November 14, 2007

Cornell, Ithaca Studies Alternative Transportation

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As the Cornell community expands, transportation problems pose an inevitable challenge. It was this challenge that prompted Cornell Transportation Services and the Town of Ithaca to initiate a transportation-focused Generic Environmental Impact Statement three years ago. In December, the t-GEIS team will submit the statement to Ithaca for an adequacy review and eventually for public comment.
According to the t-GEIS website, the statement was meant to “to identify, examine and evaluate the transportation-related impacts on the surrounding community of hypothetical population growth at Cornell University over the next ten years.
The website also stated that the statement will explore possible mitigations to these impacts.
The statement’s results stemmed from several sources of information, such as a geographic information system mapping system, which helped plot where faculty, staff, and students lived to provide insight into their modes of transportation.
Additionally, the team sent out a survey to a pool of about 3,000 faculty and staff members, 5,600 undergraduate students and the entire graduate and professional student population. From the compiled data, some of the most remarkable results came from the faculty and staff member group.
“One thing I found to be most interesting was how well we were already doing as a University in terms of the consciousness people had about using alternative transportation, that we were better than most institutions,” said William Wendt, director of Transportation and Mail Services. “For example, 55 percent of our faculty and staff arrived at work by single-occupant vehicles. We want to do better than that, but for an institution like Stanford or the University of Wisconsin at Madison, their ten-year year goal is to get the population down to 55 percent. There are good sustainable things to do and people recognize it.”
Faculty and staff members were also the most crucial population in the study because of their high traffic contribution, relative to other Cornell community members. According to David Lieb ’89, assistant director for public information at Transportation and Mail Services, 75 percent of the single-occupancy vehicles coming to campus were brought by a faculty or staff member, while only about 5.5 percent of undergraduates brought a car to campus.
Though members of the Cornell community might be making more conscious decisions regarding alternative transportation, another possible motivation for alternative transportation in the past has been the limited parking resources on campus and the high expense of parking permits both on and off campus.
“What makes that particularly important is that when we’re looking at what the growth of the university life is over the next 5 to 10 years, we know that the undergraduate population is slated to remain relatively stable. Most of the growth will be in faculty and staff and researchers and graduate students. [For the study] we took the worst case scenario: every new person that comes to the University will have the commuting pattern of faculty and staff. If all that happens, [we asked] ‘what do you do to prevent that from having any impact on the community and university?’” Lieb said.
Some potential ten-year transportation impact mitigation strategies outlined in the report included vanpooling, where faculty and staff members share a van from an outside contractor and alternate driving duties; regional park and ride lots, which involve a frequent shuttle between the campus and a parking lot further out in uncongested areas; and a car-sharing program that resembles car rentals, except on an hourly basis and where members own a share in the fleet of cars.
According to Jennifer Dotson, executive director of Ithaca Carshare, the company hopes to provide the car-sharing service, though it has yet to start up, due to stalled negotiations with a national carsharing company. Nevertheless, once it does launch, it does carry a lot of potential for congestion reduction.
Dotson explained that many people in the community are interested “because it means more efficient transportation, less parking pressure, more affordable ways for people to get around.”
“It provides a whole slew of options for people to basically not have to drive to work,” Dotson added.
As Wendt noted, for the Cornell and Ithaca community, hopes for this and other mitigation strategies are currently running high.
“I think President Skorton has made a commitment to climate neutrality and therefore these strategies will get a high priority from the President and senior administration, so I’m optimistic,” he said.