Drive or Strive

There is a quiet place in the Student Union Building where some students go to eat lunch away from the crowded dining areas, get some homework done in the warm glow of sunlight flooding in through the floor-to-ceiling windows, or just zone out a little bit between classes.  But for other members of the campus community, it is a place to find shelter from the elements while waiting for a bus.  Even more important, it is a place for students and faculty to get information about university supported sustainable transportation. This place is the Boise State Transit Center.
In a time when economic and environmental issues abound, sustainable transportation has reached a new level of relevance. Boise State University has a department devoted to dealing with this complex issue: Transportation and Parking Services. Many people might think the primary responsibility of this department is to construct and maintain parking facilities, but according to Executive Director Casey Jones, the primary objective of the department is to provide access to the campus, whether it is by car, bus, bicycle, shuttle, or good old-fashioned walking.  “We serve students,” Jones said, “(so) we have to be clear on what students need and want.”  Consid)ring a 2011 Transportation and Parking Services survey found that just over half of the student population carpools, bikes, busses or walks to campus, alternative transportation is a high priority for the department.  As Jones puts it, “This is strategic and critical for us to get right.”  He went on to explain how it is “very difficult to fund parking structures… probably the most expensive way to accommodate access to campus,” and furthermore, “one third of greenhouse gasses come from motor vehicles… (So) we can play our part in meeting the university’s sustainability goals.” Facilitating alternative transportation is the best approach, he said, to addressing these issues.
Despite being related to sustainability, environmental concerns usually aren’t on the average person’s mind when they decide to utilize alternative transportation. “Things like air quality are definitely a concern for people,” Philosophy professor George Knight said, “but it’s hard to translate that abstract concern into the daily act of using a bicycle instead of a car.”  According to the aforementioned survey, 48 percent of student respondents said they use alternative transportation in order to save money.  The second most frequent response, at 33 percent, was the benefit of exercise.  For these two reasons, the university has put most of its focus on establishing and promoting a bicycle friendly campus.  Most of these efforts began in 2005.  “In 2005, the campus was really a different place,” said Professor Knight.  This is one of the reasons he created the Bicycle Congress.  Knight said, “(The Bicycle Congress) was designed to be a place where individuals can go and look at information to get started on bike commuting… to be a community engagement process… (it is) support for individuals to show it’s really not that hard.”  The Bicycle Congress webpage provides helpful information, such as ways to utilize public transportation in conjunction with bicycle commuting and maps that show optimal routes.  There are also links to a number of symposia and articles related to bike commuting posted on the page.
Bicycle commuting is so important to the university that Campus Recreation and Transportation and Parking teamed up to launch the Cycle Learning Center, located at the base of the Lincoln Parking Garage.  According to their website, since 2002, the Cycle Learning Center has been “the university’s centralized source for basic bicycle repair services, instructional clinics, and alternative transportation information.”  They provide bicycle maintenance clinics every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m.  This is an important resource, Senior Health Science major and CLC employee Clayton Wangbichler said, because the reason many people don’t ride is they might not have the knowledge or tools to keep their bikes in working condition.  But with a little knowledge and effort, a bicycle can be one of the most cost-effective and reliable modes of transportation. “Properly maintained bikes don’t break down,” according to Professor Knight.   However, maintaining and riding a bike is a commitment, said Knight.  “Do you sometimes do it just because it’s a commitment? Absolutely.  But you don’t have to develop a commitment just to get started.  And eventually you find out it’s fun.”
For those who might find cycling to be too much of commitment, however, there are other options.  The university spends roughly $100,000 a year to make it possible for students and faculty to ride the bus for free.  Furthermore, they cover about 80 percent of the $30,000 dollars required for maintaining inter-county lines, which are valuable to students who travel to campus from Caldwell, Nampa and Meridian and especially those who must travel between CWI and Boise State University.  Among the respondents to the Transportation and Parking Survey, 26 percent of students and 36 percent of staff said they utilize the bus system.  According to Casey Jones, ridership has been modestly increasing over time.
Boise State University has made many efforts over the years to provide access to and information on alternate forms of transportation. The Transit Center is a physical manifestation of this commitment to support sustainable transportation.  Despite everything the university does, however, many people won’t utilize these resources.  In the Transportation and Parking Services Survey, 21 percent of both students and teachers said, “No benefits would encourage me to try an alternative” to driving alone.  Still, many more will reap the benefits of alternate transportation. According to, “carpooling, using public transportation, walking, or bicycling—only one day a week for a year—can save the typical commuter more than 1,200 miles on their vehicle and hundreds of dollars in total driving costs.”  For people looking to save a buck or save the environment, it’s easy to get started.

About the author  ⁄ ammonrainey