Blue Devil of the Week: Championing Alternative Transportation

As Duke’s transportation outreach coordinator, Matthew Cushing connects employees and students with new commutes

Matthew Cushing rides a bike as part of his daily commute. Photo by Jonathan Black.
Matthew Cushing rides a bike as part of his daily commute. Photo by Jonathan Black.

Name: Matthew Cushing

Position: Transportation Demand Management Outreach Coordinator, Duke Parking and Transportation Services

Time at Duke: One year

What he does at Duke: Cushing is the cheerleader and expert on alternative transportation, which includes biking, walking, carpooling and taking public transportation. 

About once a week, he attends new employee orientation sessions at the University or Health System to pitch ways to get to work other than driving alone and explains the programs and perks available to community members. 

“I’m there to make people more comfortable with their options,” he said. 

Cushing collaborates with departments on events throughout the year. In May, he worked with Healthy Duke and Sustainable Duke to bring Durham Bike Month events to campus. He organized a breakfast where students and employees got bikes inspected and minor work done at no charge. 

Employees can also meet one-on-one with Cushing to help set up their own alternative commuting plan. 

“This region presents an interesting challenge in that it’s not very centralized,” Cushing said. “You have Durham, Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Cary and all these other towns. It can be tough figuring out how to navigate around them on your own. That’s what I’m here for.”

How he gets to work: Cushing, who lives in Chapel Hill, rides his bike to a bus stop near the University of North Carolina. He loads his bike on GoTriangle Bus 405 and rides the bus to Erwin Road. From there, he bikes to his office inside Science Drive Garage.

His bike commute is often a favorite part of his day.

“One thing that shocked me when I started biking was how much more connected to your neighborhood you feel,” he said. “You’re seeing people in their yards, you’re smelling them grilling outside.” 

What he loves about Duke: Cushing loves how Duke collaborates with Triangle organizations to encourage alternative transportation with special programs. For example, eligible employees receive unlimited bus rides with a GoPass for $25 a year. Employees and students also get half price rides on Lime and Spin, two dockless bike share programs. 

“I find that we can work with the community to provide the best services we can,” Cushing said. 

A memorable day at work: Last September, Duke Parking and Transportation Services partnered with Sustainable Duke to bring a Pop-Up Bike Shop to East Campus. Cushing was happy with how the day turned out but was even more excited about what happened after.

Sustainable Duke’s Green Devils, a student group focused on sustainability, decided to organize a second pop-up shop in February.

“I’ve been really impressed that these students have taken my idea and pushed it further,” Cushing said. “It really shows the passion that’s on Duke’s campus.”

First-ever job: When Cushing was 17 he became a swim instructor for children’s summer camps at the Levine Jewish Community in Charlotte. He described himself as an “adequate” swimmer at the time. 

“I knew how to swim, but I didn’t know any strokes,” he said. “I feel like I ended up learning as much as the kids.”  

Special object in his workplace: Rarely leaving Cushing’s side is a pannier, a waterproof bag that can be used as a backpack and attaches to the side of his bike. In the bag are tire pumps, gloves and waterproof jacket and pants. 

“It’s the equivalent of a car trunk for me,” Cushing said. “Without it, I get antsy.” 

Best advice received: To be an expert at something you have to first be a novice.

“When you’re doing something new and it feels challenging, realize that somebody who does it well probably felt hopeless at some point,” Cushing said. “Struggling shouldn’t be a reason to not do it. “

Something most people don’t know about him: Cushing earned a Master of Arts in Philosophy from the University of Toledo in 2014. His thesis, “Between biology and sociality: an evolutionary perspective on linguistic modularity,” examined how the brain develops language. 

“There’s this notion that humans can use language and others cannot because we have part of our brain that is specifically language-related,” he said. “I was trying to piece together how this growth happened.” 

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