Meet our Executive Director

15 Aug

Leading the Greener paths, Executive Director Cheryl Kastrenakes

Cheryl

Q: Why is transportation important to you? 

Cheryl: It’s important because it’s a critical link to leading a productive life.  If you physically can’t travel to where you need to go you’re never going to get there–missing out on jobs, doctor’s appointments and social outings.  I’d like to see that barrier removed for more people, regardless of their mode of travel.

Q: What motivates you to want to change the way people commute? 

Cheryl:There really are just too many cars on the road.  For the sake of our environment, health and sanity we all need to drive less.  But we also need to continue to make it easier for people to make that choice.

Q: What is one of the things you like about your job?

Cheryl:  I really enjoy the diversity of the work.  I have the opportunity to interact with so many different groups; the business community, other non-profits, and all levels of government, on a variety of different projects—all to advance a mission that I feel is truly important.

Q: Ok, so let’s get to know you better… what’s your favorite food?

Cheryl:  Ice cream, pizza, chocolate and a good salad (PS: We don’t think she means all in one meal!)

Q:  What do you like to do in your free time?

Cheryl:  In my free time I like running, reading, just being outdoors, and spending time with friends and family.

Q: What is one of your favorite books?

Cheryl:  I like reading, I read a lot of fiction—I don’t think I can pick one favorite.   Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and what it says about us) was an interesting non-fiction book.  You may choose to drive differently after you read it—or at least not hunt down the “best” parking spot!

Q: What is one of your favorite movies?

Cheryl:  My favorite classic movies are The Sound of Music and The Wizard of Oz

Q: What’s your favorite app?

Cheryl:  RadarCast is a weather app that I use a lot.  I also use HopStop to help out traveling around on the NYC subways—it works great.

Q: What would you be doing if you were not working in transportation?

Cheryl:  Working in the field of epidemiology would be interesting.

Q: What is a pet peeve of yours? 

Cheryl:  Distracted and aggressive drivers!  (PS: Wow you have lots of chances to be peeved!)

Q: Do you have any interesting transportation or commuter stories?

Cheryl:  I enjoy traveling by train so I chose to travel by train for my honeymoon to Canada.  Unfortunately it was only a one way ride. Amtrak missed the stop at Metropark on the way up so they [Amtrak] flew us up to Montreal instead!

Thanks to Cheryl for sharing her thoughts with us and telling us a little about her.  As you can see, our leader is thoughtful, passionate, and committed to the mission at GMTMA.

It’s time to meet the team! (Almost)

8 Aug

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In the following weeks we will be running a series of GMTMA staff profiles interspersed with other topics. We will be talking about what we do, and what it is that GMTMA is trying to achieve.  We are excited to introduce you to the people behind all the work!

GMTMA’s goal is to promote/provide transportation choices that are designed to reduce congestion, improve mobility, increase safety, and further sustainability in the Greater Mercer TMA service area. We offer programs and services like RideProvide that helps members maintain their independence by providing a safe, reliable transportation option, NJ Smart Workplaces, Safe Routes to School, Carpool and Vanpool matching, Bike Safety, and so much more. You can see all them on our website www.gmtma.org.

Every one of our staff is different and they commute differently.  Some of us bike to work daily, some take the bus daily, some do half-bike commutes (driving to work, biking home and next day, bike to work , drive back home), some walk and some drive because they live too far and none of these options are realistic. Why are they unrealistic?  Because some streets are still not safe enough or public transit not always available where we live.

This is part of what we do here at GMTMA – working to raise awareness, improve mobility and bringing changes that are also good for us and for the environment.  In this blog we offer tips and ideas that hopefully will help improve your commute and answer some of your commuting questions. We are looking for topics that are of interest to us as commuters and create a greener environment, and we love it if we can save you from a commuting headache or two!

 We do encourage everyone to ditch the car every now and then.  You’ll see how many stories you get to tell your friends and family while commuting that way – just ask some of our staff!

Join us next week to meet our first staff member!

New Jersey Smart Workplaces

1 Aug

Do you go the extra mile to help your employees get to work? Do you sponsor programs that help reduce traffic and improve air quality? Do you offer high-quality commuter benefits, such as transit information, traffic alerts, free or low cost bus passes, strong telecommuting programs, carpooling matching, vanpool subsidies, or other services? Do you reward employees who walk or bike to work?

Then you might be qualifying for the New Jersey Smart Workplace Recognition. Greater Mercer TMA encourages you to apply (or renew your application) for the New Jersey Smart Workplaces program — click here for the online registration.

