the last two decades, the University of Colorado has introduced
new programs to reduce environmental impacts in a variety of areas-
including transportation, energy use, water use, and waste reduction.
The university has also substantially increased its commitment
to environmental education. In most cases, the driving force has
been student demand for change and improvement. In addition, students
have continued to play a major role in managing many of these
initiatives. Following a brief review of university progress in
recycling, resource conservation, and environmental education,
this article will focus extensively on CU's transportation programs.
driving force behind many improvements on campus is the CU Environmental
Center. The Environmental Center is the nation's largest student
run environmental resource center. Started in 1970 by a group
of students who organized the first Earth Day at CU, it now has
4 permanent staff, 33 student staff and over 100 volunteers. The
Center is the focal point for efforts to make the university more
environmentally responsible. By combining the experience of permanent
staff with the enthusiasm of student activists, the Center is
able to generate a substantial force for environmental reform.
Center is primarily funded by student fees. Currently, every student
pays a fee of $3.54 per semester, which provides 70% of the$250,000
annual budget. This funding mechanism provides a substantial degree
of independence, allowing the Center to question the practices
of influential sectors of the administration and academic departments.
many cases student activists or the student government are out
front, demanding changes in campus practices or more funding for
environmental initiatives. The Center is able to provide the technical
expertise and the training in organizing techniques that allow
student efforts to succeed. At the same time, there is strong
support for environmental initiatives from some segments of the
faculty and the administration. In particular, Facilities Management
and the office of the Vice Chancellor for Administration have
played an important role in affecting change.
CU Recycling program is one of CU's best known efforts. Started
in 1976 by students at the Center, it is now operated by a joint
student-administrative partnership. Under this setup students
are responsible for operating the recycling facility, promotions
and education, and for marketing materials to outside vendors.
Facilities Management and the Housing Department are responsible
for collections. The administration invested $500,000 in a recycling
processing facility, to be paid off through avoided disposal costs.
Students invest over $100,000 annually through student fees. Decisions
are made by the Solid Waste Advisory Board, a joint student-administration
committee. While there is a certain amount of inefficiency and
many turf struggles due to the joint decision making process,
the final outcome is very effective because all the stakeholders
are involved. We are diverting 35-40% of the campus waste stream.
In 1995 the National Recycling Coalition declared the effort the
nation's "outstanding school recycling program".
conservation is an area where substantial progress has taken place
without significant student involvement. Several years ago Facilities
Management invested in a new irrigation system. The new system
uses raw water, rather than treated water; uses soil moisture
meters tied to a computer to reduce unnecessary watering; and
allows nightime watering, minimizing conflicts with lawn users
and evaporative losses.
decentralized nature of campus decision making, however, has meant
that while general fund areas of the university participate in
the new irrigation program, another part of campus, which is under
the control of the Housing department, has not yet come on line.
There are a variety of historical reasons for this, but from the
perspective of good planning it would make more sense for many
of these programs to cover the entire campus.
Management has also taken substantial steps toward making the
campus more energy efficient. The biggest single step in this
direction was the construction of a natural gas powered co-generation
facility that provides steam and electricity for the campus. Facilities
Management is currently proposing that the chancellor invest several
million dollars over the next five years to make existing buildings
environmental education at CU has been largely driven by student
demand. While CU has had an environmental studies program for
decades, the university never invested resources or provided dedicated
faculty. Starting in the late 1980's, student interest in the
program exploded, from 130 majors in 1987 to over 600 today. In
the last two years student protests demanding more resources have
convinced the administration to provide increased funding, commit
to hiring new faculty, and offer new classes. While many individual
faculty members recognized the problems with the program (in fact,
a faculty review of the program written in 1970 identified the
same problems as the students did 20 years later), no action was
taken until students made the front page marching on the president's
are many challenges still facing CU in the pursuit of a sustainable
campus. We need further improvements in energy efficiency, and
new programs to reduce use of water and hazardous materials. The
efforts to strengthen environmental studies still appear to founder
on the shoals of departmental resistance. No wide incorporation
of environmental literacy into the teaching of all departments
exists. Slowly, however, the efforts of many different constituencies,
primarily students, are paying off.
the last decade, transportation planning at CU has undergone major
changes. Through the 1980's, the general approach to increasing
traffic was to accommodate it by providing additional parking.
Today, the primary focus is on managing demand by giving students
and employees viable alternatives to automobile use. This has
come about through a convergence of three forces - pressure from
local government, active student organizing, and fiscal pressures
related to the high cost of new parking structures.
of these same forces are coming into play at other institutions.
