College campuses are one of the few havens left in the United States where traffic and exhaust-spewing cars are not so overwhelming. After all, remember those days of walking across the grassy quad or having a coffee in a peaceful nook with classmates and clear skies?
There are countless reasons for minimizing vehicle traffic at universities, including reduced air pollution and traffic, safety, saving land for development rather than roads and parking lots, and overall enjoyment of the academic experience for students, teachers, and staff.
At the recent Association of Commuter Transportation conference in Savannah, Georgia, Brian Shaw, director of business services and a parking guru at the University of Pennsylvania, noted some interesting steps that university planners can take to make sure traffic and parking are done correctly. He said, at the very least, campus transportation planners need to offer:
- guaranteed ride home services for contributing to a safe campus life
- “occasional-use” parking plans for people who may need to drive only when their lives have complicating factors, and
- higher incentives for carpool and vanpool parking than those that exist for driving alone.
Once a campus has these, “parking cash out” is one of the next logical options to undertake. It gives students and employees the choice of how to spend a parking subsidy. This tactic is not very common, but it places a value on parking (where there is often not enough value placed) and encourages people to think about their commuting behavior and possibly make personal changes. Parking cash out also typically results in big savings, as the young man in this video attests.
There are also great mass-transit options to explore, including free campus bus loops and local-bus connections, as well as bikeshare and rideshare, all of which can be promoted successfully and branded creatively in this day and age of social media.
The results Shaw has witnessed from his efforts at three different campuses over the course of his career include:
- At the University of Chicago, once he had buy-in from the likes of business and administrative provosts, the university life dean, and groups like the police and the athletic department, who are in involved in special-event parking and bike-parking facilities, he was able to bring the demand for parking down for the first time since World War II. By increasing the price of parking by 33 percent, he helped drive revenue up 18 percent even as sales declined by 10 percent. He added connections to the L train and commuter rail line, discounted and free parking for carpools and vanpools, and discounted gym memberships for bike riders so they could shower and change clothes. Today, amazingly, 90 percent of students don’t drive to campus.
- At Emory University in Atlanta, which is incidentally located in Druid Hills, the neighborhood made famous by the movie Driving Miss Daisy, and where traffic and access is horrible, he also made big changes. He helped begin the Cliff shuttle system, free transit passes to employees, and discounted and reserved parking for vanpools and carpools. he also introduced free occasional-use parking for bike riders and created a bike map.
- At the University of Pennsylvania, student parking demand is down 28 percent in the last two years and the school is able to meet parking demand. There has been no significant new parking since 2000, except at the medical center.
Following many of these tactics is a guaranteed path for success for university parking administrators who want to make university life a little bit more sane. Further recommendations Shaw offered include:
- Dedicated staff to market and run vanpools and help people who are considering trying such an option
- Customer service for trip planning, complaints, and questions
- Use pre-tax programs, and
- Bottom line: no free parking. It will only limit the effectiveness of all these other options.
Photo of students on campus by optikalblitz