Jenna Fortunati, the research marketing manager at transit think tank Mobility Lab, is our latest One-on-One victim. She discusses how she became a transit nut, three relatively easy things she would do to make Metro a little better and Fred Flintstone’s commuting options from his cave to the quarry.
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Name: Jenna Fortunati
Betcha Didn’t Know: She’s graduating Sunday (congrats!) from American University with a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies: Communications, Law, Economics and Government. She’s originally from Milford, Conn., and currently lives in Washington, DC.
I didn’t watch “The Flintstones” growing up, so I outsourced this one to the whole Mobility Lab team: TDM starts in your cave. How are you going to get to the quarry that morning? How many choices do you have? TDM is all about expanding people’s transportation choices by using the infrastructure that currently exists in more sustainable, efficient, and equitable ways.
2. Your bio says you’re passionate about transportation. Why?
I’ve always been fascinated with subway systems and the built environment (my first tattoo will be a Lego brick) but I didn’t realize how suburban sprawl negatively impacted my life until my family moved from a cul-de-sac to a walkable, mixed-use neighborhood with transit. All of a sudden my mobility wasn’t dependent on anybody; I could take myself wherever I needed to go. And it wasn’t just my quality of life that improved: my mom became really involved in community issues and was elected to our city council. When we lived on the cul-de-sac, we all felt really isolated from our community. Living in a walkable area completely changed that.
Moving to DC for college ramped up my transportation passion. As I learned more about transportation, I realized that reliable, affordable, and convenient public transportation and safe, connected bike networks can make regions equitable and sustainable.
3. In addition to Mobility Lab, you’ve worked for a number of transit-related organizations (Eno Center for Transportation, a lobbying firm for transportation-construction firms, etc.). What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about transit behavior in DC and why?
People’s hatred of Metro. Yes Metro truly sucked for awhile—I work downtown on the weekends, so I’m no stranger to 28-minute headways on the Red Line. It’s getting better, yet people still hold on to this narrative that Metro is a joke. I don’t believe that perpetuating that misconception is going to fix Metro. What could fix Metro is a collective recognizing that reliable public transportation is a social good that we need to care about, regardless of how it’s funded.
4. What’s the most important thing you’re currently working on?
Releasing the TDM Return on Investment calculator. It’s a tool that will let cities and towns across the country calculate how much money is generated by implementing certain TDM programs. For example, for every $1 spent on TDM programs in Arlington, $9 are made back. We’ll be running a lot of articles about ROI before it’s released in a few months, so check out our website.
5. You’ve lived near New York as well as DC. What are the similarities and differences between the New York subway and DC Metro?
I actually haven’t lived in New York before (the NYC Office of Federal Affairs is located here in DC) but growing up in Connecticut meant I got to visit the city a lot. The biggest difference between the New York subway and the DC Metro is age! The biggest similarity is that both systems’ branding is integral to their city’s overall branding—the subway is a key component of New York’s culture, and Metro’s logo is usually featured in any DC photo montage (the mural in the TJ Maxx at Friendship Heights is a good example).
6. What’s your favorite thing to listen to while on mass transit and why?
Anything by/with Jack White. He’s amazing.
7. How do you get to and from work, and what’s your commute time?
Because of American University’s UPass program, I ride Metro for free, which is amazing! I walk to the nearest Metro station with my roommate (and best friend) Chika and we ride together. The walk adds about 15 minutes to our commute but we love starting the day with a walk instead of taking the bus to the station. In all, it takes about 45 minutes to get to work.
8. In your opinion, what are the three easiest things Metro could do to improve the commuting experience?
- Install cheap GPS’s in buses to provide more accurate real-time arrival info.
- Get better at social media. Actually engage with riders and use videos and pictures to spotlight commuters who are rocking their commute.
- Add or move the signs on platforms that indicate which exit goes to which intersection to the middle of the platforms. It stinks to walk all the way to the end of the platform only to realize that the exit you want to use is at the other end.
9. Several months ago, WMATA opened The M Store, which sells Metro-related merchandise and apparel. If I gave you $100, what would you buy there and why?
The Metro map shower curtain, a Metro map mug to replace the one I accidentally smashed my freshman year (RIP), and one of the T-shirts that say traffic is lame (because it is).
10. We’ll give you three items to survive three hours while stuck in a freak May blizzard (think Carmaggedon Part 2). What are those three items and why? (Assume you have plenty of food, water and the restroom isn’t a problem.)
11. And in the same scenario, you’re stuck with one person. Who would that person be and why?
My other roommate/best friend Fatima because she also loves bean dip.