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Transportation challenge
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Transportation challenge

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Approximately 32% of the 30,000 or so students and employees who show up at Oregon State University each weekday do so in single-occupancy vehicles.

How big a problem is this?

Well, if the university is unable to persuade folks to use other transportation modes the future looks kind of bleak. Even with the flat to modest enrollment growth the university has seen in recent years the no-change model looks like this:

• More than 1,600 new parking spaces needed at a cost of between $16 million (surface lots) and $100 million (a garage).

• A 22% increase in carbon dioxide emissions.

• Open space losses to parking from 1.6 acres to as many as 16 acres.

That’s why the university has embarked on a transportation demand management plan involving campus transportation and planning officials as well as consultants.

The project began in March, said Meredith Williams, transportation services director, with completion set for next spring.

The goal, Williams said, is to “reduce traffic and parking demand by distributing trips across many transportation modes.”

That means OSU needs to convince more folks to come to campus via walking, biking, public transit or car-pooling.

The project work between now and spring will focus on determining which strategies might get the university there and how much they might cost.

Overriding goal

“Reducing single-occupancy vehicle trips, that’s our North Star goal,” Williams said. “What percentage we get to we’re still evaluating, and we want to be realistic. Can we afford these strategies? Will people change their behavior? And how long would it take to notice the change?”

Currently, 31% percent of individuals walk to campus, 20% ride a bike, 8% come via car pool or van pool and 7% use public transit.

Williams and her team conducted a mapping exercise using the addresses of students and staffers to get a grasp on how much improvement was possible.

“Are there even other options for these people?" asked Williams of the intent of the drill.

They used as parameters living within 0.5 miles of campus for walkers, within 2.5 miles (and not on a 3% hill) for cyclists, 0.25 miles from a transit stop with high route frequency and clusters of potential car-poolers up to 5 miles away.

“We’re looking at this on the basis of every trip matters,” Williams said. “If someone changes their behavior, that makes a difference. It’s really exciting to see that we don’t have to make massive changes to get results. And we were pretty conservative with the numbers.”

OSU ran another model in an effort to reduce the number of people coming to campus in single-occupancy vehicles to 20%. Moderate increases in bike, transit and car pools would do it, with the outcome being a surplus of 849 parking spaces, a reduction in CO2 of 25% and 8.5 acres of land being freed up for other uses.

Williams said it wasn’t clear how much the walking percentage might go up, because there is kind of a red line at 0.5 miles from campus beyond which folks just won’t use the shoe leather.

Williams, did note, however, that the walking percentage might change with the opening for fall 2020 of the 675-bedroom Washington Yards project at Seventh Street and Western Boulevard.

Washington Yards, says Google Maps, is 0.7 miles from the Memorial Union.

“We want to put our energy and money into good investments,” Williams said. “We have some money to implement strategies and we’re just entering the state in which we will figure out spending. But if we don’t have to invest in more parking that leaves more money for other things.”

Outreach planned

The project team already held one on-campus workshop, which included an OSU transportation demand plan board game. An event seeking feedback from students is tentatively set for January, with a community-wide event possible for February.

Williams and her project team made its city of Corvallis debut Nov. 12 at a meeting of the Imagine Corvallis Action Network Advisory Board.

Board member Paul Odenthal, OSU’s senior associate vice president for administration, introduced the project team and said that “we await others to join with us and partner with us.”

Odenthal also noted that the planning effort “will have benefits on and off-campus.”

Corvallis Mayor Biff Traber, who chairs the ICAN board, agreed, noting that OSU’s faculty, staff and students equals half of the city population.

Board members expressed enthusiasm, both for the project and the idea of a joint city-OSU public session. Such a meeting dovetails nicely with the ICAN calendar, which calls for community gatherings called SOLVE, for solution-oriented learning and visioning event.

ICAN held one in May on emergency preparedness and has been planning one on consumption, but ICAN board member Rena Chen, who spearheads the organization of SOLVE sessions, said the consumption forum could be slotted into a later spot on the calendar.

“Could this be a SOLVE event?” Traber asked. “It does seem to fit.”

Williams noted that OSU’s transportation demand management objectives match up well with ICAN’s goals.

ICAN board member and Ward 8 Councilor Ed Junkins encouraged OSU to work with groups such as the city Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board.

“Make it THEIR plan,” he said.

The parking puzzle

Parking remains a big talking point throughout the community. The city and the university worked for three years on a collaborative process to address neighborhood planning, livability and parking/transportation issues. The two entities came away from the project promising to implement new parking strategies, with the goal of reducing parking in the neighborhoods by those commuting to OSU.

OSU instituted a tiered pricing system oin the fall of 2014 designed to encourage motorists to park near Reser Stadium rather than in the more-congested campus core. The city went through a lengthy public process that led to a plan passed by the City Council that would have added to the three existing parking districts by essentially ringing the campus with them. However, a petition drive put the issue on the ballot and voters rejected the proposed districts by a 60% to 40% margin in Nov. 2014

“We want to provide adequate parking, but we also want to develop strategies that lower parking demand,” Williams said.

“If we aren’t investing in surface parking lots of garages that helps preserve open space. If we can invest in TDM and lower traffic and parking demand that would allow land to be used for purposes closer to our essential mission of education and research.”

After the public outreach sessions OSU will discuss the strategies that it wants to move forward with and, Williams said, “we’ll bring it to the executive leadership team in spring. We’ll need their support.”

“We’re hoping that people get excited about this,” she said. “We see an opportunity to do some good things and to provide a community benefit.”

Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@gazettetimes.com or 541-812-6116. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.

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