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Report: Colleges Are Leading Forces In Reducing Driving


A recent study shows universities are among the leading forces in an effort to reduce urban driving.

The Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, or MASSPIRG, has released a report titled “A New Course.” MASSPIRG attorney Kirstie Pecci says colleges are leading forces in efforts to reduce driving.

“Colleges are especially important because they are on the cutting edge,” Pecci said. “A lot of the programs that they’ve instituted around bike sharing, car sharing and public transportation are really leading the way to get folks out of their cars and using alternative modes of transportation.”

Pecci says while the colleges themselves can offer transportation options for their staff and students, members of the millennial generation are really the ones driving the shift.

“They want very different things from their transportation system than previous generations did,” Pecci explained. “Study after study show that young people are less likely to get their driver licenses, they prefer to live in cities where they don’t have to drive and our analysis of Federal Highway Administration data shows that young people cut the number of miles they drove by a dramatic 23 percent between 2001 and 2009.”

The report is the sixth in a series of studies conducted by MASSPIRG digging into the national shift away from individual driving. The series takes a look at the causes of the trend, like access to up-to-date schedule and route information on handheld devices and the increasing availability of transit options such as car sharing and bike paths. Pecci adds today’s young people are not as driven as their parents were to hop in a car whenever they need to get somewhere.

“I also think that there’s a value judgment that’s happening and this is something that I don’t know how you could prove it,” Pecci said. “But, in talking to young people that we work with at MASSPIRG and students across the campuses, they are aware of global warming, they understand the footprint that they have, they understand their affect and I think that they are making choices a little bit differently.”

The report says colleges can improve their relationships with municipal neighbors by reducing the typical influx of traffic congestion when classes are in session. In Syracuse, the city and university have joined together to create the Connective Corridor. It’s created cohesive bus service from downtown venues to the campus and an ever-expanding bike path noted for its neon green pavement. Colleges like the University at Albany and Skidmore have partnered with regional transit authorities to offer discounted fares for students. Phineas Baxandall, author of the study, says colleges and cities share similar challenges in being taken over by car traffic and losing valuable space to parking lots.

“There are some colleges that give away bikes to freshmen who say they’re not going to bring a car to college,” Baxandall said. “There’s the University of Wisconsin which has special bike valets for people who will bike to the football game so they don’t have to have traffic jams at the football game.”

Recognizing them as small cities in their own way, Pecci says college campuses can be blueprints for city transportation planners.

“Municipalities can look at the programs that we’ve outlined in here in the report and cherry pick what works for them, for their municipalities, for their downtown and their commercial districts,” Pecci said. “And figure out how they can get as many cars off the road as possible off the road and make their communities a nicer place to home. A place that you want to walk and bike. A place that doesn’t have as much pollution or traffic congestion. The universities have already done the work, so why not take those examples are run with them.”

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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