Meet Thom Cerny, TDM and Climate Resilience Practice Lead

One could argue that Transportation Demand Management (TDM) deserves a more exciting name, considering it could have world-changing impacts. Creating a more balanced transportation system through the art and science of TDM is a key strategy for tackling some of our most pressing issues, including climate resilience.

Thom Cerny, Toole Design’s new TDM and Climate Resilience Practice Lead, puts it this way: “No one should be limited to a single travel choice. When we give people more options, we ease traffic congestion and empower more people to get to jobs and services — it’s a win-win!”

Thom has built a career on understanding how to change behavior at the individual level to create positive change at the global level. Read on to learn more about his journey to Toole Design and why he’s hopeful for a more resilient future.

How did you get into TDM and climate resilience?

In college, I raced road bikes for the University of Florida’s club team. As part of that, I was asked to give bike safety presentations at elementary schools. That morphed into an internship with the City of Gainesville and then a part-time job in their transportation division. I sat in a beach chair doing bike counts at the busiest intersections in Gainesville.

Young man standing next to his bike with a blue car in the background.
Thom with his bike at a University of Florida racing event circa 1985

Thanks in part to those relationships in Gainesville, I was asked to be the first bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for the Orlando Metro Area. Right after I started at Orlando, it was named the second-worst city for biking in the United States. Two years later, thanks to a lot of people working hard and lucky timing with increased bicycle and pedestrian funding, we were named “one to watch.”

After Orlando, I led TDM programs for a hospital system and then several non-profits before joining a consulting firm in the mid-nineties.

What do you hope to accomplish at Toole Design?

Change the world! In all seriousness, I believe that a mission-first company like Toole Design is ideally suited to accomplish TDM and climate resilience work. No one here is just talking the talk.

What are you proudest of in your Career so far?

I’m proud of the culture and comradery I helped to create in the process of building a TDM practice from scratch. I worked with a team where people routinely looked out for each other and helped each other out. If someone was working late to finish a task, it was common for someone else to offer to help. It’s a small thing that makes a huge difference. Team culture is more important to me than any single project.  

Thom helping to build a trail

What Big opportunities or shifts do you see coming?

One opportunity has to do with remote work and how our travel patterns have changed. A lot of people are making shorter trips, often mid-day, and staying close to their neighborhoods. We can better influence people to make those trips by walking or biking.

On the flip side, for those who are working on-site every day, many of the warehousing facilities and other major employers are located in virtual transportation deserts. These “collar communities” often provide no real options other than carpooling. We have to make these communities and workplaces more bicycle/pedestrian/transit friendly.

What Is your Favorite way to get around?

Biking. And I know this is controversial but… riding without a helmet. When I first started racing, my teammates and I would go for long rides and no one wore helmets. It felt great and, oddly, it’s one of the things I most fondly recall about my racing days. Don’t get me wrong, I know it makes sense to wear one, and helmets are much lighter and more comfortable now, but I can’t help but wonder how much requiring helmets has discouraged people from riding more.*

What Keeps you up at night?

I think about how to ensure that this influx of sustainable transportation funding will be put toward projects that actually move us in the right direction. Even positive actions like building trails or electrifying buses can have negative effects if they’re not done thoughtfully. We need to plan and prioritize based on the science of climate resiliency, not rush to cut ribbons without doing the research.

What Makes you hopeful?

I’m inspired by the commitment of everyone at Toole Design and so many people throughout the industry. A lot of very dedicated professionals truly want to see a more sustainably balanced world. That gives me hope.

"We need to plan and prioritize based on the science of climate resilience, not rush to cut ribbons without doing the research.”

* Research has shown that getting more people on bikes and designing safer streets can be more effective at increasing safety for bicyclists than enforcing helmet laws.

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