Over the past decade, the tenor of the environmental movement has shifted more towards the you-attract-more-bees-with-honey sweetness. Oh sure, there are still plenty of indignant protestors and bloggers (rightfully) browbeating corporations and polluters. But increasingly so, the paradigm for speaking about environmental issues and, more broadly, sustainability matters is about figuring out a solution that works for everyone, and a solution that solves not just one problem, but the whole ball of wax. Feeding two birds with one seed stuff. (Note: For Earth Day, we won't be killing any birds, not even with our adages.) Most noticeably, that collaborative voice and attitude has emerged with several of the OSU-Cascades task forces.
Yes, the campus, and addition of several thousand students, will change Bend. But how it will change Bend is undetermined, and the OSU-Cascades' Transportation Task Force is working to make sure that those changes are for the better. And this week's Glass Slipper is to the optimism and efforts of the Transportation Task Force.
"We have an opportunity to put forward an example that is better than any campus in America," says Jeff Monson, Executive Director for Commute Options and a member of the task force. He continues, "This is a brand new school, new students, faculty, staff."
This blank slate offers a remarkable opportunity to implement smart transportation systems and to instill a campus culture that understands—and practices—low-impact transportation options. This is a one-two punch: There both needs to be the opportunities and infrastructure for transportation alternatives to single-use car trips, and the attitude to use those.
"It is bigger than getting everyone to ride their bike to campus," Monson assures. "We need to develop a culture of transportation options right off the bat, even during the admission process, even when staff are applying for jobs. That has to be culture for the university."
Although there is a certain amount of public and media hubbalu about the limited number of parking spots proposed for the campus, the task force has made a number of forward-thinking proposals, like encouraging car pooling by offering the best parking spots to those vehicles and using social media to help connect riders, and offering shared-use vehicles, like ZipCar, as Portland State, Arizona State, and some 300 North American campuses already do; campuses using shared-vehicles have reported a drop as much as 30 percent in requests for parking permits.
"If we start right off, we can ingrain this into the university," says Monson. "The OSU committees are all for this, and so is the City. I don't see stumbling blocks, but an opportunity."
The solution will require both a combination of the right infrastructure and the attitude to use that infrastructure. Monson adds that it is more than the campus which has an opportunity to reboot its transportation opportunities and attitudes, but the entire city.
"I think it is important that community members buy into this as well. Can you reduce trips? Can you carpool to work? Or, bike on a nice day?," He adds, "it is an issue where people who live here now can help solve the problem."
Currently, Bend has a woefully underutilized transit system and a bike lane system that does not adequately connect the east to the westside. Given the disparity of rental prices, it is likely that many OSU-Cascades students will live on the eastside, and need to get to the westside. That should be a priority for the city to fix this summer—as well as brainstorming more grand ideas.
Other communities have seized on growing pains as opportunities to modernize their transportation systems—and we hope the City of Bend will continue to work with OSU-Cascades to make the pending transportation challenges into opportunities. Ten years ago, for example, when Oregon Health Science University continued its rapid growth in Portland, the city installed a $30 million aerial tram to help shuttle students and doctors between the riverfront and hillside campus. That change, although bemoaned at the time as extravagant, has proven to provide a major relief to traffic, while also allowing great economic and educational growth.
Bend could easily grab the same opportunity. Why not light rail, or a classic street car? Think big, Bend. Think positively. Think constructively.