Read about Elyse’s thoughts and successes as a two term member:
I have been really struggling to write this blog post. After two years in Energy Corps, this will be my last post and I feel like I should give you an eloquent summary of my tenure here. However, whenever I try to write that blog post, the words don’t quite come out right, so I think that means I’m not quite ready to process my experience yet and am still a little in denial that my immediate post-college phase is over. I am now solidly in my mid-20s and the end of my Energy Corps term seems to signal the next phase of my life. As my brother, who is 14 years older, said to me at my college graduation, “You are going to spend a lot of time thinking that you have just graduated from college. And, for a little while it will be true.” Luckily, Kaleena, the Energy Corps Program Director, is good at leading us through reflection activities so I think I’ll allow myself to continue in denial until our end of service training.
Anyway, while I continue to pretend that time stands as still as the broken clock at the top of my stairs, I thought I would tell you about something that is very near to my heart: the Billings Commuter Challenge! During the Commuter Challenge, we encouraged Billings residents to bike, walk, and bus to work, school, and errands and log their trips online at mtcommuterchallenge.org. My fellow Energy Corps member Emily wrote about her experience in Helena. One thing that our communities have in common is that both are very willing to support community events and bicycle and pedestrian efforts. In Billings, we had ten amazing community businesses offer incentives ranging from 25% off to free ice cream every Tuesday and free beer every Wednesday in May. It turns out free beer and ice cream are a great way to get people to sign up for your event and many people I talked to said they signed up in order to redeem the incentives.
One thing that is always a concern is whether or not an event is having an impact or if you are simply reaching people who would already practice the behavior that you are encouraging. While I think that a large portion of our participants would actively commute without the Commuter Challenge, I have heard several stories of the Commuter Challenge having a positive effect. First of all, when May started, there seemed to be people riding bikes everywhere. That may have been a result of the good weather, but I would like to think that the Commuter Challenge had something to do with it. In addition, one of the employees at the local environmental organization said that the Commuter Challenge helped her office to quickly return to active commuting after the cold Montana winter. And for my final piece of evidence of our success: this year we offered a prize for a Standout New Commuter. The participant who won the award bought a new bike and began biking a 10 mile trip to and from work thanks to the encouragement that the Commuter Challenge gave him!
While I’m sad that I won’t be able to help organize the 2017 Commuter Challenge, I am proud about what our planning committee has been able to accomplish in the past two years and I feel confident that the amazing group of advocates who helped me to organize this month-long competition will carry on the event for several years to come.
Elyse Monat graduated from Tulane University with a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Spanish and a minor in Urban Studies. Because of her interest in sustainable transportation, she interned for IndyCog and Ride New Orleans, advocacy groups for biking and public transportation respectively. Elyse is currently serving a second year with Billings TrailNet, assisting with programs that lead to more sustainable transportation in the community.