The situation is analogous to recycling in the 1980's and early
90's, when hundreds of schools started recycling programs in response
to student demands, local and state recycling requirements, and
rising waste disposal costs.
of the CU Program
in 1990-91 the University built two new parking structures. Students
were not aware of these plans until construction started. They
formed an alternative transportation group to make sure that this
didn't happen again without student input. Then, in 1991, Bob
Whitson, head of alternative transportation for the City of Boulder,
suggested a collaborative student bus pass program. The idea received
support from UCSU (the student government), and the Vice Chancellor
for Administration. The Vice Chancellor then convened a Transportation
Advisory Committee (TAC). Since 1989 the campus master plan had
a formal transportation hierarchy- peds, bikes, transit, with
cars at the bottom. The TAC was supposed to start reflecting this
hierarchy in actual policies.
first major initiative taken by TAC was the student bus pass program.
This was a cooperative effort between the student government,
the administration, and the city. UCSU put a referendum in the
1991 student ballot. Students voted 4-1in favor of taxing themselves
$10/semester, which raised approximately$550,000/year, for a local
bus pass. The Vice Chancellor and the city Transportation Department
helped negotiate with the transit agency, and the city assisted
with initial funding.
success of the program has been remarkable. Before the passes
were issued, a survey by the Regional Transportation District
(RTD) indicated that 300,000 student bus trips took place in the
1991-92 school year. Within three years, this number grew to 900,000.
For the academic year 1996-97, preliminary numbers indicate that
we will surpass 1,500,000 student rides! Surveys conducted by
Quantum Research Associates in 1995 indicated that 42% of these
trips would have taken place in automobiles.
are several interesting aspects to the student pass program. During
initial negotiations, RTD proposed a much higher price for the
passes than was eventually agreed to. The student negotiator was
able to get the price reduced substantially. The strongest argument,
which would apply at most schools, is that students have very
different schedules than the working public. Most student trips
do not take place during peak hours, so adding students to the
system does not force the transit provider to put additional buses
on the road. Instead, students fill buses that otherwise are well
below capacity during off peak hours. Thus, a substantial number
of student riders can be absorbed at no cost to the provider,
while helping with transit agencys' biggest PR problem- empty
buses during off peak hours. This also means that the environmental
benefits are high, as the pass takes cars off the road without
increasing bus trips.
program has continued to be managed by students associated with
the Environmental Center. A side effect has been the creation
of an active student transportation group, known as the "One
Less Car Club." This organization has been very active, promoting
transportation reform on and off campus. They have helped pass
a progressive transportation master plan for the city of Boulder,
advocated for urban growth boundaries, and lobbied for increased
transit funding by the state.
the intervening years, 1991-95, the city gradually reduced its
subsidy to the pass, while working closely with the university
to create a local shuttle system, using small, friendly buses
operating at very high frequency. The initial piece was the HOP,
which started running in 1995 (the city's transit plan calls for
a network of small, friendly buses called HOP, SKIP, JUMP, LEAP
and BOUND). The HOP connects the campus to the major commercial
areas. The first year of HOP operation was funded with a federal
grant through the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency
Act (ISTEA) program. The student pass now helps fund this shuttle.
The next bus to come on line was the SKIP, which travels from
the far South to far North ends of the city. Students ride the
HOP and SKIP for free. These services are extremely popular both
because of their frequency and their friendly, student-oriented
spring students reaffirmed their support of the program by voting
16 to 1 to raise their student fees by an additional $5/semester
to expand their transit benefits. This is quite remarkable- it
is the largest margin of victory for any student vote in CU history.
The new fee helps support the HOP and the SKIP. The pass also
now includes free rides on most regional bus routes, and a heavily
discounted weekend bus running to Colorado ski areas.
the same time, in response to enormous student demand, Parking
Services increased their commitment to bicycle parking, raising
substantially the number of racks available on campus. During
this period, the number of automobile parking spaces has declined
slightly, as new buildings have been constructed over existing
can look to modal shift data to quantify the impacts of the program.
The City of Boulder Center for Policy and Program Analysis performs
a 'diary study' of travel habits every two years. In 1990, 35.9
% of all trips were on foot, 17.6% of all trips were taken by
bicycle; 18.9 % by carpool; 23.8% by single occupant vehicle (SOV);
2.3 % by dorm shuttles, and 1.5% by transit. After five years
of program operation, these numbers shifted significantly. In
1996 39.8% were on foot; 19.9% by bicycle; 18.3% by carpool, 14.6%
by SOV, 4.2% by transit, and 3.2% by dorm shuttle. Note the large
decline in SOV use, and the significant increases in walking,
biking and transit.
important issue currently being proposed is a faculty/staff bus
pass. This has been on the table for years, but remains difficult
to implement. Unlike students, there is no mechanism in place
for faculty and staff to vote to tax themselves, so the money
has to come out of existing revenue streams. The problem has been
further complicated by state benefits rules which forbid benefits
at one state institution that are not offered at all institutions.
