Tag Archives: Public Behavior

On Free Will, Morality and Transportation Infrastructure

A recent Streetsblog Network post on “How Infrastructure Shapes the Way We Move”  started a spirited discussion on a social psychology construct and its relationship to the way we view transportation infrastructure and its use by others.

The fundamental attribution error, according to blogger Michael D.  refers to “the tendency for people to over-attribute the behavior of others to personality or disposition and to neglect substantial contributions of environmental or situational factors.  Thus, the fundamental attribution error in transportation choice: You choose driving over transit because transit serves your needs poorly, but Joe Straphanger takes transit because he’s the kind of person who takes transit. This is the sort of trap we find ourselves in when considering how to fund transportation, be it transit, cycling, walking or driving”.  “But”, he says, “that infrastructure itself and the services provided on it are a strong influence on the transportation choices people make.”

In other words, as one commenter put it,  “If you build it, they will come.  More lanes = more cars. Less lanes = less cars …… More bike lanes/routes = more cyclists. Less bike lanes/routes = less cyclists”.

Another commenter suggested that  The Onion explains the social behavior theory better than any academic blog post:
Report: 98 Percent Of U.S. Commuters Favor Public Transportation For Others    –  “With traffic congestion, pollution, and oil shortages all getting worse, now is the time to shift to affordable, efficient public transportation,” APTA director Howard Collier said. “Fortunately, as this report shows, Americans have finally recognized the need for everyone else to do exactly that.”

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“Skip the Bag, Save the River”: How D.C. Succeeded Where Seattle Failed

no. of plastic bags used in the U.S. every 5 seconds

Depicts 60,000 plastic bags, the number used in the U.S. every 5 seconds, from Chris Jordan "Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait"

Beginning January 1, 2010, District of Columbia businesses that sell food or alcohol must charge consumers 5 cents for each disposable paper or plastic carryout bag. The business keeps 1 cent, or 2 cents if it offers a rebate when customers bring their own bag. The remaining 3 or 4 cents go to the new Anacostia River Protection Fund, which will use it to provide reusable bags, educate the public about litter, and clean up the river.

Although other cities have banned plastic bags or required recycling, D.C’s law is the first of its kind in a major American city.  In 2007 San Francisco banned plastic bags and Oakland and Malibu soon followed.  But in Seattle, an effort to impose a 20 cent fee on plastic bags failed to pass a referendum, and in NYC, Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal for a 5 cent fee went nowhere.  Mexico City enacted a ban on thin plastic carry bags last year.

So how did D.C. manage this environmentalism first?  According The Oregonian, D.C. council member Tommy Wells followed two basic strategies: First, focus the debate on a specific problem – in this case pollution of the Anacostia River – rather than the general environmental issue. Second, include incentives for businesses, which might oppose measures that alienate customers or raise costs – hence the 1 cent holdback for businesses’ administrative costs in collecting the bag fee.

 The District promoted the program using the campaign Skip the Bag, Save the River,” referring to the heavily polluted Anacostia River.  The D.C. Department of the Environment found in a 2008 study that 47 percent of the trash in the Anacostia’s tributaries and 21 percent in the river itself was plastic bags.  Bags clog stormwater drains, get caught in vegetation, and harm aquatic wildlife. 

China banned ultrathin plastic bags in 2008 and also prohibited all stores from giving out free plastic bags, to save the millions of barrels of petroleum used to produce them and mountains of trash they become.  China joined Ireland, Uganda, South Africa, Russia, and Hong Kong, according to TreeHugger.com.

Lawmakers in Virginia  are considering measures similar to the D.C. bill. Could Syracuse or Onondaga County possibly become the first locality in New York State to enact this “green” and relatively inexpensive measure to save energy, reduce waste, and improve the environment?

The Fun Theory

Governing.com points out that while the website Thefuntheory.com is a public relations initiative of Volkswagen, it has a lot of applicability for government and other agencies trying to change people’s behavior in order to, for instance, reduce energy usage or encourage recycling. 

The site is “dedicated to the thought that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better.”  To provide evidence for the theory, The Fun Theory Award will recognize the best ideas for changing people’s behavior for the better through fun ideas and inventions.

piano-stairs-main

Many governments, businesses and organizations already use contests and other creative ploys in order to find smarter ways to do business or to solve nagging problems.  Can we come up with some creative, fun ways to encourage more Green behavior in Central New York?