It has taken the United States more than half a century to begin to question the wisdom of a strongly car-dependent transportation system (Olringer 1992). Most university transportation systems are fully embedded in this system and thus are ever more car dependent. As enrollments increase, car travel rises, as does the demand for more roads and more parking facilities. At Penn State approximately 90% of the employees drive to work. In aggregate, these employees commute more than 100,000 miles each workday. Fifteen acres of land have been paved for parking in just the last 12 years.
Instead of relying on sprawling, inefficient, car-dependent transportation systems, universities could play a catalytic role in creating tight, compact patterns of land settlement and attractive alternatives to car transit. Such measures might include the following:
Move vehicle parking to the perimeter of the campus, using public transit to shuttle individuals to and from their destinations.
Create efficient and safe networks of bike paths throughout the campus.
Promote “traffic calming” measures (e.g., narrow existing roads, lower and enforce speed limits, and grant right-of-way to pedestrians and bicyclists).
Create incentive packages aimed at reducing the number of vehicles operated by university students and staff.
Conduct (in collaboration with state transportation institutes) cost–benefit studies on public transportation alternatives, and appeal to state governments for support of sustainable public transportation systems.
Some universities are already pursuing sustainable solutions to transportation problems. For example, Cornell University, when faced with a shortfall of 2,500 parking spaces in the early 1990s, devised other ways to get faculty and staff to and from work. Cornell created a package of alternatives to single-occupant commuter vehicles and is now not only saving about $3 million a year but also reaping the beneficial environmental effects of 10 million fewer car miles traveled to and from the school each year (National Wildlife Federation 1998).
In sum, it is time for universities to use their expertise and vision to create communities with fewer rather than more roads, develop better public transportation, enforce urban growth boundaries, protect open space, and build vibrant, people-friendly town centers that encourage walking and biking.