Life is car-free for Todd Boulanger

July 26th, 2011  |  by  |  Published in People  |  1 Comment

Todd Boulanger on road past sand dunes

In Liwa, Abu Dhabi

Career: Transportation planner
UH degree: MURP ’95 Mānoa
Childhood: Grew up in Europe, the Caribbean, Middle East and various United States; graduated from high school in Morristown, N.J.
Serendipity: Evacuated to Hawaiʻi with other Peace Corps volunteers following a kidnapping in the Philippines, he was offered an opportunity to work on Water Resources Research Center rainwater catchment projects by Professor of Engineering Yu-si Fok if accepted for graduate school
Home: Vancouver, Wash.
Corporate involvement: Longtime director of Long Beach–based Bikestation (aka Mobis), which provides and designs bicycle parking hubs throughout the United States
First bike: A blue balloon-tired bike with fenders and coaster brake acquired at age 4
Favorite kid bike: The Raleigh Chopper 3-speed he rode in London

Ironically, it was a nine month assignment in a developing nation that put Todd Boulanger back behind the wheel.

His life without a car began in the Philippines, where he served in the Peace Corps, which had a policy against volunteers driving there. He got used to not driving and began walking, biking and taking transit. On his return to the United States he found it made financial sense as well.

After completing the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s urban and regional planning program and going to work as a transportation planner/engineer focusing on multimodal facilities, he decided to remain car-free for the health benefits and as a professional experiment on living with alternate mobility options.

Boulanger recently spent nine months in the United Arab Emirates with national transportation firm Alta Planning + Design, managing the Abu Dhabi Department of Transportation Pedestrian Safety Action Plan. His father worked many years in Dubai, so he had lived in UAE during high school. “It had changed a lot in 25 years,” he observes.

speedometer showing 166 kilometers per hour

Clocking 103 miles per hour at an informal rural pedestrian crossing

The UAE has one of the highest pedestrian fatality rates in the world, but its situation is not so different from other emerging economies, especially those with urban areas experiencing rapid growth in private car ownership, he says.

“There are a lot of novice drivers driving powerful cars on long flat arterials through urban neighborhoods that have many pedestrians without very good pedestrian crossing points or sidewalks.” The United States went thorough similar issues in the 1920s and 1930s, he points out.

Boulanger worked on plan that reviewed three years of pedestrian crash data for the emirate and identified the top 150 blackspots (locations with a high concentrations of traffic accidents) for pedestrian injuries/fatalities.

The final report proposed engineering solutions for the critical locations. He says there were incremental improvements over the year, especially in police traffic enforcement, but the overall plan was pending council approval before implementation and funding.

Given the bicycling unfriendly environment and the need to travel to many remote settlements with crash sites in the emirate, the Abu Dhabi assignment accounted for the most driving Boulanger has done in 22 years.

Back at work with Wallis Engineering, which works with small cities in the Portland, Ore., region on street and transportation plans, he is back in the saddle as well. Distance and time determines which bike he rides, and he has a variety to choose from.

For the shopping trips or deliveries to his girlfriend’s wine bar, he uses a Bakfiets freight bike designed to carry three children. If he needs to use transit, catch a plane or get to the Zipcar (a neighborhood by-the-hour rental car), he uses his folding Brompton that can fit in the trunk or through the airport x-ray machine as a carryon. He rides an old Dutch single speed lady’s bike to work and, on the weekends, his Schwinn touring bike or single speed Lemond bike for camping trips.

Whatever the bike, he urges bike riders to use lights (“It is important to be seen to avoid crashes”) and drivers, to slow down and pay attention. He recommends living near your work site, even if it costs more, since the savings in time and stress should make up for it.

“Sadly, in Honolulu, with adults having to work several jobs, affordable housing located far away from town and distant private schools adding to the traffic jams, I think it is really tough to work on these issues on Oʻahu,” he says. “We will see if light rail changes the game.”

When asked if not owning a car has cramped his lifestyle, he responds with a quick negative and a question of his own: “Does not owning a private airplane reduce your vacation trips or travel?”

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  1. mitch says:

    July 30th, 2011at 7:47 pm(#)

    I also live in the philippines now and have not had a car for 3.5 years here in manila. Before manila, i lived in manhattan, NY, for 10 years and did not own a car.

    in new york city, i pitied the people who owned cars.

    I lived in Honolulu and Hilo from 1987 to 1997 and it was impossible for me, someone who values their time, not to own a car or motorcycle. relying on the bus, back then, was too frustrating.

    anyone who values their life will not ride bicycles in honolulu either, as the hawaii drivers don’t care about bikers. i have the hospital bills to prove it.

    I would have gladly given up a car in honolulu IF only the busses ran more frequently and at least 20 hours if not around the clock.

    i don’t think honolulu needs the light rail. better to spend more money on more buses, and more bike lanes. The buses may go empty for a while until people give up their cars. car dealers in hawaii will oppose promoting buses and bike lanes and continue to run bikers of the road.

    i love living without a car. even after my first baby comes this november, i am determined not to buy a car and cave in to my wife crying for a car, an SUV no less. My kid will walk to nursery school like his grandparents did! :) and then he’ll take a jeepney or the light rail when he needs to go further out like his father does..