New Jersey Smart Workplaces (NJSW) recognizes and honors employers who help reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality by providing commuter benefits to employees. Employers are recognized at one of four levels of achievement: bronze, silver, gold or platinum based upon the programs offered at the worksite. The program is a voluntary partnership of participating employers, the North Jersey Transportation Planning Association and the state’s Transportation Management Associations (TMAs). Greater Mercer TMA is the program’s coordinator in Mercer and Ocean counties.

Nominations for the 2014 NJSW awards are now being accepted. NJSW awardees will be recognized at Greater Mercer TMA’s Annual Meeting in October. For more information on the program contact Aly Dyson at adyson@gmtma.org.

Smart Workplace winners are recognized and awarded every year at GMTMA’s Annual Luncheon.

See our list of 2013 Awardees.

A Penny for your…skirt?!

25 Jul

You always hear how good it is for you to get moving, how much better it is for your health to ditch the car, so today you decide to start taking a walk or bike to work, and you work on getting into your routine.  And if you are like me you are going to want to know what the impact of your new routine is.  I’ve been using and reading about a few fitness tracking apps and gadgets and here is what I’ve discovered so far.

Personally I love the Withings Pulse (yes, husband recommended).  It’s small and clips to your pocket, and it comes with a great app to track your sleep, activity, and pulse. However, (again) if you’re like me a downside might be that this small device can get lost in one of your many big bags and can’t track it down (I’ve already lost mine once).
Another option is a wrist fitness tracker – they come in many shapes and colors, some bulkier, some more or less obvious.  A negative is that most of them do not have a display and you have to keep track of your steps/activity by checking your phone app.  You can find a list of them with reviews on the Consumer Reports website (http://bit.ly/1nEIFL2).

A general downside of all these – most don’t track swimming or biking (my Withings does not).   But if  you are the “bleeding edge” type and  you want a gadget that keeps track of all activities including, cycling, swimming, jogging and other cardio activities you can reserve the new ankle band, FlyFit (full review here http://bit.ly/1rPmu3Z ).

Whatever you choose to keep track of your activity during the day you will be much more conscious about your activity and will be checking frequently to see if you reached that 10,000 steps/activity a day goal (I may not always succeed but I always try!).

And now, about the title…the last gadget I want to discuss, although unrelated to fitness tracking, is a very original one and can be called a real lifesaver when the need arises!  It solves the problem of wearing a skirt while biking (to work) – something you don’t think about sometimes until it’s too late, and something that the males among us have never had to experience.

If you have a penny or any coin, and a rubber band, then you can secure your skirt while you are biking (see the link below).  Fashion and commuting at its best! This is all over the internet but I couldn’t help but repost it because sometimes the simplest things are the best!  Thank you Johanna Holtan for sharing!

Please feel free to share some of your tips and tricks that helped you keep track of your activity.

What’s app with your commute?

18 Jul

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Did you ever hear the phrase “There’s an app for that “?  Well, it turns out the trademarked Apple phrase seems to be true in many cases.  Or at least that is what my husband says.  There’s an app and there’s a gadget too and he has tried almost all of them! When it comes to commuting, he often uses NJ Rails, Transit App, and Citymapper for his NY trip planning.  Whether you are traveling by transit, bike or car there is probably just the right app out there for you.   Here is a list of just a few of the apps available:

NJ Rails, a free app that helps you plan your trip, find the train schedule on your phone, and does not require an internet connection.  It is compatible with both Android and iOS

Transit App is a real time bus tracking app compatible with both Android and iOS.

Citymapper is a great trip planning app for NY commuters and tourists alike.  It has train, metro, or bike stations info, and also has traffic alerts. It is compatible with both Android and iOS devices.

Waze “social GPS” is a community-edited application that alerts you of traffic jams, accidents, and road hazards in real time. It can also be very helpful when you are trying to find the cheapest gas en route.  It requires an internet connection and it is compatible with both Android and iOS.

Carma is a carpooling app that matches people nearby and it is compatible with both Android and iPhone devices. The app lets you browse through rider’s profiles and pictures and see what the cost of the ride is. It has an in-app payment system and it requires you to tap “start trip” when you get in the car and “end trip” when you get off.  Carma is just getting started in our area and is used primarily for “dynamic or real time ridesharing.”  If that does not sound like something you would like to do, GMTMA also has a carpool, vanpool matching service. You can register on our website www.gmtma.org  and we will match you with commuters that live near you and have similar schedules.

