April 24, 2006

Campaign Urges Not Driving

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“Beep, beep!” said Ned Shalanski ’06, walking around a crowded Ho Plaza last Friday inside a cardboard cutout car. Just up the hill, students covered Interim President Hunter S. Rawlings III’s parking space with mulch and potted plants.

Growing concerns about sustainable transportation and car usage fueled the cardboard car, the mulch-covered parking spot and also two campaigns to encourage faculty, staff and students to stop driving: “Park Your Permit” and “Drive Not to Drive.”

“The objective [of sustainable transportation] is to create a system of transportation that is environmentally sound and in that sense is sustainable, but which also meets the diverse needs of the Cornell community and is sustainable in the sense that they can get to work and get around,” explained Prof. Kathryn Gleason ’79, landscape architecture, and chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on Sustainable Transportation.

According to Dean Koyanagi ’90, the University’s sustainability coordinator, while many varied definitions of sustainability exist, the general idea is to meet people’s survival needs in a way that prevents negative impact on future generations.

“We’re trying to show how cars are a major annoyance on campus, and how Cornell could be a much friendlier and healthier place with alternative forms of transportation,” said Margaret Lapp ’07, who thought up the cardboard car idea and co-piloted the “vehicle” with Shalanski.

Lapp and Shalanski are students in the landscape architecture studio class that mulched Rawlings’ parking space last Friday – with his permission – to help raise awareness about sustainable transportation.

“Two thirds of our ecological footprint in this country is a result of transportation,” said Prof. Jamie Vanucchi, landscape architecture. “People develop the patterns that last for the rest of their lives between ages 18 and 24, so we want to get students thinking about these issues now.”

Vanucchi’s students worked on four areas of transportation at Cornell for their class assignments, including: an idea for an ultra-light rail transportation system, the possibility of a pedestrian-only central campus, bicycle accessibility and the role of hardscape (paved areas) and green space on campus.

The student-generated ideas have been presented to the University’s Ad Hoc Committee on Sustainable Transportation and will be included in the committee’s report to Rawlings in May.

“If you decrease car traffic you decrease the need for parking, which allows for more green space,” said Tom Brown ’06, a student in the class. “Also, if you encourage people not to drive when they don’t need to, you develop a culture where cars are used less frequently. It’s a change that happens over time.”

The Ad Hoc Committee, the Sustainability Coordinator position and the student projects are a direct result of the agreement signed by Rawlings with the Redbud Woods protesters last summer.

“After Redbud Woods there was a lot of discussion about not valuing individual parking as a campus feature,” Gleason said. “Initially we looked at student car usage, but very quickly we saw that a lot of the complexity of sustainable transportation centers on the needs of faculty and staff who commute to Cornell.”

Of about 20,000 Cornell students, only about 1,600 have parking permits. In contrast, about two thirds of the 9,300-9,400 faculty and staff hold permits, according to David Lieb ’89, grad, assistant director of Transportation Services.

A “Park Your Permit” campaign has been started by the committee to encourage permit holders to turn in their permits for a day, a week, or a month in exchange for a refund.

Gleason initially gave up her permit for a month, and then decided to give it up permanently.

“It took about five months for me to really get the feel of completely changing my routine and coming in by bus or by bike,” she said. “But surface parking for individual cars is really an easy thing for most of us to give up. It may be a challenge to think about initially, but it’s a way for an individual to make a difference and to contribute to the quality of life on campus.”

After hearing about driving reduction campaigns at other universities, Tamar Sharabi ’07, co-president of Engineers for a Sustainable World, got excited about starting a Drive Not to Drive campaign at Cornell.

“The point is to make a reduction – by carpooling, walking, taking the bus – whatever you can do to be conscious about driving,” said John Erickson ’07, who gave up driving. “While new sustainable technology is great, there’s so much we can do just by being more efficient with what we have.”

As of last night, 71 people had joined the Drive Not to Drive, which started yesterday and continues until Saturday.

As Cornell continues to grow, balancing vehicle access with demand for new buildings, green space and pedestrian/bicycle traffic is a very complicated task.

“We’re already seeing changes,” Lieb said. “There are parking areas that will become building areas as campus grows and parking moves out into the periphery and that will probably continue to happen. The University is using its most valuable land for its most valuable purposes.”

Currently, the University is involved in two separate initiatives – a Transportation-focused

Generic Environmental Impact Statement (t-GEIS) and a Master Plan – that will provide research and recommendations about how the University should proceed in the future.

“t-GEIS is looking at the University’s impact on the communities surrounding the campus,” Lieb said. “It focuses on how commuting patterns and behaviors of the Cornell population impact local communities and looks for ways to mitigate that impact.”

“The t-GEIS and the Master Plan are asking people, what are your opinions? What are your needs?” Koyanagi explained. “We need everybody’s input to understand what the right answer is. That’s where we’re at right now, collecting that data.”

While t-GEIS focuses solely on transportation, the Master Plan is a 20-30 year view of the university’s development and growth. t-GEIS will help provide background data for the transportation aspects of the Master Plan.

“No one form of transportation is going to solve the needs of the campus community,” Gleason said. “It’s going to be a diverse mix of forms of transportation that we’ll see in the future, but we need to move away from individual cars and really explore and create a more diverse set of transportation options on campus.”

Archived article by Katy Bishop
Sun Staff Writer