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Posts Tagged ‘Green Devil Challenge’

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 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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by Liz Bloomhardt
Published June, 24, 2010

It’s been hot. Really hot. And humid.

No surprise there, really. This is the South, after all, albeit June.

Here in Durham, the mercury has been getting a workout, topping out at or above 90 degrees for most of the past two weeks.

Along with this increase in heat has come an increase in the AQI, or Air Quality Index. The AQI number ranges from 0-500 with a color code from green to maroon in six colors. The number and corresponding color is a daily measure that tells you how polluted your air is and what consequential health effects might be of concern.

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