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Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

By Liz Bloomhardt

Published November 10, 2011

 

You may have noticed the recent appearance of painted white bicycles under a double arrow on campus streets. They are sharrows, and they come with a message: It’s time to share the road.

These awesomely hip shared-lane markings are a nationally recognized symbol alerting road users that bicycles have a right to occupy the lane of traffic. In addition to alerting and slowing drivers, the arrows serve to indicate to cyclists the appropriate direction of travel.

Recognizing that many streets on campus are not able to accommodate a separate bike lane, the sharrows help tell both drivers and bikers that cyclists have a right to move into the center of the travel lane.

There are several scenarios in which we might acknowledge this to be safer than staying on the side of the road. For one, this helps to ensure safe passing of parked cars by cyclists and gives people exiting parked vehicles enough room to open doors. In addition, it also locates cyclists in a more visible position to cars approaching the roadway from side streets and driveways.

These sharrows play an important role in biking safety. The N.C. Department of Transportation’s data on bicycle crashes reported in North Carolina between 2005 and 2009 indicate that 7.8 percent of collisions involving a motor vehicle and a cyclist occurred when the motorist was overtaking the cyclist. Sharrows should help. Because bicycles move more slowly, vehicular traffic must adjust their speed accordingly. On campus, where the speed limits don’t exceed 25 mph, the sharrow effect may simply serve to reinforce this limit. That’s safer for everyone, including pedestrians, who always have the right of way!

One place you won’t find sharrows is on the paths and walkways around campus. Pedestrians have the right of way in these spaces and it is dangerous for cyclists to ride through these areas. A dismount policy, particularly for the heavily trafficked Main Quad and Bryan Center Plaza are appropriate and encouraged.

The introduction of the sharrow to campus streets is not intended to address the remaining need for a cross-campus, bike-friendly connection.

The sharrows compliment recent efforts to map bicycle infrastructure, including bike racks and shower facilities, and improve commuter incentives. This should result in the continued growth in popularity of cycling as a viable commuting option, despite the limitations of existing infrastructure.

Recently released statistics from Duke Parking and Transportation indicate that more than 520 people are registered as bike commuters, roughly 60 percent of whom are graduate students. These individuals are likely to live between two and five miles from campus. This makes the Duke-Durham connection to campus critical for heightened safety door-to-door. Duke should continue to partner with the city to make these connections a viable priority.

The sharrow program also enables the continued encouragement of undergraduate students to bring bikes to campus and to utilize the highly popular Duke Bikes program.

Another opportunity to expand the bike user base will continue to grow as bus and other transit options in Durham mature with the passage of the half-cent sales tax increase in Tuesday’s election. Continued pressure to prioritize bike-friendly connections with new transit options will augment the success of the future transit system.

Future harmony of the various transit modes in using the shared-road resource will require acknowledgement on the parts of all road users.

Ultimately, the sharrows can only do so much to keep everyone aware and safe. It’s up to bikers to clearly communicate their intentions to drivers and those around them. All parties must follow the law and obey traffic signals. Also, wear a helmet when you’re on your bike. A bad hair day is worth another bad hair day!

For more discussion of bike related issues and to find more information, I encourage the bike community at Duke to visit http://www.bikeduke.com to keep track of news and information about bike commuting at Duke.

 

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By Liz Bloomhardt
Published October 26, 2011

Ditch your car. Take the train. Vote for transit.

On Nov. 8th, the Durham County ballot will include a half cent sales tax referendum for public transit. If passed, the money will support the implementation of the Durham County Bus and Rail Investment Plan (DCBRIP).

This is not a Duke election, but this is a referendum that will affect how people get to Duke’s campus.

The regional plan starts with expanded bus service in the first 12 to 18 months. Additional busses will be added on high-traffic routes and additional routes will be added in underserved areas.

This alone should be enough to make the referendum worth voting for by members of the Duke community. Duke Parking and Transportation (DPT) hopes it is, because the passage of this referendum will make it possible for DPT to achieve its goals of reduced single occupancy vehicles (SOV) on campus.

In addition to increased bus service, the DCBRIP also outlines the creation of satellite park-and-ride lots and neighborhood transfer stations. Neighborhood transfer stations would presumably make riding the regional busses more convenient for those riders whose trips do not necessitate going all the way into the downtown station. Park-and-ride lots similarly provide an entry point to the regional and University-based transit systems. These lots and transfer stations would be constructed over a 20-year period of development.

