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University Faces a Traffic Jam

Rod Searcey

CROWDED COMMUTE: Stanford discourages driving alone to work.

Even though the percentage of University employees who say they drive to work alone decreased from 72 percent in 2002 to 63 percent in 2004, traffic on campus is pushing the limits of a 2000 agreement the University signed with Santa Clara County.

Under the General Use Permit, Stanford must not exceed its 2001 baseline of peak-hour commute trips—arrivals on campus between 7:45 and 9 a.m. and departures between 4:30 and 6 p.m. If the University does, it is obligated to spend millions of dollars in mitigation fees, modifying local intersections. The average of 40 traffic counts taken in the spring and fall of 2004 showed that Stanford was under the evening limit by only 14 trips.

So the University has increased incentives to use alternative transportation:trains, buses, carpools, vanpools, bicycles. In addition to providing free train and bus passes, and “Clean Air Cash” to those who don't buy parking permits, Parking and Transportation Services this fall held a drawing for a Caribbean vacation, Visa gift cards, a folding commuter bicycle and professional golf lessons for staffers who had committed not to drive alone to work. Individual schools and departments are encouraging employees to work off-peak hours, and some are raffling off prizes to those who use alternative transportation or giving tangible rewards for creative ideas to reduce commute traffic.

Some 3,863 of the University’s 8,900 staff have now pledged to use alternative transportation or commute during nonpeak hours at least twice a week. An estimated 1,500 employees use Caltrain regularly and another 150 take the East Bay Express bus.

Provost John Etchemendy told Stanford Report that financial penalties are not the sole impetus for the increased attention to commute habits. “First, the surrounding community has, through the GUP requirement and other actions, demonstrated its desire to hold down regional traffic, and Stanford should do its part to achieve this goal,” said Etchemendy, PhD ’82. “Second, the larger environmental benefits of cutting the number of commute trips are goals that, as a major employer, we should strive to achieve.”


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