversation. This requires patience, skill, and focus over time to understand and facilitate well. What I learned is that a good facilitator is sometimes a good interlocutor: clarifying, capturing and interpreting the group’s myriad points of view so that everyone at least understands the problem before trying to solve it. I paid close attention to what David said about paraphrasing and balancing—being able to accurately reflect back to someone what they are saying, and organizing the conversation to give equal space to opposing views. These are perhaps the most difficult skills to master.
Last month, I had my first opportunity to put what I had learned to work while facilitating a session with colleagues from other foundations and the World Bank. My table had a great group of people, both enthusiastic and skeptical. I knew going in that finding consensus was not going to be easy. Even with my preparations, there were things I hadn’t anticipated. I tried to open up space for everyone to articulate their viewpoint and reminded myself to be encouraging so that we could identify actions on which there was the possibility of collaboration, our goal for the session. Many good points were made, but there was no single narrative thread that tied them together.
Complicating matters further was the format of the session, which required our conveners to move intermittently to different tables. As new faces shuttled to my table, I had to use my newfound skills to summarize for the new members where we were in the discussion. But this repetition had an unexpected benefit: This constant summarization of the issues provided me with some clarity, which in turn, enabled me to identify the common themes that had eluded us until that point—the precursors to finding consensus.
After reporting back to the larger group, I returned to my table to words of praise for my facilitation and a few thumbs up. Afterward, as we all milled around the hotel conference room, others approached me just to tell me they were impressed with my facilitation.
I was ecstatic.
I know I still need to work on some important skills, but I can see the critical role that a good facilitator can play in improving the quality of meetings, the decisions made at them, and our grantmaking.