Today is World Car-Free Day, and environmentalists are encouraging everyone to walk, bike or take public transit to work or class instead of driving.
It’s the same message that many college administrators give to students at the beginning of every year. The prime motivations are often logistical (not enough parking), but it’s a cause that many students are backing for green reasons.
Want to reduce the number of cars on your campus? Here are 10 ideas:
1) Make parking spots even more scarce. If it’s easy for students to park in a warm garage in the heart of campus, then what incentive is there to wait for the bus or ride a bike? Sure, cutting down on the amount of available parking is going to anger your students in a way you have never seen them angered before. But in the end, a majority of students are going to do what’s most convenient.
2) Keep ticketing. In college, I got numerous parking tickets and was twice towed. In the two years I have covered higher education, I have gotten two tickets from local universities. To this day, I have an honest fear of parking on any campus anywhere and try to take public transportation whenever humanly possible. I can’t believe I am writing this ... but, uh, keep up the fear. It’s working!
3) Make environmentalism a way of life, not a mandate. Ordering freshmen to leave their cars at home can create an I-want-it-because-I-can’t-have-it mindset for some undergraduates while inconveniencing those who truly need a vehicle. At one of the newest residence halls at Oberlin College in Ohio, students choosing to live there agree to a sustainable and car-free lifestyle.
4) Eliminate bus fares. Remove any hurdle standing between students and public transportation. This year, Old Dominion University in Virginia paid a flat fee to the region’s mass transit system so that students, faculty and staff with a university ID can ride for free on buses, the new light rail and even a ferry that runs between Norfolk and Portsmouth.
5) Make sure your buses run on time. A big reason that students don’t like to ride the bus is that they don’t like to wait for the bus, especially in the rain and snow. Make sure that your buses run as closely to schedule as possible and aren’t dangerously overcrowded. A few schools, including Virginia Tech, have free smartphone apps that track buses and give more precise arrival time estimates.
6) Add more bike racks. Riding your bike on campus is easy. Finding a place to lock up your bike can be difficult. This summer, Virginia Tech installed more bike racks, bringing its total number of bike “parking spots” to more than 4,000. California University of Pennsylvania has also recently added more racks, and the University of Pennsylvania publishes a list of rack locations online. Many universities also remove abandoned bikes from the racks at the end of each semester to make room.
7) Make sure your campus is pedestrian- and bike-friendly. Students shouldn’t have to take their lives into their hands to get to class. Make sure busy intersections have clearly marked and functioning crosswalks, like at the University of Virginia, where many crosswalks light up as a pedestrian steps into the street. Also consider adding bike lanes and signage.
8) Start a car-sharing or bike-sharing program on campus. In the past decade, ZipCar has expanded from a few spots in Boston to more than 200 college campuses nationwide, allowing students to check out cars for a few hours or a few days if they need to venture to places buses and trains don’t go. And unlike traditional car rental programs, ZipCar is available to those under 25, and the hourly rental rate includes gas and insurance.
Some universities have also started bike-sharing programs, which allow students to inexpensively check out bicycles for a few hours or even a whole semester. Today, the George Washington University Office of Sustainability is raffling discounted memberships to Capital Bikeshare, a one-year-old Washington-area program that has more than 17,000 members.
9) Make carpooling easy. Many universities have networking Web sites where students, faculty and staff can set up carpools for daily class, weekend trips or holiday travel. Publicize these services and think about expanding them to social networks students are already using, such as Facebook. Also offer premium parking spots to those arriving in carpools.
10) Support your environmental clubs. Many student groups are working on these issues, so support them financially and verbally. After all, students are more likely to listen to their peers than administrators.
These are just 10 ideas — I know there are many, many more. Please share them in the comments section below.