Sandy Springs Traffic: The ReMoVe10 Team
It started with a request by the town of Sandy Springs and mayor Rusty Paul. How could the iDiploma team help to reduce the traffic that sucks away our time and gradually poisons our world - and worsens each year? Mayor Rusty Paul, along with the Sandy Springs City Council, had been working on this problem for years and in early September of 2016 decided to partner with iDiploma students and Georgia Commute Options to achieve the city goal of decreasing traffic in the city by 10%. Then using MVPS as a small area case study group, develop traffic recommendations for schools in the Sandy Springs area and the city as a whole. The team of four spent the first part of the year working with school employees, parents, and local corporations in an attempt to figure out what the underlying causes of traffic are.
They asked themselves this question: Why do we, as a society, prefer cars as a method of transportation, and what are the consequences of that decision?
Because this question was asked amongst the Mount Vernon community, a community-centric answer arose. The team found the motivations for every type of community member. For example, parents were motivated by the convenience, the driving-age students by the freedom provided by driving, etc. The next step was to look at success stories. Who is currently fighting the trends of transportation through carpooling, walking to school, etc. and why are they doing so? Why don't other people copy their solutions? This process involved more intel gathering by working with dedicated parents, the teachers in charge of charpool at our school and so forth. Finally, they prototyped a few solutions. How might we take what we learned from these success stories to build more generalized solutions that can accommodate the hectic, frustrating commute of the average parent or student? By working with Georgia Commute Options, they discovered they needed a more community-based solution to create actual change. They met with parents and teachers, as well as the local Sandy Springs Neighborhood Association and attempted to implement their ideas and to demonstrate their prototypes. The project will continue into the upcoming year through working with new partners and the next generation of innovators at iDiploma.
The reMoVe10 Team
By Anya Smith-Roman
The first phase of our work was to better understand our community by learning how and where from people commute to school. In order to do this, we compiled data from our school directory, manually counted cars coming into the school early in the morning, and observed traffic patterns during our morning and afternoon carpool.
After working with our school’s registrar, we were able to take information we had gathered and develop this visual of where our families come from.
We also created a info-graphic which we sent out to the MVPS community to gain support and focus group partners for the movement. We learned that we currently have 662 cars coming into MVPS every morning. Based on estimates for the growth of our school, we should have around 770 cars by the year 2020 when our new high school building is finished being built. With this projected growth rate, it’s imperative that we act now to decrease traffic. If we successfully cut traffic down by 10% now, then we will be decreasing the number of future cars by 180 cars, decreasing pollution by 2,730 lbs of CO2, and saving 5,000 minutes of time commuting as a community (based on the average distances families currently travel from in order to get to MVPS).
Focus Group Insights
After collecting numerical data, the reMoVe10 team wanted to reach out to members of the MVPS community to better understand the MVPS carpool process from the primary users. After sending out our info-graphic, we gathered two parent/faculty focus groups to speak to where we discovered that the Lower School carpool line was more congested than the Upper School since less lower school students stay after school for sports and clubs. We then met with two fourth grade groups and two kindergarden groups in order to hear from the students about how they get to their cars in the afternoon.
Removing traffic in an area doesn’t take a revolutionary idea. There are some rather simple things that we can do as a community to decrease traffic. The key is communication and everyone getting passionate and involved in the movement.
The reMoVe10 team is partnering with Georgia Commute Options, a government funded program that promotes taking cleaner routes to school and work by providing incentives and help with finding carpool partners. Our team plans to give presentations to parent and student drivers in the upcoming weeks to get them excited and signed up with the free Georgia Commute Options app that gives members access to these benefits. We then will work with the organization to see how traffic is effected based on the number of people with the app associated with the Mount Vernon community.
The team will also explore more ways to promote alternative travel options in order to decrease the number of cars on the road. We already have a hashtag (#reMoVe10) and several blog posts on our Innovation Diploma website, and will do a deeper dive into other forms of effective mass communication techniques.
The reMoVe10 team has come a long way in the past few months (this link goes to my blog posts along the journey). As a team we had various struggles with communication along the way; people would be absent and not notify anyone as to why, people would wonder out of the work space without a reason, people would not answer texts, etc. While this was very frustrating in the moment, we grew a lot with being able to confront these situations. We had many “come to Jesus moments” where we would talk about these problems and establish a new plan, and by the end of the semester everyone was doing a much better job at communicating with only minor hiccups.
It’s really hard to call a fellow teammate out, but when doing real world work, it is a necessary uncomfortably moment. If problems aren’t addressed, then they will keep happening, and that creates an unhealthy work environment. I think one of the places I grew most as a leader on this team was by being able to facilitate these necessary conversations that no one really wanted to have.
Even in the last week leading up to our big presentation we were struggling to bring things together. We realized that there is a lot of empathy work that we could have done earlier in the process. Our focus group meetings happened back to back only a few weeks before our final deadline, and it was great that they happened, but we realized the insights we identified would have been valuable at an earlier point in time. Furthermore, there are more people that we would have liked to talk to and we should have observed carpool more often, and now we’re having to go back and make up for what we really should have done earlier in the process. The jump from researching to empathizing is often the hardest hurdle to get over in my opinion, and our team truly experienced this. It was most evident in our practice pitch we gave two days before the big presentation, that we had some gaps in our project. However, we were able to pull it all together in the final hours and shifted the focus of our presentation to highlight the great work we had done. In every project it’s easy to later identify things you wish you would have done, but that shouldn’t discredit what you did do, and I was really proud of the quality of the presentation we gave in the end. Our clients even said, “This is better that some of the presentations we hear from adults that we pay to do this kind of work!”
A big part of the purpose of our presentation was to just get the right people in the room to make connections between all of the partners we’ve been working with. We achieved this goal better than we could have planned for; there were people still talking about the possibilities our work has brought up for nearly an hour after we thanked people for coming and said we were finished with their time. These conversations made me really excited with where this project could go in the upcoming months.
Our team had originally planned on disbanding after this presentation and not working solely on this project - though we would do monthly check ins to keep up with the work. However, after the success and momentum the reMoVe10 movement gained after this presentation, we realized that we can’t stop now. The team is still in the process of figuring out who and how everyone will be involved next year, but I can guarantee the project will not die with the end of a semester.