Transportation Demand Management (TDM) as an Opportunity to Improve
Town-Gown Relations

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Discover more of Spense Havlick's thinking on TDM in his book Mitigating the Campus Parking Problem.

Issues of parking and traffic congestion in neighborhoods near campus have long been a sore spot between campus officials and the surrounding community. Yet, for this same reason, an investment in information-sharing and collaborative planning to address transportation issues can build (or rebuild) bridges between campus officials and municipal planning authorities.

Here’s one recent example.

Learning from a Success Story: A $7.4 Million Collaboration

On the edge of the University of Colorado Boulder campus, you can find one of the most complex bus/bicycle/auto/pedestrian intersections in the Denver Regional Transportation District service area. The intersection involves Colorado State Highway 93 (28,000 vehicles per day), the University of Colorado main campus (32,000 students), multiple bike paths, and 16 different transit routes (involving both regional and city buses and campus shuttles). A history of bike, car, and pedestrian collisions has given the intersection an especially onerous reputation.

As part of a field exercise at an Academic Impressions conference in 2007, participating transportation officials from postsecondary institutions around the country observed the intersection and proposed alternative plans for redesigning the intersection for safety and efficiency across all modes of transportation. Their ideas were then presented to local campus and city planners.

Today, construction is proceeding on a $7.4 million underpass for cyclists and pedestrians. The project has required collaborative planning, cost sharing, and weekly communication between the Colorado Department of Transportation, the regional bus district, various city departments, the facilities management office for the University of Colorado, representatives of local neighborhoods, and the Boulder Valley School District (involved because the project required an elementary school land acquisition).

To find out what campus planners and transportation managers at other institutions can learn from this collaborative process, we turned this week to Spense Havlick, professor emeritus at the University of Colorado Boulder and co-author (with Will Toor) of the study Transportation and Sustainable Campus Communities (Island Press: 2004). Havlick co-chaired the 2007 Academic Impressions conference that generated ideas for the underpass project, and in our interview with him this week, he offered a set of practical tips for involving the local community in the planning process for alternative transportation programs.

His key points:

  • Share master plans –- and connect both entities during the master planning process
  • Cultivate a sense of a shared endeavor by partnering on alternative transportation incentive programs
  • Involve the town in selecting pilot projects

Tip 1: Sharing Master Plans

Havlick suggests that one infrequently taken but absolutely critical step is to make sure that both campus and town have copies of each other’s master plans: “Too often, when these two entities do not share their plans, they don’t understand each other’s aspirations. Both your short- and long-term planning maps must be known and shared.”

Second, besides sharing the master plan with local planning officials, Havlick recommends taking a few steps to share the master planning process. Specifically, invite the master planning committees or planning groups for both the municipality and the campus to meet together once or twice a year.

"These two groups that look to the future need to be in conversation with each other. They need to know each other’s members, each other’s funding and opportunities, and each other’s challenges. The whole goal is to prevent surprises –- so that one entity doesn’t surprise the other with its transportation or land use plan late in the process."
Spense Havlick, University of Colorado Boulder

Third, Havlick recommends establishing what he calls a group of “lay citizens” – faculty and local voices in the community who meet on a monthly basis to discuss items of shared interest, including transportation issues. Beyond information-sharing and vision-sharing between planning groups, this citizens group allows for an open forum in which concerns can be voiced early –- and responded to early.

Tip 2: Partnering on Incentive Programs

A variety of alternative transportation incentive programs are becoming well known, such as corporate awards for commuter of the month. To foster a sense of shared enterprise between the institution and the local community, Havlick recommends establishing competitions and incentive programs that involve both campus and community members. A commuter award program could involve nominations from among faculty and local residents, and the awards luncheon could involve both campus transportation staff and transportation facilitators or champions of alternative transportation at local businesses.

Besides promoting a culture of alternative transportation through incentives rather than punative measures, this approach also brings campus and community representatives together and promotes a sense of shared effort toward shared goals.

Other efforts that can have a similar impact:

  • A shared celebration when a local bike path is completed (ribbon-cutting, photographs, press release with statements from both campus and city representatives)
  • Shared responsibility for a community transportation hotline that allows motorists, cyclists, and transit users to call in with a concern, request, or with positive feedback

Tip 3: Involving the Town in the Pilot Project

Havlick suggests that the right process for selecting an initial pilot project can go a long way toward overcoming hesitation and hostility from off-campus entities.

For example, invite engineering or architecture students to a competition with the goal of proposing ways to address a near-campus transit issue or bike path issue. The competition proceeds under faculty guidance, and the institution brings in both the campus transportation officer and city officials to judge the competition. As groups of students propose three or four alternative solutions, the panel of judges presents an opportunity to start conversations across the town-gown boundary, and to identify a possible pilot project.

“Keep the initial effort small,” Havlick cautions. “Pilot projects reduce fears about proceeding together on an investment. Pilot projects have a safety valve built in –- you can terminate it if something goes wrong. So in cases where neither party fully trusts the other, this approach reduces the hesitation to proceed.”

Examples of initial projects might include creating or improving a short bike path (concreting it, signposting it, and monitoring usage) or establishing a car-sharing pilot program in collaboration with a local business.

When a Pilot Project Falters

“Don’t be discouraged, however, by a failed pilot,” Havlick advises. “Set expectations clearly at the start and ensure that everyone knows going in that the success of the project will be evaluated at key points during the process, with the intent of learning how to make future projects a success.”

For example, suppose that a town-gown partnership to provide an improved shuttle service for the campus falters. It’s key to make the commitment to investigate why it faltered and identify specific items that could be improved. Perhaps, to save on costs, the project purchased old school buses from the local school district, and because the buses were not painted attractively and were not well-maintained, students were unwilling to ride in them. “Did they have a reputation as ‘loser cruisers’?” Havlick remarks. “Did they have no connection with the institution’s brand and visual identity? Find out. Don’t let your long-term goal of partnering to reduce single-occupancy driving to campus be discouraged by temporary setbacks.”

"A final, key point: trust-building between town and gown will require a commitment from institutional leadership to foster regular communications and information-sharing, and a commitment to cost sharing where there is a shared benefit. Without this commitment on the institution’s part, even the best-intentioned attempts at fostering longer-term partnership will falter."
Spense Havlick, University of Colorado Boulder