The Century Drive roundabout next to the new Oregon State University Cascades campus is one of the most-used in the city of Bend—and with the fall opening of the school, that means even more traffic in the area. As the student population grows to between 3,000 and 5,000 by 2025, there will likely be even more congestion. But OSU Cascades, Cascades East Transit, and Bend's Commute Options are meeting the challenge by promoting alternative transportation modes for students, faculty, and staff.
The student population is expected to grow in a major way, but for now, about 900 students will begin classes Sept. 21. So what's the first thing they should do? Cascades East Transit outreach and engagement administrator Judy Watts says, "Check out the bus schedule online. It's really easy to plan routes using Google's trip planner." Trip planner tells users what bus they need to catch, how far they will need to walk, and where buses stop. Watts also says that the bus agency will soon release an app that details how many minutes before a bus will arrive.
Here's a closer look at all the transportation options.
Figuring Out Bus Routes
Commute Options and OSU will help students identify convenient and safe bike routes for their individual needs. Students can request a personal transportation consultation by filling out an online form on the OSU Cascades website. Options include bus transportation, bike rentals and bike shops, bike routes, ride sharing and walking routes.
"Commute Options would really like to see students, faculty, and staff members think about bicycling if it's a short trip," says Executive Director Jeff Monson. "Bend is a great town for bicycling. The city and the area surrounding the new campus are mostly flat. Yes, we get some snow storms in the winter, but most of the time it's really good for bicycling."
Biking and Bus in the Same Trip
Cascades East's Judy Watts says students can easily bike and ride the bus in the same commute. The transit agency's nearly 60 buses contain bike racks that will transport up to three bikes per bus. Students, faculty, and staff also can travel free by showing their university ID card when boarding anywhere in the city.
OSU's Transportation Program Manager Casey Bergh says, "If students are traveling between the new campus and Central Oregon Community College, they can bring their bike on the bus up to COCC and ride back down." Commute Options' Monson is optimistic that traffic congestion can be managed and reduced as long as the campus embraces all the transportation alternatives. "I think they are being a catalyst for transportation options not just on the west side of Bend, but throughout Central Oregon," Monson says.
Buying into transportation alternatives doesn't seem to be a problem for OSU staffers working to promote them. OSU's Christine Coffin, director of communications & outreach, says it's exciting to build a university that focuses on sustainability—especially concerning transportation. "A sustainable transportation program is what a 21st century university campus should reflect. We shouldn't be building a campus with 20th century models with miles and miles of ugly parking lots."
Coffin says that the university will try to change student and community attitudes and behavior toward alternative transportation modes. She states that the university has invested in Cascades East Transit, along with other significant community partners, and will continue to seek grants focusing on creative solutions. What advice would Coffin give to new students? "It's so easy to get in your car and drive, but I would be excited to get my bike ready to commute."
Where to Catch the Bus
A bus stop is located in front of the new campus, and Cascades East Transit has beefed up its route schedule. In the last fiscal year CET provided over 600,000 rides, and it has been adding new and bigger buses to its fleet. "We have new bus routes that go right by the new OSU campus," says CET's Watts. The routes also connect with COCC and OSU's Graduate Research Center, as well as the Park & Ride lots.
Watts says CET added two new routes —10 and 12—which serve the OSU campus. "We expect that our student ridership will continue to grow as OSU grows and expands."
Vehicles are a reality, and while the university is discouraging automobiles, it isn't excluding them either. For commuters living outside Bend, using a car is often the best and only alternative. The university will provide three annex parking lots—one leased from Bend Parks & Recreation, one at the OSU Graduate Research Center off Colorado Avenue, and another on Century Drive, just a few blocks from the campus. The parking site leased from Bend Parks & Recreation will accommodate approximately 160 vehicles. From there, it's about a 10-minute walk to campus. From the other two nearby sites, it takes only a few minutes to walk to the new campus.
Still, Bicycling is King
While accommodating vehicles, bicycling seems to be the preferred travel mode for OSU staffers promoting alternative options. According to OSU's Transportation Program Manager Bergh, the university will provide over 200 bike storage spaces on campus. "We'll probably have more spaces than bikes, but we never want to run out of spaces." The goal, he says, is to provide transportation alternatives to reduce or even eliminate the need for a car for students, faculty, and staff living in the city. "One should not need to drive their car once they get to campus."
The university will also have a bike share program similar to the program in Portland. Bergh says the campus will provide bike share stations where students can use bikes for up to two hours free of charge. "Hopefully students will ride down Century to grab lunch or ride down Colorado to the Old Mill or the park." The university will maintain upkeep on the bikes. Right now, staffers share four bikes with plans to add more. They are painted the school colors of orange and black. They've even named them: Bernie, Norman, Bob and Bernice. Further plans call for the addition of electric bikes. Bergh also says that the school is planning a "Zipcar" or car share, for those who need quick transportation.
Incentives for Active Transportation
The university is also planning to provide incentives for students who choose to bike or walk. Bergh says the school is looking to partner with local businesses, including bike shops, that might offer students gift cards or store and restaurant discounts as incentives. For those who use the bus frequently but need to drive and park occasionally, the university is considering parking discounts. "If you are used to driving, I hope you're open-minded, because once you come to Bend you won't need to use your car," Bergh says.
Beyond Bend Travel
Watts says CET has community connectors that link Redmond, LaPine, Sisters, and Prineville to Bend. There are also connectors as far as Warm Springs and Madras. When it comes to travel to the Willamette Valley, Watts says there are also valley buses that connect to Bend at the transit agency's eastside hub, Hawthorne Station.
As construction at OSU Cascades nears completion, Transportation Program Manager Bergh says these are exciting times to be involved in transportation as an industry. "We see exciting things with electric vehicles, and the sharing economy is really influencing the industry. It's fun to be a part of that and bring that to Central Oregon."
OSU's Coffin says that how people adapt to the new transportation modes the university is promoting won't be an overnight change, but she expects progress and acceptance by next spring. "It's a challenge for sure, but it's the right thing to do for the university and for the community," she explains.
"We're starting a sustainable transportation program right at the birth of the campus so we can impact behavior from day one." Coffin adds, "Even though we can't change everything from day one, we can really influence our faculty and staff that the campus can be a new model of thinking when it comes to transportation alternatives."
Commute Options' Monson sees the OSU model becoming a community model for Bend. "Residents will begin thinking if their trips can be made by bicycle, walking, or carpooling. There are so many options. We just have to think about those options first. Times are changing for transportation and for the better."