More people take BART, MUNI to SF State
October 4, 2008 5:54 PM
SF State’s latest transportation study concluded that more people are using public transit to commute here now than a few years ago.
But if the university plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions while still adding 5,000 full-time students, it needs to promote and accommodate public transit and bicycling even more, officials said.
More than 2,500 students and 700 faculty and staff completed an online survey last spring that asked how they commuted to and from SF State on April 30. The survey also asked whether people would buy a university-issued transit pass allowing unlimited access to MUNI and BART for a semester.
Thirty-six percent of those surveyed took MUNI for at least part of their commute to SF State, 34 percent drove alone and 21 percent used BART and the university shuttle from the station in Daly City, according to a report published last summer on the survey results. Seventy-six percent also expressed interest in buying a transit pass from the university.
The latest figures differ significantly from the last survey, taken in fall 2005, which listed driving alone and carpooling as the two most popular modes of transportation. BART and MUNI were third and fourth, respectively.
While public transit has increased ridership since the last survey, part of the discrepancy between the two data sets may come from a change in the surveying method, said Wendy Bloom, campus planner.
SF State collected the 2005 results with an intercept survey, where people stationed at major thoroughfares on campus interviewed people entering or leaving campus.
“With the intercept survey, you’re asking fewer people, you’re asking them fewer questions and you’re grabbing people on the run,” Bloom said.
This year, the Department of Information Technology (DoIT) created an online survey and e-mailed a link to all university e-mail accounts. “This recent survey is more detailed, more comprehensive, and more people took it,” Bloom said. “I think this is a more reliable baseline. It’s more accurate information.”
SF State conducted the survey because it promised the City of San Francisco it would monitor its own growth, said Jason Porth, associate director of community relations.
The university expects to increase its full-time equivalent students from 20,000 to 25,000 by 2020, nearly a five percent increase each year, and the city requires SF State to minimize the added impact to traffic, he said.
The latest results will “essentially set a baseline for us to look at as we continue to grow,” Porth said. “So, in 2011, we can ask ‘Where are we now? Did we grow the way we thought we were going to grow?’”
Changing the climate of discussion
But since President Robert A. Corrigan signed the American University and College Presidents Climate Commitment last year, “we realized we [also] needed this information to assess our greenhouse gas emissions related to commuting,” Bloom said.
The commitment requires SF State to reduce its emissions until they no longer negatively impact the environment. Half of the university’s emissions come from automobile commutes to and from the campus, according to SF State’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory published last summer.
Thus, reducing traffic and reducing emissions “are inextricably tied together,” Bloom said. “The commitment further highlights the need to reduce car trips, and to look at transportation planning in a comprehensive way,” said Bloom, who added that administrators are currently reviewing such a plan with recommendations based on the latest survey.
Though that plan is still pending, several efforts to reduce traffic and emissions have already begun.
One indirect effort is the gradual increase in campus housing. “Clearly [student residents] are not driving to campus—they’re walking,” Porth said. More than 25 percent of freshman surveyed said they walk to school, easily the highest figure among undergraduates and likely because many live on or near campus, according to the report.
MUNI and the University Transit Pass
Another way SF State can reduce traffic congestion is by increasing ridership on public transportation, particularly MUNI, which has several routes that reach the university directly.
“We can work with MUNI to improve service to campus significantly,” said Carlos Davidson, director of environmental studies. “There’s room for cooperation and changes that will benefit commuters to campus and let us take better advantage of the public transportation system in San Francisco,” he said.
Porth said SF State is “committed to doing everything we can to make MUNI viable” for as many people as possible. More people would take it if there were sufficient infrastructure and the price was right, he said. That is why a university-issued transit pass “is something we’re eager to explore.”
More than three-quarters of students, faculty and staff said they would consider buying such a pass, though maybe not for full price, according to the report. “Approximately 50 percent of respondents are only willing to pay $75 or less per semester for one. Given that Muni passes currently cost $45 a month or about $180 a semester, some subsidy from the parking fund or other funding sources may be necessary to garner the support of the student population as a whole to implement a universal transit pass program,” the report stated.
Should such an initiative require funding from student fees, as Davidson said he thought it would, “the students would have to vote on it and approve it. It would require a student movement, student input and education,” Porth said.
Thanks to some potential changes to MUNI routes near SF State, though, a pass might become even more valuable for some.
Recommendations from MUNI’s Transportation Effectiveness Project are “full of many potential improvements for service in this side of town,” including extending the J Church line to SF State and increasing the frequency of the 28 and 28L, Porth said.
Porth said he is glad that the TEP proposals, which could take effect next year, recognize SF State as “one of the biggest users of the M line and 28. There’s lots that can be done to better serve us,” he said.
SF State is also working with BART to potentially combine MUNI’s stop for the 28 line with the university’s shuttle stop across the street. “It makes a lot of sense, from a safety perspective” because commuters will no longer have to pick a line and run across the street if they picked the wrong one, Porth said. “I think that will make a big difference.”
The push to increase bicycle accessibility
“More people would cycle if they felt safe doing so,” said Porth, adding that several people who took the survey expressed concerns about bicycling safety and new routes in their comments. While plans to make bicycling to SF State easier had already begun, “it bolstered our view that this was a very important thing,” he said.
Two hundred new bicycle racks arrived on campus in September and more may be on the way, providing more parking options for what appears to be a growing number of bicyclists.
“I like the work that’s being done on campus with bicycles,” Davidson said. “SF State is rapidly increasing its friendliness to bicycle commuting,” If it continues to improve accessibility, “there’s no reason why [the number of people] bicycling couldn’t double or triple.”
The next project will be to construct a bike path between University Park North and Thornton Hall. The $500,000 project, funded in part by a grant from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, “could begin this semester and could be completed by spring 2009 or summer,” Porth said.
The path would allow bicyclists an alternative route to campus safer than 19th Avenue and would be a significant piece of an upcoming full route from Holloway Avenue to Buckingham Way, he said.
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