Brian Williams, Duke’s transportation demand coordinator, has been working over the past year to promote more sustainable transportation methods to students, faculty and staff. With new University programs and initiatives and the recent introduction of the Bull City Connector, there are more ways than ever to commute to campus without relying on single-rider cars. The Chronicle spoke with Williams this summer on his efforts and why you should consider different methods of transportation.
You started working at Duke last year; what were your goals coming in to the position? Have they changed in the last year?
My goal coming into the position was to support the commuting choices students and employees have. If someone wants to bike, we’ll try to get bike lanes in the city of Durham. If someone wants to carpool but doesn’t know who to ask, we’ll try to provide a way to match them with the Duke folks that live and work around them. If someone wants to move to an apartment along a bus route that comes straight to campus, we’ll try to provide the tools to help them find the right place. My projects have changed over this first year, but the goal will remain the same.
I’ve seen a lot of people on bikes recently – do you feel that more people are looking to bike, walk, or carpool? Why is switching to more sustainable transportation important, and how is it beneficial to do so?
Yes, I think more people are looking to try anything but bringing their car by themselves every day. No city or campus on the planet is moving forward with models where everyone drives. Ask a student that drives to campus and he’ll tell you he spends 5 minutes in traffic, 5 minutes finding a space and 10 minutes walking from his car to class. Ask a student that rides her bike to campus and she’ll tell you she doesn’t sit in traffic and parks right outside her building.
What steps has Duke taken to encourage more sustainable transportation methods?
Recently, Duke has been taking steps to set up programs to encourage carpooling, biking, taking the bus and vanpooling. We’ll be looking to add more modes, so people that walk, ride a scooter or use other forms can receive benefits too. We’re also looking to increase the amount of benefits those people receive. The ways we want to encourage are the ways that prevent us from having to build more parking spaces.
What are the greatest challenges the University faces in terms of reaching its transportation goals?
I think the University’s biggest challenge is that parking permit fees have been low for a long time. Many students and employees may believe the rates are already high, but they are below the average parking rates for our peers. Universities that are successful at reaching sustainable transportation goals all have very high parking rates to discourage bringing your vehicle to Duke each day.
I’ve had people ask me why Duke charges for parking when other schools or businesses don’t. It’s the myth of free parking. A business will cover its parking costs by paying its employees slightly less and charging its customers slightly more. So whether you bike, take a bus or drive, you’re always paying for parking. At Duke, we give you the choice. If you don’t bring your car to Duke, you don’t have to pay for parking, and you receive discounts on bus passes and bicyclists get free daily parking passes for days they need to drive.
The Bull City Connector has now been running for one academic year. Has that been successful in drawing members of the Duke community to bus into Durham?
We have been happy with ridership on the Bull City Connector and we’ll be rolling out more incentives for the people that commute on this free bus. It’s also been great for patients and visitors coming to campus. The weekend of the Alabama-Duke football game showed us the potential we have with using the Bull City Connector in many ways to reduce the need for a car at Duke. Ridership doubled that weekend from a normal Saturday.
For faculty, staff, and students who live off campus, where can they go for information on the best ways other than driving to commute?
They can go to parking.duke.edu and click on ‘Alternative Transportation.’
Any last thoughts?
This is going to be a big summer for Parking and Transportation. We believe we’ll be launching several initiatives over the summer and into the fall that will make it even more appealing to use an alternative to get to campus. Driving by yourself, which is often more time-consuming and expensive, should be the alternative.