Forum looks at rethinking transportation

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Advanced technology vehicles, hybrids, electric cars, electric bicycles and a Segway set the stage at the HUB on Wednesday. More than 200 Penn Staters discussed the future of campus transportation at this year’s Environmental Forum titled “Reinventing the Wheel”. Steve Maruszewski, deputy associate vice president at the Office of Physical Plant challenged the group to rethink transportation, calling it “something that impacts all of us and more importantly is an area where we can all have an impact.”

Maruszewski’s opening remarks highlighted some key concerns about national and regional transportation:

-- “According to the International Energy Agency, the current number of cars will likely increase from 800 million to 2 billion by 2050.”

-- “Traffic fatalities are projected to rise 80 percent by 2020.” “Vehicle idling consumes 1.6 billion gallons of gas in the U.S.” “84 percent of our commuters drive a single-person vehicle to work.”

-- “More than 1,100 Penn State employees live within 1 mile of campus and still hold a parking pass.”

The University’s goals are to reduce the environmental impact of campus transport, reduce single occupancy vehicles and increase low impact options such as walking, biking and bus commuting.  Changing transportation behavior is a real challenge since most people still commute by car. Parking management reduced the number of vehicles on core campus a few years back by changing the parking rate structure. The low cost commuter rate was instrumental in shifting people from core campus parking to the campus perimeter. This success was an early step in developing sustainable transportation for University Park. It was followed by the recent transportation survey and this week’s forum to find further answers.

Teresa Davis, director of Transportation Services at Penn State briefed the attendees on the results of last year’s transportation survey. She explained alternatives currently available and the University’s plan for the future. Most faculty and staff members are already aware of the University’s 450 vehicle rental fleet, campus transit operations, bicycle plan and parking office. However, not everyone knows of the alternative options such as the Carpool/Vanpool program, Ride for Five or the Hershey Shuttle. Teresa explained that, “the whole idea behind the Ride For Five program is that a faculty/staff member may turn in their parking permit in exchange for a bus pass for any CATA route at the discounted rate of $5 a month. This has been a very successful program with 812 participants. In addition, the no-fare loop and link bus service, which connects campus to downtown, has been extremely popular."

The results of the campus-wide transportation survey have been highly useful in identifying opportunities for the future. A total of 10,709 individuals completed the survey which gathered data about a wide variety of transportation modes, not just vehicles. Penn State’s plan for intermodal transportation aims to be environmentally responsible as well as customer focused and financially sustainable. The survey revealed that graduate students are the most willing group on campus to consider alternative transportation, followed by faculty, staff and undergrads. Grad students also scored highest in the use of bicycles. Penn State has more than 700 bike racks on campus and is currently building the first stand alone, covered bike parking area at Stadium West.

The goal of the forum was to inform and inspire faculty, staff and students about transportation alternatives and find new ways to make commuting efficient. The answers are still coming in, but the search has begun. David Gray, senior vice president for the Office of Finance and Business, summed up by saying, “These are things that Penn State can take a leadership position in … if each of our students can graduate ready to build better transportation systems, through their purchasing decisions, use of public transportation and advocacy of policy change … we can bring about a reinvention of the wheel … then we at Penn State can be a happier, better and healthier place."

This was the seventh forum sponsored by the Finance and Business Environmental Stewardship Key Initiative. The Campus Sustainability Office organized the event, along with a planning committee consisting of a broad representation of members from the University Park and Altoona campuses. Participants were able to ask questions of representatives from local groups and businesses that had exhibits at the event, including CATA, Fullington, Penn State Transportation Services, Health Matters, Centre Region Bike Coalition and the Larson Transportation Institute.

 

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Last Updated October 01, 2012