The bus-mode objectives comprise the most feasible part of the plan. Aside from the small infrastructure projects, the technology and skills are already in place to capitalize on the passage of the referendum.

These regional options and infrastructure are critical to the success of DPT’s objective to reduce the carbon footprint of the University transportation sector. DPT will likely continue to incentivize employees, faculty, staff and students to utilize these regional transit options and therefore ensure at least one source of demand. Provided the alternatives achieve convenience and efficiency, the need for those incentives should diminish over time.

The final two phases of the plan require substantial capital support from the federal and state governments, making them far less certain even with passage of the referendum.

The second phase of the plan calls for development of a light rail line connecting Chapel Hill at UNC to Duke and Durham. The proposed route would presumably replace the existing need for the Robertson Scholars Express Bus and the existing DATA routes that serve the 15-501 corridor.

Although the rail line does not appear to coincide with the existing 15-501 corridor, it has 17 planned stations over the course of its proposed 17-mile alignment.

I have long been at a loss over what to make of the 15-501 corridor between Duke and Chapel Hill. It has always struck me as a wasted opportunity and a great candidate for a limited-access highway. Instead, you find sprawling big-box development that necessitates gigantic intersections with absolutely no human scale and inefficient traffic flow.

The final route of any light rail that is built stands to drive future development of the corridor for decades. The proposed light rail route as depicted in the DCBRIP runs to the south of 15-501, avoiding it all together. For the duration of the viability of the existing development in that stretch, the car centric 15-501 and new light rail to the south will compete. Even if light rail is a clear win for commuters, it needs more than that to be truly viable.

The third phase of the DCBRIP calls for commuter rail service between Durham, Research Triangle Park, Morrisville, Cary, Raleigh and Garner. Although serving a sizable portion of the commuters who travel to campus on a daily basis, it is unclear that this transit mode would actually connect to campus specifically, necessitating a transfer. On the other hand, this transit mode would also serve the airport in close proximity, as well as schools in the Raleigh area.

The sales tax referendum for public transit, if passed, will be a boon for Durham and for Duke. Durham has been on a roll with successful revitalizations of several downtown areas. Regional transit will likely continue the momentum of that success. Duke likewise benefits from a healthy Durham region. It helps to attract top talent, and ensures a vibrant economy for the future workforce.

Vote for the future of transit on Nov. 8th.

Liz Bloomhardt is a fifth-year graduate student in earth and ocean sciences. Her column runs every other Thursday.

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By Liz Bloomhardt
Published September 15, 2011

Brian will annoy you with his enthusiasm. He will irritate you with his optimism.

But, Brian is exactly the kind of person Duke needs to get this climate neutrality thing done.

Brian Williams (not the one from NBC), is the transportation demand management coordinator at Duke Parking and Transportation (DPT). He has only been on the job for a year, but he is making progress.

The 2009 Climate Action Plan (CAP) laid out the challenge.

According to the CAP, transportation accounts for approximately 23 percent of Duke’s baseline greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint. Commuters contribute about 52 percent, while air travel (43 percent) and the campus fleet (5 percent) make up the rest.

Brian’s focus is on alternative transportation. It’s his job to create the right incentives and implement programs that entice commuters and residential students to move from high impact modes of transportation (the single occupant vehicle (SOV)) to lower impact modes of transport like carpooling, vanpooling, public transit, bikes or walking.

This month’s Green Devil Challenge is on point in urging the Duke community to “Get Electrified” and to engage the latest batch of Brian’s alternative transportation options including WeCar, GoPass and the not yet arrived hybrid articulating busses which are slated to start service later this semester.

First, WeCar: WeCar is the new ZipCar-only-better (according to Brian) program run by Enterprise, and yes, they will come pick you up for extended rentals—on campus!

WeCar ratchets up the sex appeal of campus car-sharing programs with four Chevrolet Volts. These plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are touted to be the most fuel-efficient compact car sold in the U.S. They will travel approximately 35 miles (which is sufficient for most local trips) on a full charge before engaging the gasoline engine. Just remember to plug it in when you return—sharing is caring, after all!

An Enterprise representative who was checking up on the Volts, which reside just outside the Bryan Center, told me the usage on the vehicles has been good and steadily growing, as has membership in the WeCar program itself, which arrived on campus Aug. 15, 2011.

Although the program appears to be on track to duplicate and hopefully expand on the success of its predecessor, ZipCar, the reduction of SOVs and SOV trips on campus as a result of either program is unclear.

