Ask most campus constituents about campus parking and driving and they’ll have a horror story to tell.
“People would drive around for hours and be in tears” because they couldn’t find a parking spot, says Don Walter, director of Transportation and Parking Services at the University of Georgia, which has 388 buildings on its 615-acre main campus.
His department’s adoption of transportation demand management practices—which early on included a new system for distributing campus parking permits—has led to a safer, happier and healthier campus, he notes.
According to the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida, transportation demand management (TDM) involves reducing traffic congestion and pollution by influencing changes in travel behavior.
It’s not about building or widening roads or improving signal timing, but rather increasing the passenger capacity of the transportation system by reducing the number of vehicles on the roadway during peak travel times. It’s accomplished through a variety of strategies aimed at influencing mode choice, trip frequency, trip length and route traveled. TDM programs address convenience, cost and timing of alternative modes of travel.
However, improving campus parking and traffic flow is place dependent. Not every campus can tap into a strong local mass transit system.
Following are 16 ways campuses can manage traffic and encourage alternative transportation options to become more pedestrian friendly and greener.
Campus parking practices
1. Prioritize campus parking permits. In 2002, the University of Georgia instituted a formula to assign parking permits based on the requester’s role on campus and longevity. All permit holders are guaranteed campus parking, but different groups are given priority in each lot, depending on factors such as student housing status and employee tenure. If higher-ranking customers don’t fill a lot, it will be available to lower-ranking customers.
2. Raise the rates. Drivers tend to balk, but schools have found this to be an effective tactic, particularly in discouraging freshmen from bringing cars to campus.
Mass transit options
3. Subsidize local mass transit. Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo pays a flat fee to the local transit provider that allows campus users to ride for free by just showing their ID. Funding comes from parking citation revenue. Cal Poly users now account for 60 percent of the system’s ridership.
4. Provide shuttle service. It’s a powerful no-brainer for controlling traffic. Many institutions offer free shuttle rides around campus, allowing commuter students and staff to park once and then use the shuttle from there.
Traffic flow tactics
5. Stagger class times. If everyone isn’t rushing to campus at the same time, they won’t all be trying to park at the same time. Adjusting class times also makes shuttle schedules easier to manage on large campuses.
6. Park at the edges. A popular way to cut down on congestion is to close off central areas of campus to cars. This isolates traffic flow around the perimeter of the campus, where satellite parking lots are located. In addition, it allows for a pedestrian-friendly core campus.
7. Stop through traffic during the day. For example, a university could close some or all of its gates during core business hours, only allowing service and emergency vehicles access as needed.
8. Direct traffic efficiently. Digital signage at points such as pedestrian gates and parking garages can offer campus parking instructions and availability updates. Signage can also direct traffic during events and help broadcast emergency messages when necessary.
9. Offer incentives for not driving. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Commuter Alternative Program—for those who get to campus in a way other than single-driver cars—has a number of benefits. They include discounts at participating restaurants and shops, prize drawings for items donated by local businesses, free Zipcar membership, free one-day parking permits monthly, public transportation subsidies, and free emergency rides home.
10. Cater to alternative transportation users. Car-pool incentives may include allowing those with that type of permit to park in prime locations as well as allowing participants who must drive solo occasionally to park for free.
11. Adopt and promote ride-share management tools. Administrators can encourage the use of solutions such as TripSpark, Rideshare, and the popular Uber and Lyft—for everyday usage or for during big games and other special events.
12. Bring car sharing to campus. Zipcar, Connect by Hertz, WeCar and U Car Share are all popular campus options, with many institutions subsidizing costs.
13. Offer secure spots for bikes. California Polytechnic State University has bike storage lockers at 11 locations throughout campus, including near residence halls and in the campus core. The units cost $75 for an academic year.
14. Give them away. Some institutions have experimented with providing free bikes to freshmen who promise not to bring cars to campus. Despite the initial costs, having more bikes significantly cuts down on campus cars and the parking spaces needed.
15. Lend them out. Another way to encourage bike use is to offer free rentals to anyone on campus. At the University of Tampa in Florida, for example, BikeUT encourages borrowing a bike for short leisure rides, for exercise along the Tampa Bay Riverwalk or for local errands, as well as, of course, to get across campus.
16. Set up a bike share. University at Buffalo in New York and Reddy Bikeshare unveiled 50 new branded bicycles in fall 2018 as an expansion of the UB Bikeshare program launched in 2012. For a $10 annual fee, students, faculty and staff can join the program to have access to the GPS-equipped bikes, as well as the 200 bikes in the city’s bike-share program, also run by Reddy.