Getting from A to Green
Chico firm helps rural counties plan sustainable transportation
Jeff Schwein has worked nearly two decades as a transportation planner, helping rural municipalities improve thoroughfares. His particular passion is what his profession calls “mode shift”: when a driver finds the inspiration or incentive to walk, bike or ride public transit.
First in local government, then in the private sector, Schwein has drafted documents massive in scope and size. He’s often asked for a long-range view that assesses a community’s needs 10 years, sometimes 20 years, down the road.
Recently he got a ground-level appreciation of transportation planning.
Schwein, who lives and works in Chico, needed to get a new battery for his mother’s motorized scooter. She is like many elderly and disabled residents of other Northern California counties for whom his firm, Green DOT Transportation Services, has plotted accessible curbs and sidewalks. Schwein decided to experience a scooter trip himself.
He went from East Lindo Avenue to East First Avenue, where the medical supply store is located, and continued to the Chico branch of the Butte County Library.
“It was such a different perspective to me to have to navigate a crack in the sidewalk that’s over an inch and a half,” he said, “or a gap in the sidewalk where you had to go out into the street, because there was no curb ramp at the intersection. You get the perspective of people in wheelchairs, or children, trying to cross these roads without proper placement of crosswalks or a stop control for the cars.
“All of these things came to light for me when I was riding in my mom’s scooter.”
Schwein has ideas to improve traffic flow and mode shift in Chico—but, ironically, he doesn’t have contracts in his home city and county.
Green DOT focuses on local entities that lack departments or ample staff for this specialized planning. Clients span a wide geographic swatch from Crescent City to Calaveras County. Funding comes from the state through the government agencies that engage Green DOT.
“We fill a gap,” said Bryce Goldstein, one of three planners working for Schwein. “We help especially small rural agencies fulfill their requirements with the state and also plan for better communities…. We work with people, collaborate.”
Goldstein joined Green DOT around 18 months ago, soon after completing her CivicSpark fellowship with the city of Chico (see “Challenge met, work continues,” Greenways, Sept. 7, 2017). The other assistant planner—Taylor Riner, a Chico State grad—has been there almost a year. Senior Planner Stephanie Alward joined Green DOT three years ago.
Schwein’s interest in transportation planning took root after he graduated from Chico State, where he earned undergraduate and graduate degrees. He thought he’d become a watershed planner, but right out of college he was hired by the Tehama County Transportation Commission.
“It was all new to me; I didn’t know what transportation planning was,” he said, “but I fell in love with it. It was really interesting to me, really tangible—and well-funded.”
After four years with Tehama County, Schwein opened a Chico office for an engineering firm and managed a department analogous to what he’d create in 2011 with Green DOT. He coined the name to evoke the abbreviation for Department of Transportation (DoT) and attached his favorite color; that green represents sustainability is coincidental, as he’d initially selected orange—for highway work—but found “Orange Dot” in use.
In their office, an industrial loft nestled between Nantucket Home and Tin Roof Bakery on Broadway, a dry-erase board lists over a dozen projects and proposals underway.
“Obviously, we’re very in tune that people need their cars; we know that, we need our cars,” Schwein said. “So we’re not advocating for ditching cars. But we do want to focus our energy on creating a more sustainable lifestyle for communities in Northern California.”
These aren’t pipe dreams; the company’s plans get greenlit. Schwein cited three examples.
• In Orleans, a Karuk Tribe community along the Klamath River where few own cars, residents had difficultly safely traversing Highway 96 between housing and the health clinic. Green DOT developed a plan that secured a Tribal Transportation Safety grant to replace a bridge, widen a shoulder, and make road improvements to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists.
• Redding hoped to revitalize a pedestrian mall, waning in popularity, when a developer approached the city about a mixed-use building that would include affordable housing. The plan: Reopen Market Street to traffic and connect the area via protected bike lanes to another bikeway to downtown. Redding got state funding.
• The Shasta Regional Transportation Agency sought to develop a transit line along Interstate 5 between Redding and Sacramento, with a Chico connector, utilizing only electric buses. Goldstein worked intensively on this proposal, which received a state grant.
Goldstein, who finished high school in Redding after moving from Livermore, finds such success stories validating in a profession she sometimes struggles to explain to friends.
“It’s a really tangible thing to tell people about,” she explained. “When I say, ‘I’m working on a project to have a bus go from Redding to Sacramento,’ people go, ‘Oh, that’s cool.’ Whereas when I describe regional transportation plans, they’re kind of like, ‘So—what does that mean again?’
“A lot of what we do is a little less concrete…. It’s all really helpful and part of the process, but I really like transit projects.”