The second exciting edition to the alternative transportation arsenal is the new GoPass program. Replacing the old subsidized system, GoPass is essentially a free bus pass providing access to the regional transportation network (DATA , TTA, CAT and C-Tran) to students and those faculty and staff with offices on or adjacent to Duke’s Durham campus.

According to Brian, under the old program, approximately 600 to 700 people used public transportation and had a partially subsidized pass. Since the new GoPass program was announced, roughly 4,500 Dukies have claimed their GoPass—a plastic swipe card tied to your Duke unique ID. Of those new card holders, Brian reported that about 1,500 have used their card to access the public transit network at least once. However, more analysis of ridership patterns and improved usage rates will be required before the program can be called a true success. Regardless, the initial enthusiasm is impressive.

In addition to the new and modified programs, older programs, like the free Bull City Connector bus between Duke and Durham, carpool permits and the bike commuter program are also still available and building momentum.

Changes in culture can be difficult and can take a long time to manifest themselves. So when Brian reported that the number of carpool permit and bike commuter applications is much higher than last year and creating a backlog at the DPT offices, my first response was nearly an enthusiastic fist pump.

Unfortunately, I also know the flip side this backlog implies: it’s the frustration and confusion that comes from interacting with an over worked and stressed out DPT staff. Barriers get erected, communication breaks down, assumptions are made, progress is stunted, groups feel alienated … you get the idea.

So, we might all agree that good communication, clear information and useful resources are excellent, although non-trivial goals going forward now that a good foundation of alternative transportation options has been constructed. Good thing Brian is confident he can meet the challenge. In fact, he has already started with targeted in-person outreach, access maps for well served housing locations in Durham, maps of bike facilities on campus and informational how-to videos. And there’s so much more to come.

Lest you think I place too much faith in one man, I dare you to meet Brian. His infectious optimism for positive change will rub off and leaving you humming: “Always look on the bright side of life …”

See, we can all be like Brian.

Liz Bloomhardt is a fifth-year graduate student in mechanical engineering. Her column runs every other Thursday.

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By Liz Bloomhardt
Published February 25, 2011

Every Duke student who has lived on East Campus since 2002 has heard of Eco-Olympics. I say it’s time to spread the competitive energy and engage the rest of campus.

In its current form, Eco-Olympics is held every Fall for several weeks. It pits freshman dorms against one another in a competition that awards points for energy reduction, events attendance and recycling. The winning dorm gets T-shirts and ice cream.

The campus-wide version will require some tweaking to this model and a new name, but it offers the following benefits: a) It will build community spirit. b) It will engage non-residential populations. c) It will provide incentive to participate in existing programs. And d) it will put real data into the public domain.

Let’s look at each point.

Mundane activities like recycling your office paper, turning off the lights or commuting to the office aren’t necessarily fun by themselves. Right now, you might be inclined to do them out of habit, because it’s convenient or because you derive satisfaction from doing things that are socially acceptable and encouraged. Now, if you get a group of friends or colleagues together, these activities can become a bonding experience. Get yourself a rival, and the passion to achieve naturally gets kicked up a notch. An Eco-Olympics for all of Duke should provide both the “Kumbaya” kind of community building and the kind of community bonding that only rivalry-leading-to-positive-social-change can build. Plus, this would be a program we could totally brag about!

Next, Duke University is composed of some 15,000 undergraduate and graduate students, only about 10 percent of whom are freshmen living on East Campus. That means there is a significant, untapped population just waiting to be engaged.

At a graduate student retreat in January, students in a roundtable discussion on sustainability from such schools as the Fuqua School of Business and Sanford School for Public Policy were like, “Yea, I would want to compete against other schools at Duke, but I also need to know that my actions are making a difference.” Staff members want in, too; I know they do, and well, fine, we can let the professors play as well.

Which brings me to the next point: incentive. This is not about grades, but about points, and it runs both ways. On the competitor side there is also glory, a sense of moral righteousness and camaraderie (we’ll get to prizes in a second). On the University side, the competition would highlight existing programs like carpool incentives and award points for enrolling members. It could also measure tons of trash diverted to recycling programs or percentage reductions in energy or water use due to conservation measures or changes in behavior.

Finally, and most importantly, the real data that is already being tracked by the service sectors of the University would be used, displayed, digested and owned by everyone.

It’s time to open the floodgates and let the data out!

Facilities Management is migrating its data to a user-friendly platform that will have limited access and that should be out of beta in a couple months. This data could be easily mined and stripped of cost-sensitive information for display on dashboards across campus. (On a side note: Dashboards are not new, and it’s a shame we don’t have any yet. Let’s get on that.) The competition data can also be available through an online portal so users can interact with it.