It required two years of work by the Vice Chancellor for Administration
to get the law modified to allow transit benefits. The proposed
funding mechanism is a partnership between the city, RTD, the
University general fund, and parking services. RTD and the city
will provide initial funding, which will be phased out over several
years. Eventually the cost will be split between parking services
and the general fund.
key to making this work is the use of parking revenues. There
is essentially no free parking available on campus. Students,
faculty and staff who wish to park on campus pay a monthly fee
which covers the costs of construction, maintenance and operation
of the parking system. Note that they do not pay for the underlying
land value. Rates vary according to lot location, but a typical
value for close-in lots is $30 per month. A$5 per month parking
rate increase to support the pass has been proposed. Parking Services
now support this proposal. The basic argument is that a faculty/staff
bus pass will relieve pressure on the parking system, thus reducing
the need to construct new parking. Since there is little free
land available, any new parking spaces would require structures,
probably built over existing surface lots, at a cost per new space
of up to $15,000. Thus, providing 1,000 spaces would cost $15
million. This would require parking rate increases much higher
than $5 in order to cover bond costs. If the bus pass prevents
the need for this, then even for those drivers who have no intention
of using the bus, raising parking rates to pay for the bus pass
makes economic sense.
chancellor and board of regents will make a decision this fall
on the faculty/staff pass proposal. There is a certain amount
of opposition from staff who are opposed to the parking rate increase,
but survey results indicate that a majority of employees support
of the most difficult areas to address has been the relationship
between land use and transportation. The University has expanded
to several sites separated by distances large enough to make walking
difficult. One of these sites, remote student housing, is well
served by a shuttle bus and bicycle path. Another large research
park is very poorly served by any facility except roads. The university
recently acquired another very large site, several miles away
on the fringes of town. While there are no immediate development
plans, it is difficult to conceive of any use that will not generate
substantial traffic. Also, the university has not constructed
new student housing for many years, during a period of enrollment
growth, so more students live further away from campus than in
the past. More student housing next to main campus would make
a great deal of sense, but this conflicts with demands for space
by other university interests. Political controversy around University
land use decisions is highly charged, making rational planning
current master plan calls for creating a car free central campus,
which would close two existing roads to regular auto use. This
has been stalled since it requires removing parking currently
used by deans, department heads and other senior staff. Students
are proposing some incremental steps such as removing some of
the parking in order to create new bicycle lanes without completely
closing the streets. Facilities Management took the step of replacing
car parking along one block with bicycle racks.
an unresolved controversy is the fate of bicycle routes on campus.
As the modal study indicates, bicycles are used for thousands
of trips to campus each day, primarily by students. This creates
conflicts over use of sidewalks and bike paths. Some of these
are based upon legitimate safety concerns, and some on resistance
by some faculty and staff to sharing the walks. There are currently
no continuous legal routes across the campus, leading to many
infractions. There are proposals on the table to open up legal
routes across campus, and, on the other side, calls to follow
University of California, Berkeley's lead and close the core campus
there is a lack of communication among universities and colleges
across the nation regarding transportation demand management strategies
and programs. At most campuses there is no Transportation Demand
Management (TDM) program, no staff dedicated to alternative transportation
and no student organizing on transportation. This contrasts with
the state of recycling, where there is extensive campus infrastructure
with programs, funding, staff and student activism. In addition,
there is a substantial amount of information easily available
on successful recycling programs, sources of technical assistance,
and ready communication with other campus programs.
notable examples of successful TDM programs in the U.S. are at
Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York, and at the University
of Washington, in Seattle, Washington. Cornell has managed to
convince nearly 40% of its 9,000 faculty and staff to commute
by carpool and public transit instead of by SOVs. As a result,
the university avoids spending over $3 million a year on parking
structures and has saved at least 13 acres of campus green space.
The University of Washington, in its efforts to comply with a
city requirement not to increase campus traffic while in the process
of growing larger, has created the highly successful "U-PASS Program."
Through a combination of a transit pass system, a vanpool and
carpool program, parking rate hikes, and an excellent marketing
effort, the university has in fact reduced its number of parking
may become the campus environmental issue of the late 90's in
the same way that recycling was in the late 80's. Both issues
can mobilize students and both offer clear financial incentives
to universities. As the examples of CU and other institutions
demonstrate, there are concrete steps which can be taken toward
more sustainable transportation systems.
Toor is Director of the University of Colorado Environmental Center.
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