Even Mr. Transit has traffic troubles

Posted: November 26, 2013

On Thanksgiving, we give thanks for friends, family, and food, but no one is particularly grateful for the traffic and transit nightmare that challenges the holiday.

Luckily for Robert M. Henry, 38, executive director of the Greater Valley Forge Transportation Management Association, a nonprofit designed to advocate a viable transit network, his family's T-day trip will be a relatively short stint on Route 309 from his home near Quakertown to his in-laws' in Horsham.

But to Henry, who leads an organization that studies, communicates, and creates transportation alternatives, Thanksgiving represents everything about a system gone wrong.

Question: Talk to me about Thanksgiving.

Answer: It's when people get a real taste of our system and what it's like. It's unfortunate, because it's a great holiday that's bringing people together and families together to celebrate just being a family, but it's the getting there [that's] the stress we all put ourselves through.

Q: When you look at the transit, what do you see?

A: What you see around the holidays is our airports are overcrowded because they haven't built the runways that can handle the new planes that have the large capacity.

Q: That's planes. What about trains?

A: We don't really have high-speed rail - so you see the aging system, where you know the breakdowns are going to happen in northern New Jersey and New York. There are probably going to be breakdowns somewhere near D.C. or Baltimore.

Q: And cars?

A: You see the capacity we have - drive to Baltimore and try to get through there during the holiday.

Q: Do you have a strategy for when you are stuck in traffic?

A: I actually have a couple of books in the car.

Q: You read? In a car? Really?

A: Well, I've been parked on the turnpike.

Q: Your organization does transit studies and communication, much of it aimed at the goal of convincing people to stop commuting via single-occupancy car.

A: All those young professionals who want to live in a walkable, dense community come back to Philadelphia.

Q: Are the 'burbs doomed?

A: I don't think they are doomed, but they can't just be the same old. I think they need to think about the community they want to be. Do they want to be a cul-de-sac, a not-connected [community where] you have to drive everywhere, or do you want to be a community where there is vibrancy?

Q: How do you like having your office in King of Prussia, a regional epicenter of traffic madness?

A: King of Prussia is much better than it used to be. On Route 202, they have one of the most advanced traffic-signal systems. It's all computerized so it changes the lights and the frequencies [based on traffic].

Q: You run your own mini-transit system - a shuttle to King of Prussia offices from Norristown and Wayne. How's it going?

A: Ridership keeps going up each month.

Q: You are Mr. Transit, so why do you live near Quakertown, condemned to a daily turnpike commute?

A: It's absolutely ironic that I'm in this position, advocating for more walkable, livable communities and I live in a community that's not.

Q: How long is your ride?

A: There's no consistency. It could be 45 minutes. It could be 90 minutes.


ROBERT M. HENRY

Title: Executive director, Greater Valley Forge Transportation Management Association

Hometown: Richland Twp., Bucks County

Family: Wife, Michelle; children, Julia, 8, Maeve, 5, Gavin, 2.

Diplomas: Cardinal Dougherty High School, De Sales University, marketing.

Resumé: Rose through association ranks. Serves on transportation organizations, nationally and locally.

Background: Grew up in Olney, riding SEPTA bus routes 18, 26, 47.


GVFTMA

Headquarters:

King of Prussia.

Business: Transportation consulting, marketing, planning and communication, shuttle bus operator.

Organization: Nonprofit.

Advocacy: Pennsylvania's infrastructure/transit bill passed last week, Norristown High Speed Line, Mont Clare Bridge on the Schuylkill River Trail for bicycles, local rail station upgrades.

2012 Revenues:

$1.65 million


MORE ONLINE

Rob Henry on avoiding annoying commutes.

inquirer.com/jobbing


jvonbergen@phillynews.com

215-854-2769

@JaneVonBergen

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