Some work will have to be done to migrate other data streams—like waste and recycling tonnage—to the existing metered utility data, but this is an investment worth making if Duke is serious about all aspects of sustainability. And I think we are.

The detractors to this egalitarian proposal might mention that Sustainable Duke already engages the community by sending out Green Devil Challenges to members of the Duke community who have signed the sustainability pledge. I counter: These challenges are voluntary and do not measure action, but they are a good start and should be included in the competition.

Despite the myriad benefits of a University-wide Eco-Olympics, this program will likely cost money. We should evaluate the associated costs, with the understanding that we will reap the rewards of the investment with positive publicity (hard to quantify monetarily), decreased operating expenses and lower cost of offsets in 2024, the date set for carbon neutrality. The community is also likely to learn a great deal in the process. Knowledge in the service of society….

But wait, there’s more; I haven’t gotten to prizes yet. They should be good—more than, but also including a trophy—certainly more than T-shirts and ice cream. That is all. Discuss.

Liz Bloomhardt is a fourth-year graduate student in mechanical engineering. Her column runs every other Friday.

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By Liz Bloomhardt

Published December 13, 2010

It has been a little more than one year since the Board of Trustees approved the University’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) at their October 2009 meeting. Since then, it’s been a busy year for the environment, both on and off campus.

Nationally, the spotlight swung to the Gulf of Mexico in late April, coinciding with the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and BP’s Macondo well blew-out, starting a gushing torrent of oil that would not be stemmed for three months. Impacts from the spill are still being felt in the region’s economy and environment, as well as in Washington, D.C. Veteran of the Hill and Director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions Tim Profeta explained that the disaster, which should have provided the perfect impetus for action on the comprehensive climate legislation set for debate in the Senate, instead presented as “a perfect mismatch in the legislative vehicle with the situation that was creating the political window [for action].” The climate bill had promised to expand offshore drilling.

While the national carbon approach may be on hold, instead shifting to a debate on more specific policy approaches for the energy and transportation sectors, California’s AB 32, a state based approach to a cap-and-trade system on carbon, survived a ballot referendum and will take effect in the coming year.

Duke is not isolated from this national dialogue. In fact, it is quite the opposite in terms of both academic pursuits and the subsequent contributions to policy development.

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By Liz Bloomhardt

Published September 24, 2010

Last week the City of Durham issued a press release announcing its recognition as a bicycle friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists. Durham was awarded a bronze-level recognition, the lowest of four levels recognized by LoAB. Chapel Hill also received a bronze-level recognition. Close by Carrboro bested both college towns, achieving a silver rating. Several other North Carolina cities also received awards.

This publication picked up on the story this week, and Tuesday’s edition of Towerview magazine had a one-page spread on just how hip the bicycle commuting trend is for the fall. In true magazine style, the short blurb was accompanied by a shopping list to aid interested trend-followers in getting in on the act.

I hope bicycling is more than a fall trend, but I also applaud all of the publicity this healthy and fun form of transportation is getting!

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Authors Note: Friday truly was all about bikes, at least in the backpages of The Chronicle. In addition to the article abstracted above, two additional columnists also addressed the issue of bikes on Duke’s Campus in Friday’s issue. You can link to the editorial board’s comments here and Professor Thomas Sporn’s comments here.

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Bull City Connector bus stop on Duke Campus.

Bull City Connector bus stop on Duke Campus.

By Liz Bloomhardt

Published August 27, 2010

There’s some buzz around a bus. It’s in the newspapers. On TV. Even has a new hit single from ages past:

The wheels on the bus go round and round,

round and round, round and round,

The wheels on the bus go round and round,

All the way downtown!

You think it sounds childish? Already been done? Alright, but before you skip to the next column, let me back up a minute.

There is a new bus, introduced just two weeks ago. It’s yellow, but also orange, and no, it’s not taking you to kindergarten.

Here are the facts: It’s called the Bull City Connector. It has a website: http://www.bullcityconnector.org. It runs every 15 minutes from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and every 20 minutes from 6 p.m. till midnight during the week (on Saturdays, the bus runs on 20 minute intervals). The route starts at the Duke Hospital then moseys over to Main Street via Erwin Road before continuing all the way to Golden Belt, passing through town favorites like Brightleaf Square, American Tobacco District and City Center.

The best part: it’s free!

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