North shore nonprofit urges companies to expand commuting options for workers _ business _ salemnews. com

Woolley, the facilities manager for Salem’s Recreation Department where he’s worked for the past 10 years, figures he has ridden 52,000 miles back and forth to work, saved $25,000 on car expenses such as insurance, gas and repairs, and spared the atmosphere 20 tons of carbon dioxide spewing from his car tailpipe.

While cyclists tend to be “individualistic” and keep their habits to themselves, Woolley said, he’s not shy about extolling the benefits of biking or walking to work for new city employees.

He does so, especially because the city has programs to promote alternative commuting with the help of the North Shore Transportation Management Association, a nonprofit based in downtown Salem at 120 Washington St., the same building housing the City Hall Annex.

Incentives to pedal

The North Shore TMA works with the state Department of Transportation, private businesses and local communities to find ways to reduce traffic congestion and vehicle emissions, improve air quality and advocate for more environmentally friendly and sustainable options for commuters to get to work that also promote economic development.

The nonprofit’s members were just honored at a ceremony at Fenway Park on March 22 for the sixth annual Massachusetts Excellence in Commuter Options or ECO awards, which is sponsored by different state transit organizations. Those members include Axcelis Technologies, the city of Beverly, Cummings Properties, Footprint Power, the city of Salem, Salem State University, Cell Signaling Technology and Eastern Bank.

The awards recognize employers who provide incentives, amenities and accommodations for employees who find other ways of getting to work. That could mean anything from public transit, carpooling, cycling or walking.

Cell Signaling Technology, located in Danvers and Beverly, and Eastern Bank in Lynn were both awarded Pinnacle distinctions, a top award that goes to companies with programs and incentives in place to encourage alternative commutes. That includes having a designated transportation coordinator and offering various types of programs.

Andrea Leary, the executive director of the North Shore TMA, said Eastern Bank was also recognized with a Spotlight Award for its “Commute Another Way” program at its regional office in Lynn. Employees were surveyed last spring and focus groups were held to look at what folks might like as far as alternative commuting programs.

From Oct. 19 to Dec. 11, about 18 bank employees took some form of alternative transportation at least two days a week. It was about 5 percent of the office’s employees. Leary said that’s a significant number, when you think what might happen to congestion if just 5 percent of suburban commuters no longer drove alone in their cars to and from work.

At Cell Signaling Technology, employees can log their trips electronically on a daily or weekly basis. They can then accrue points for carpooling, cycling, walking or using public transportation, which can be redeemed for gift cards or “Green Days” — bonus days off from work.

Jeff Elie, Salem’s energy and sustainability manager, is, by nature of his job, close to the city’s alternative transportation efforts. He’s also the staff member for the city’s Bicycling Advisory Committee, which aims to expand Salem’s existing bike path network and advocate for alternative commuting options. Elie bikes to work from Beverly.

“Obviously, there is an environmental benefit to not having as many cars on the road,” he said. Biking to work also promotes a healthy lifestyle, and the more people that bike to work, the more cycling infrastructure will be created, such as dedicated bike lanes.

Salem offers an emergency guaranteed ride home with a van service for those who have biked or walked to work and the weather does not cooperate, Elie said. The city also provides bike racks and bike parking for its employees, as well as resources for those who wish to carpool by creating a network of ride-sharers.

Leary said the North Shore TMA also tries to make infrastructure projects friendlier to alternative commuters. For example, the group worked on a Transportation Demand Management plan for Brimbal Avenue where a state highway project has created two roundabouts and dramatically reconfigured parts of Brimbal Avenue, Sohier Road and a connector road from Route 128; a shopping plaza is also in the works.

A big emphasis for the upgrades is to make the area safer not only for motorists, but pedestrians and bicyclists as well, by widening the roadway and improving sidewalks and signage.

Leary planned to meet last week with North Shore town managers and mayors to talk about the region’s transportation challenges. She also attended a public meeting last week looking at a new commuter rail stop for South Salem. The Salem Partnership is studying that idea with a study funded by Salem State University.

It was noted during the meeting that the renovation of Canal Street, where the proposed train stop might be located, will mean a new bicycle lane from Canal Street, near the college, to the downtown.

The North Shore TMA isn’t a large organization, but it is growing, Leary said. The challenge is letting companies know what it has to offer.

“We need to get the word out,” she said.