Wednesday, February 5, 2014

New U. S. PIRG Report Shows How College Campuses are Leading the Way in New Models of Transportation

U. S. PIRG has been putting out a series of reports documenting how Americans’ travel habits of been changing – and how we in the transportation community have been slow to catch up (see my earlier posting here).  The starting point of this work is the fact that the annual increase in Vehicle Miles Traveled, which had been considered a constant, rather like the speed of light, has disappeared.  For a lot of reasons (partly the economic slowdown, but also partly demographic, social, and technological changes) both total VMT and VMT per capita are down. 
Nowhere have these changes been more pronounced than among the growing Millennial generation.  And of course many of these Millennials have emerged from (or are still on) college campuses.  The new report (A New Course:  How Innovative University Programs Are Reducing Driving on Campus and Creating New Models for Transportation, available here) takes a look at what’s been happening on campus and what we can learn from it.
As the study notes, colleges are “natural laboratories for innovation” and in the past several years many have “married long-term sustainability concerns with short-term worries over parking and congestion to inform the long-term planning process.”  These campuses have used a variety of techniques – free or reduced-fare transit, support for biking (including bikesharing), bike/ped infrastructure, ridesharing and carsharing, and “distance learning” – to provide non-Single Occupancy Vehicle transportation options for students, as well as faculty and staff.  The results, as shown in several case studies, have been significant and, the authors argue, provide value beyond the campus boundaries.  Students who have been able to move around freely without a car come to expect the same sort of mobility options when they enter the “real world” and provide an informed (and demanding) customer base for these services.  Those of us in the “provider” world can also use the lessons of college campuses to pursue more innovative strategies in cities and towns.  And in fact, as the report notes, many college towns have benefited from the impact of campus and town/gown programs. 

Although the U. S. PIRG report focuses on the transportation side, it’s worth noting that many campuses have also focused on the land use side.  When adjacent communities have lacked the “college town” amenities that students want, some colleges have taken it upon themselves to get into the development business, creating new mixed-use, walkable/bikeable “college town” environments.  (For one example, take a look at what the University of Connecticut is doing in Storrs, link here, my posting here.  For a broader, more academic look at this phenomenon, look here.)
Well done U. S. PIRG!

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