Bike Maps is a free iOS compatible app with city maps, trails, mountain bike trails, urban and rural areas. It can also give you road conditions, traffic, and your location. Great for leisure time bike adventures too. Itdoes not require internet connection if you download the available maps, which could be really useful in the woods, mountains, and other areas where an internet connection might be problematic.

Spotcycle is mobile app that helps you find bike sharing locations all over the world.   Locate the nearest bike sharing station, create a bike route, share your route or find a route shared by other users. Free, and it is compatible with both Android and iOS.

Bicycle parking app is compatible with both Android and iOS and helps you find bike parking, mark where you parked your bike and share new bike parking locations with other people.  In our area GMTMA is also a great resource for locating and renting a bike locker in the following areas:  Princeton Junction, Hamilton, and Point Pleasant Rail Stations.  One of our staff members, Jerry Foster, is working on a Mercer County bike rack and lockers map.  You can see his work (in progress) by clicking here.

Google maps is also a great way to find your way around. I use it to find my around when I travel, to find tourist attractions, good places to eat (reviews are very helpful), and for other directions (like finding my way back to the hotel).

This is by no means a comprehensive list of apps.  It is just a taste of what can you find out there to make your commute and travels easier and less stressful.

Let us know what your favorite commute app is!

Bike Commuter Journal – The Art of Improvising

10 Jul

Fireflies Chris Ecgnoto

Fireflies photo by Chris Egnoto (used with permission)

Our guest blogger this week is Don Pillsbury sharing some of his cycling incidents and a great picture courtesy of his friend.

There are many benefits from cycling. Personally, what I have learned most from regularly riding my bike is the art of improvising. No matter how well you plan, it is inevitable, at some point; you will encounter a situation that requires you to “make do.” Such is the time my headlight inexplicably gave out. (Fortunately it was the peak of firefly season and the iridescent insects guided my way along the D&R Canal Towpath – it is one of my most cherished memories.)
Or riding along and having the crank/pedal fall off. (I had read about a one-legged cyclist and decided to see what it is like.) Or like getting to the office and discovering the set of clothes you distinctly remember leaving there before hand were not to be found. (That situation took some creativity.)
You can only pack a set amount of tools, spare parts, gear, and equipment.
After that, it’s a matter of keep calm and ride on – with creativity and humor.

Thank you Don! If you would like to write about your experience in a guest post, please email jfoster@gmtma.org.

 

Finding Our Greener Paths

3 Jul

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Today’s blogger is Julia Ibara, GMTMA’s newest staff member. This is the first, but certainly not the last time you will hear from Julia!

More and more people are trying to find their ways to greener paths. I am one of them and I would like to share my experience with ‘finding greener paths” as a still fairly recent immigrant (having been here now for 5 years) to the U.S. Growing up in Europe, the idea of commuting to work or school by walking, biking or taking public transit is not so much a choice as a way of life; most people don’t think twice about it because like most European countries, everyone does it. Walking to the supermarket to get groceries and the walk back is not that unusual, although sometimes I was wishing I had left buying the water for another time. And I remember taking a trolley to the farthest stop and then walking another 20 minutes each day to get to and from my job (I know that could be a challenge when you’re dressed for an office job and it’s raining or snowing).

When I arrived here I found public transport a bit more confusing than what I was used to, and there was a time when my used to the European ways put me far away from my intended destination! But overall I was struck by how many places were practically inaccessible unless you owned a car. I was also struck by the ease with which you could get anywhere if you did own a car, and how that really changed how much time you could save getting to work, how much more you could buy when shopping, and how convenient things were when you could park right next to them.

Over time I was surprised at how my perception of convenience and necessity changed, so that a 20 minute walk to the Dinky and another 15 minutes to walk to my job in Princeton became a half hour that I could “save” by driving so that I could get other things done. Everyone does it! We rush all over the place trying to cram as many things in our day as possible and try to shave minutes off every activity. But soon I came to realize that what we gain in efficiency we eventually begin to lose in terms of our health and well-being, our contributions to greener living, and our attitude towards our lives.

The challenge for us here is that we must choose a greener lifestyle as part of our daily lives and commuting, and this means a commitment that you have to think about. But as more of us do this it can become the way of life, where it’s less a conscious choice and simply the way to get around. Many communities are becoming walking and biking friendly and we should be taking advantage of that. We can all benefit from finding our greener paths.

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