Energy Awareness Month: Smarter Transportation on College Campuses

Energy Awareness Month: Smarter Transportation on College Campuses

October is Energy Awareness Month. What does that have to do with transportation? Well, a lot. In fact – the more, the better.

Let’s take universities, for example. We work with universities to create more sustainable transportation systems that not only grow to meet the needs of the university but also consume less energy. With these systems, we:

  • Provide access and connectivity without destroying the distinctive feel of the campus
  • Encourage a modal shift from cars to other modes by making public transit, bicycles, and walking more convenient, and
  • Help sustain the environment by developing infrastructure and strategies that reduce vehicle trips

In this vein, we’d like to call attention to three universities that are making advancements in energy use and sustainable systems.

Clemson University: Autonomous Vehicle Technology

This past summer, Clemson University researchers were awarded a $1.16 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to study the use of automated and connected vehicle technology to boost energy efficiency and create a cleaner transportation system. This is part of a nearly $20 billion investment by the DOE in energy-efficient mobility systems.

We’ve written earlier about how automated vehicles are already being tested around the country, with research teams often led by university researchers. In the case of Virginia, testing is being done throughout the state, from Blacksburg to Northern Virginia.

While automated vehicles are regularly promoted as a way to prevent automobile accidents and save human lives, the researchers at Clemson aim to show the energy-saving benefits of connected and automated vehicle technologies. Their goal: to use cellular communication and dedicated short range radar to reduce unnecessary braking and idling, which waste fuel.

University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee: More Transportation Choices

Back in 2006, the Sierra Club launched its Cool Schools list, which recognizes colleges with best practices in the areas of campus energy use, transportation, and other environmental priorities.

In Sierra Club’s own words: “Our rankings spur healthy competition among schools, raise environmental standards on campus, and publicly reward the institutions that work hard to protect the planet.” Their 2017 ranking lists the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as the state’s leading sustainable university.

While UWM’s Office of Sustainability, led by Kate M. Nelson, lists numerous non-transportation activities that helped them earn a place in the Cool Schools ranking, UWM does list “To reduce campus use of fossil fuels” as one of their Energy Matters goals.

As transportation advisors, we encourage colleges to take a closer look at their transportation networks. It sounds like UWM has the right idea, as they list transit, bicycle networks and facilities, bikeshare, ride-hailing, and ridesharing as components of their “Cool School” transportation environment. In our minds, the more sustainable transportation choices, the better.

University of California System: Electric Bus Transit

It’s perhaps not surprising that seven University of California campuses are among the top 50 most sustainable universities in the U.S. in Sierra Club’s 2017 ranking. Sierra Club ranks these universities according to factors such as campus energy use, and food and water sustainability programs.

But as you can tell, we are particularly focused on the transportation aspects of sustainability. Of note is University of California – Irvine’s use of a zero-emission, hydrogen-fuel-cell bus fleet which is slated to make its debut this fall for the 2017-18 academic year.

In fact, with this development, UCI will become the first college campus in the nation to convert its buses to an all-electric fleet.

Twenty buses are being purchased from BYD (Build Your Dreams) for $15 million and will join a hydrogen electric bus to provide more than 2 million pollution-free rides annually. UCI undergraduates voted to pay up to $40 per quarter to the Associated Students of UCI to cover the bus purchase and other costs. Individual rides will be free. This seems similar to Tulane University’s transportation program, which we wrote about here, that offers free shuttles to students and the university community to locations around New Orleans.