Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, January 28, 2011

How DC universities ought to be integrating bicycling into transportation demand management

While I can't seem to find the exact provision in DC Zoning Regulations, my understanding is that colleges and universities have to update their campus plan every ten years, and submit to a public review process as part of this. (The State of Maryland requires an update every 6 years for public colleges and universities, but a direct public process for consultation with local jurisdictions isn't required, and the provisions for transportation demand management are minimal, even though some institutions go beyond the minimum requirements.)

Washcycle provides a link to Georgetown University's proposed transportation demand management plan, which was submitted as part of the update process currently underway for their campus plan.

Campus plans are one of the only areas in the DC Zoning Regulations (other than for planned unit developments) where transportation demand management is ("somewhat") required. So seeing this proposed plan is interesting, and a guide for how TDM protocols and requirements could be extended more widely to other types of land and building uses within the city.

The entry yesterday with regard to more robust requirements for bicycle accommodations in urban apartment buildings uses as guidance the five major ways that universities and colleges are supporting bicycling through the provision of bicycles. This is independent of the provision of bicycle-supportive infrastructure, programming, and support.

(I really wish I had a photo of the bike parking at the south campus dorms of the University of Maryland, as they are a clusterf***, very chaotic. Clearly not enough parking is provided. Plus, they don't provide adequate secure long term parking. Fortunately, UMD has developed and is implementing a comprehensive bicycle master plan.)

In my opinion, the best way to integrate/reintroduce college students to transportational bicycling is to provide students with bicycles. There is a lot of handwringing in Davis, California about its decline as the nation's leading bicycle jurisdiction. Davis' preeminence came with the development of the University of California campus there. Originally, car traffic was banned except on the periphery of the campus, and so biking became the predominant form of longer distance transportation. The campus has a bike shop, a bicycle planner, etc. But over time, the prevalence of biking has dropped off in Davis and other jurisdictions have surpassed the city in terms of planning and infrastructure.

Jeff Mapes, in Pedaling Revolution (review excerpt from the New York Times), surmises that the reason for the fall in bicycle usage in Davis has to do with the fact that through the 1970s, students were introduced to bicycling at a young age, and this isn't true today.

I take this idea further, suggesting that City of Davis and the University of California have tended to employ what we might call passive strategies for infrastructure and to some extent for programming (this isn't true exactly, but resources directed to promoting biking, and bicycle training have been reduced), and they have been supplanted as communities such as Portland, Berkeley (where bicycle boulevards were invented), and Minneapolis have focused on developing and implementing active strategies for the creation of infrastructure, metropolitan pathway networks, and programming, and so have surpassed Davis in terms of the actual take up and utilization of biking.

What we want are college students to bike instead of drive. Bike sharing systems don't really cut it because they are capital intensive. Bike libraries are focused on providing bicycles to occasional users, not developing battalions of transportational bicyclists--who ideally will continue to bike transportationally after college.

So the two best methods, as listed yesterday:

Ripon Velorution Project 2009
Ripon College freshman students getting their free bikes, 2009.

1. Give students a free bike (with some conditions) as a transportation demand management strategy designed to reduce automobile traffic, parking demand, and the space required to park cars (Ripon College Velorution program) As the Ripon webpage says:

Our world, including the Ripon campus and community, is increasingly susceptible to the societal ills of obesity, traffic congestion, fuel consumption and pollution. In recent years, a growing percentage of Ripon students have brought a vehicle to campus. Too often, Ripon students, faculty and staff alike use their vehicles to travel from their campus residences and offices to classes, the cafeteria and the gym. A recent statistic about American’s driving habits suggests that 50 percent of car trips in the United States are less than two miles. We all rely too much on our cars. ...

Ripon College is proud to join the velorution by providing a new custom Ripon College Red Hawks Cannondale F9 mountain bike to each first-year student who signs a pledge that he/she will not bring a vehicle to campus through the duration of the 2010-11 school year. Students also will be required to volunteer 10 hours of community service through the College's Office of Community Engagement. In doing so, these students will not only break their dependency on cars for transportation, they also will contribute meaningfully to their new home — Ripon.

2. (Discounted) bicycle rental by the term. At North Central College in Naperville, Illinois, for $30/term (the last time I checked), you can rent a bike for the entire semester, including a lock and helmet. They also provide free repairs by the campus bike shop.

These methods are direct and purposeful and are likely the best way to promote bicycle use generally and transportational biking specifically much more directly than the other methods.

Residential colleges and universities in DC should be encouraged to develop programs similar to these, at least on a pilot basis, especially in the urban core (George Washington University, Georgetown University, Howard University) as part of their campus planning updates.

Colleges and Universities outside the urban core (Catholic University, Trinity University, American University, the Mount Vernon Campus of GWU) should be encouraged to test these concepts.

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