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Durham gets $1 million to find alternatives to driving downtown

Durham is getting $1 million to find ways to keep you from driving your car downtown so much.

The city is one of nine in the United States to receive a Mayor’s Challenge Bloomberg grant.

It was previously among 35 cities, including Cary, that received smaller grants for being “Champion Cities” in Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge.

In February, the city received $100,000 to test ideas for getting people to change their transportation habits. Mayor Steve Schewel said then that they are “really trying to figure out how to have successful multimodal transportation. We don’t want to have a city that’s car dependent.”

Transportation Director Terry Bellamy said Friday that Durham used the first grant to look at how it could change travel patterns and travel behavior, with help from the Center for Advanced Hindsight at Duke University. Bellamy said they tested two strategies: a planning tool that created a personalized route and map; and a GoDurham bus lottery where riders could win money for riding the bus.

The planning tool helped commuters figure out how to get downtown from their house without taking their car. Instead they could carpool, ride a bike, ride a GoDurham bus, walk or a combination of methods.

Bellamy said they’ll use the $1 million over the next two years to expand on the same two strategies.

“Many people drive downtown, and their cars sit there all day,” he said. Changing their transportation even one or two days a week could begin to make a difference.

Bellamy said people’s travel’s habits are tied to where they were raised.

“If you were raised in Southern states, there wasn’t a lot of transit available. in urban cities, [public transit] is how you got around,” he said. “The thing about transit is it has to be competitive to the car. ... We’re going after that new generation who want to have options to be mobile.”

One new option coming to Durham in early 2019 is electric scooters. The Durham City Council just approved regulations, and scooter companies like Bird and Lime can apply for permits later this fall.

Bellamy said the transportation department will present its five-year transit plan update to the council in December.

The Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge grant changed its plan from awarding four $1 million grants and a final $5 million grant to nine $1 million grants instead. According to Bloomberg Philanthropies, the results from the six-month “test and learn” phase were so promising they decided to invest in nine ideas that tackle urgent issues.

This isn’t Durham’s only Bloomberg Philanthropies grant. The city is in year two of a three-year, $1.2 million grant for the Innovation Team, known as i-team.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563, @dawnbvaughan
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