Celebrating Sustainable Commuting – A Reflection on the 2020 Commute Ambassadors Program

by Alex Burns
Commute Ambassadors logo

2020 marked the first year of the Move Minneapolis commute ambassador program. While it certainly looked different than what we first envisioned, I really enjoyed leading the program and getting to know an incredible group. We had 19 people participate in our 2020 class, each of whom works downtown and commutes sustainably through a combination of walking, biking, transit, carpooling, or vanpooling. We designed the commute ambassadors’ program to empower this group to champion sustainable commuting in their workplace.  

Over the course of the program we met four times, either virtually or physically distanced outdoors. We dived in deep with a variety of topics including transit policy, environmental justice, pedestrian safety, street design, e-bikes and telework. 

Zooming with the Ambassadors

From the beginning, I could tell the group relished the opportunity to interact with others who had were also passionate about sustainable transportation. To some, it might be a little strange to hear a person talk about how much they miss their commute, but these commute ambassadors view transportation differently. It is more than just a way to get from point A to point B; they see the bigger picture. They know the joy of bike commuting on a beautiful day and why they feel so much more relaxed when they arrive to work after taking the bus as opposed to sitting through traffic. Most importantly, they understand how today’s commuting decisions impact future generations and the health of our planet. These are not things that many commuters think about, and I think this group appreciated being in a space with others who have seen the light. 

Commute ambassador Keri Iwanok of 8×8 concurred: “Personally, I enjoyed getting to know the other ambassadors first based on their preferred method of transportation, and then more deeply as the experience progressed. I now have a broader understanding of the issues that commuters face day to day. The commute ambassador program expanded my mind. I am excited to have made some connections and continue the conversations that began during the program.”  

Quentin Ikuta, a commute ambassador from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis added: “Being involved in the commute ambassadors program was an eye-opening experience. I particularly enjoyed the discussions centered around transportation infrastructure, environmental justice and policy development. The content of the program was presented in a way that inspired me to see things differently and have meaningful conversations going forward. The friendships, lunches, e-bike ride were a bonus!” 

Like Quentin, a highlight of the program for me was our electric bike ride. The ride took place along a portion of W River Parkway that was car-free at the time. The popularity of e-bikes has exploded this summer. For many of us, including myself, this was our first time riding an e-bike. The ride allowed us to experience them firsthand. Pedego Twin Cities provided the e-bikes and Bluetooth connected helmets. The e-bikes helped us to easily maneuver up and down hills without breaking a sweat and the helmets allowed us to communicate throughout the ride. We discussed all things e-bikes and their potential as an accessible, sustainable commuting solution. Above all, it was a lot of fun and I’ve been talking up e-bikes ever since, including at our September e-bike webinar. 

Ultimately, our intent with the commute ambassador program was to increase sustainable commuting to downtown Minneapolis and take cars off the road. While the pandemic in many ways has accomplished this goal for us in the short term by largely halting commuting to downtown, the commute ambassadors have begun to normalize green commuting at their workplaces and amongst their peers. This fall, the commute ambassadors took their knowledge to the next level, promoting telework and helping their coworkers participate in Car-Free MSP’s 24-hour car-free challenge. Going forward, these commute ambassadors are now equipped with new knowledge, friendships and coffee mugs to help them champion sustainable transportation options. 

This work is increasingly important. I think about this everyday as the urgency around climate change increases. Our cars are now the largest greenhouse gas emissions sector in Minnesota. The climate crisis can often feel over-whelming and it is easy to feel powerless in the effort to reduce emissions. There is no doubt that we need to transform our transportation system. Do not be mistaken, however. Our individual actions matter. We could dramatically lower emissions if more people chose to replace just one commute a week with walking, biking, transit or telework. These commute ambassadors have committed to this work and provided me with a needed reminder that a better world is possible. 

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