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Cities Take Note: University Campuses Are Providing Models for Sustainable Transportation

New report shows car-reducing programs at campuses across the U.S.

- Andrea Germanos, staff writer

UW-Madison students get discounted membership in the city’s bikeshare program, B-cycle, whose bikes are seen here. (Photo: Adam Fagen/cc/flickr)If cities across the U.S. took a few transportation cues from initiatives happening at college and university campuses across the country, we could be headed towards a more sustainable future, a new reports shows.

Released Wednesday from the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, the report, "New Course: How Innovative University Programs Are Reducing Driving on Campus and Creating New Models for Transportation Policy," details how strategies such as those that foster biking and car-sharing on campuses provide benefits that reach into the surrounding communities.

Initiatives that create less car-dependent campuses help by saving money, as land is often hard to come by land and expensive, and parking structures can be costly to construct and maintain; they help the environment by reducing car-related greenhouse gas emissions; they foster better town-campus relations by reducing seasonal high car-traffic; and they respond to the desires of Millenials, a generation the reports says is "leading a national trend toward reduced driving."

"It’s no wonder that universities are leaders in finding successful ways to make it easier for people to drive less."
—Phineas Baxandall, US PIRG Education Fund
"These efforts are saving money for universities, and improving the quality of life on campus," said Phineas Baxandall, a co-author of the report and Senior Analyst at U.S. PIRG Education Fund.

Many campuses have been fostering the use of bicycles as means of transportion by creating more biking paths, utilizing bike-sharing programs and providing sufficient bike racks.

One campus the report points to is the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which the report calls "a leader in encouraging bicycling among its students, faculty and staff," and where 22 percent of students bike to campus in good weather. For football games, UW-Madison even offers a free of charge bike-valet service. Further, the report authors write, on top of expanding bath paths and providing sheltered bike lockers and cages,

UW-Madison’s University Bicycle Resource Center, located in the middle of campus and staffed by student employees, offers cyclists free use of tools and other supplies needed for tune-ups, as well as free bicycle repair manuals and bicycle maps.

Other campuses have fostered car-reduction through carsharing and ridesharing initiatives.

As part of a University of California, Davis environmental sustainability project called goClub, goCarpool

offers a number of incentives [like free ride-matching service and discounted parking spots] that encourage students (and faculty and staff) to share rides to campus by making it cheap and more convenient, as well as providing alternatives to ensure that people are not left without easy transportation if rideshare options are not available.

"Universities have a lot in common with cities," Baxandall stated. "They must get the most value out of limited land, they are acutely aware of problems associated with being overrun by cars; and they need to focus on the tastes and aspirations of young people. It’s no wonder that universities are leaders in finding successful ways to make it easier for people to drive less."

The report states that "public decision-makers around the country should look to universities and colleges for proven, forward-thinking ways to align transportation policy with the values and behaviors of a new generation, while delivering benefits for the community today."

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