Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

D.C.'s GOVgreen conference shows off the latest in sustainable transportation

December 1, 2011 - 11:05 AM
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(Photo: John Hendel)

"Oh wow," a suited businessman said to his fellow official-looking friends. "Look at that!"

The small group of men pointed and smiled as they walked by, their eyes locked on the bicycle folded into a tiny space that occupied perhaps a third of the size of a full bike. Philip Koopman, a managing partner for BicyclePASS and an owner of D.C.'s BicycleSPACE store, bent down to demonstrate how, in a matter of a few seconds, he could unfold the bike back to its full size, right there on the exhibition floor of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Mount Vernon. Koopman and his associates came to show how bicycles could be integrated into a businesses' operations — like, say, in the military or on airport grounds — to help employees get around more easily. Koopman told me he's especially excited for how they can tailor bicycles to the needs of different businesses and employers.

BicycleSPACE was simply one of around 180 or so exhibits on display at yesterday and today's national GOVgreen conference and exposition, sponsored by the Center for Environmental Innovation and Leadership and now in its second year. It also featured about 25 or so educational sessions. Networking is king at this gathering of hundreds in the private and public sector, where the underlying goal is how to integrate sustainable practices and technology into their operations. Transportation, of course, is a huge part of green living. The U.S. Department of Energy, after all, called oil our "greatest immediate threat to U.S. economic and national security" in a report from late September. Mayor Vince Gray has even declared this whole week to be "D.C. GOVgreen Week" in honor of the conference.

As I explored the grounds of GOVgreen, new transportation projects were everywhere.

Chocolate strawberries
Trikke. (Photo: John Hendel)

In one corner was what appeared to be a juiced-up Segway-esque model called a Trikke, an electric three-wheeled ride that travels up to 16 miles/hour. The Virginia-based company allowed anyone brave enough to ride a Trikke around the grounds, provided they signed a waiver. One of their representatives told me that, after having a stroke a year ago, the Trikke provided one of the best and easiest ways to get around. The two-mile distance between his home and church suddenly seemed like nothing. The Trikke website says that the vehicle, in addition to its use for fun and fitness, offers a certain stability for those in therapy. Photographer Joshua Yospyn gives us several photos of the ride.

Elsewhere were companies touting their electric cars and vehicles, especially for large-scale commercial use. Ford was there, showing off the Ford Focus Electric (one of five electric vehicles the car company will offer in the next couple years) and the light-duty Transit Connect Electric. The Dallas-based Electric Mobile Cars occupied some space with their vehicles, which they will be debuting commercially next month. It's only fitting, of course, that the exhibition grounds also featured the people responsible for electric-vehicle charging stations — I saw DBT offering its own pamphlets, and they've been engineering charging infrastructure for nearly two decades now.

The exhibition even addressed pedestrian issues on occasion, with an ecological paver company from Illinois making its presence known.

Although transportation only comprises one dimension of many at the ongoing GOVgreen conference, what I've seen so far is a promising start. I stopped in for one of the educational sessions and heard Dianne Shoaf of the U.S. Postal Service talking about its green initiatives and voluntary compliance with the federal government's executive order 13514, which mandates several sustainability measures throughout government agencies — in particular affecting transportation. The order hopes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 28% by 2020.

"We are not really required to comply with 13514, but we do it," Shoaf said. In front of a packed conference room, she explained how the USPS has assembled "lean green teams" and tools they've created to let employees track their sustainability progress, including how much petroleum they've consumed over a given period of time. "They can see where they rank and how everyone's doing around the country," Shoaf explained as she demonstrated what the tracking program looked like.

The conference continues throughout today. Federal and military employees can attend the educational sessions for free, and the exhibition floor is open to all at no cost.

Chocolate strawberries
(Photo: John Hendel)
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