As schools grow, increased vehicular traffic can force pedestrians to duck and dodge their way across campus. Increasing the density of a campus can worsen traffic congestion.

The problem is particularly burdensome for schools near highly developed areas. Campuses grow into the adjoining street network, and town-and-gown conflicts may flare as congestion leads to off-campus parking shortages.

It is best to deal with such problems before they become troublesome. A well-designed transportation master plan can make a campus easier to navigate and more agreeable for area residents.

Education institutions want their campuses to be more walkable without making driving more difficult and inconvenient. Difficulties arise when pedestrians and automobiles have to compete for the same space.

Counting cars

Developing a transportation master plan begins by evaluating the campus. Schools take counts of vehicles and pedestrians at key intersections. Initially, planners look at relieving congestion by adding lanes and widening streets, building new roads, organizing and relocating pedestrian crossings, improving signal timing and coordination, and trying to make traffic flow and pedestrian crossings safer.

It is essential to consult administrators, local governments and community groups to ascertain their needs, concerns and long-term vision for the campus. Many efforts to improve transportation coincide with a wider expansion plan that may require more dramatic measures. In one instance, a traffic study found that a campus street was causing congestion because drivers used it primarily for cruising. Eliminating the street relieved the congestion.

Soliciting the views of all stakeholders can be helpful, but sometimes conflicts emerge that can slow progress and threaten aspects of the plan.

If crosswalks are moved or restricted, people may have to walk farther. If a campus sets up remote parking with a shuttle bus ride, drivers may find it inconvenient. Closing streets can hamper service access and emergency response. The more comprehensive the plan, the more criticism it is likely to attract.

Environmental issues traditionally are the most troublesome. How does a traffic plan affect air quality? How does more paving affect water quality? Will transportation improvements attract more cars? Will eliminating vegetation, particularly mature trees, affect the campus environment? It is important to create a plan that affects the environment only minimally.

Parking on the edge

Some schools try to intercept vehicular traffic by moving parking areas to the edges of the campus. Eliminating parking in the core can reduce vehicular volume dramatically. But this solution can be difficult and costly to carry out.

Many institutions, especially those in densely developed areas, have invested in a core parking facility that cannot be discarded easily. It is not cost-effective to demolish a parking deck just to take a few cars off the streets.

Institutions that move their parking to the perimeter also may need some type of “gap” transportation system to get people to their final destinations. Shuttle buses are a popular solution, but operating a fleet can be expensive. A fixed guideway system, such as rail or monorail, involves an initial cost that often is prohibitively expensive.

The most practical time to set up a perimeter parking program is when more parking space is needed. The interior spaces can be managed to minimize traffic congestion and pedestrian conflicts. On some urban campuses, commuters who live off campus are assigned perimeter parking, and students who live on campus use interior parking spaces. Managing parking with the intent of improving traffic flow and safety can yield benefits on campuses that house diverse activities, such as hospitals and research facilities.

Slow is smooth

One way to get traffic to move more quickly is to slow it down. A main street that runs through a campus often becomes a speedway. Vehicles on cross roads must proceed with caution, and pedestrians must be vigilant to avoid cars. Slowing down drivers will ease those problems. Schools can gain better control of traffic flow by using strategies such as: adjusting signal timing, adding traffic signals, narrowing streets, creating medians and turn lanes, improving signage, widening sidewalks with planting buffers between pedestrians and automobiles, and installing pulloff areas at bus stops.

If a transportation plan is part of a wider expansion plan, schools must coordinate the two carefully. Location of buildings and their front doors is critical. Improper access points can wreak havoc on a transportation plan.

In such a situation, the solution may be a pedestrian bridge. But that could be costly and still be shunned by those in a hurry. With thoughtful design, schools can control pedestrian flow in a way that is compatible with vehicular traffic.

Who pays?

Federal highway funds might be available to upgrade bridges that are inadequate to carry high volumes of traffic. Local governments might help pay for traffic signals, coordination and timing of signal operations, and improvements such as signage. Private donations may be available.

Schools can anticipate some common issues as they seek approval of a transportation plan. Creating new streets could cause setback problems, and eliminating streets could affect zoning conditions related to vehicular access, stacking for parking entrances and pedestrian circulation.

Street closings and traffic-calming measures also will affect fire and ambulance operators. Relocations of streets and associated traffic signals are issues that need government approval. Schools should communicate the details of their plans to all agencies that might be involved.

Whatever transportation problems may exist on a campus, a master plan is always preferable to a piecemeal remedy.

Ellis, P.E., is vice president of URS Corporation, Atlanta.

NOTABLE

Initially, traffic planners look at the feasibility of relieving congestion by:

  • ADDING LANES AND WIDENING STREETS.

  • ORGANIZING AND RELOCATING PEDESTRIAN CROSSINGS.

  • IMPROVING SIGNAL TIMING AND COORDINATION.

  • TRYING TO MAKE TRAFFIC FLOW AND PEDESTRIAN CROSSING SAFER.