Transportation shares the future of commute at MSUM

by Zana Pommier – pommierza@mnstate.edu

The school day begins with you whispering sweet-nothings to your car in hopes it’ll start in the negative 10 degree weather. You try to overlook the check engine light begging for your attention, and it’s not until you’re about an icy block from campus that the heater finally kicks in. But soon, things could change.

The Office of Sustainability is looking to equip campus with car and bike-sharing services.

A Friday meeting heard plans to apply for a Bicycle-Friendly University program, which takes factors like bike parking, accessibility on campus, and a well-connected bicycling network into consideration.

This recognition, along with Fargo’s new Great Rides Bikeshare program has raised the question of incorporating a similar system on campus. While original proposals suggested connecting MSUM to Fargo’s bike-share program, the plan was rejected due to cost and availability.

“The way it looked at the time, it wasn’t a good value because the bikes get taken away,” Sustainability Coordinator Joe Herbst said. “They pack them up for the winter in late September or early October, and they don’t put them out again until May.”

In addition to the low availability,  plans of incorporating a bike rack on campus with Great Rides Bikeshare would have cost approximately $100,000.

“If we were to really look at it, it seems like it’d be six weeks to two months when the majority of our students are here and it’d get used,” Herbst said. “You hate to say no to something progressive like that, but the numbers just didn’t add up.”

An effective bike-sharing program for MSUM would involve an independent, year-round bike rack system.

“I’m definitely open to it,” Herbst said. “The question is, ‘What would it take to encourage more students to ride their bike in the winter?’”

According to an MSUM email survey completed in fall 2013, approximately 67 percent of responders lived within one to five miles of campus, but only 20 percent of students and faculty walk to campus, while eight percent bike to campus. A bike-share program may particularly benefit the 20 percent who walk.

Students and faculty could easily take a quick trip to Hornbachers or Dairy Queen without taking the time to wait in traffic and scope out a parking spot during school hours.

In addition to a bike-share program, another wish list item for MSUM is a car-sharing service.

“Because we have 60 percent of people who drive to campus either way, we’d be interested in seeing this kind of technology,” Herbst said. “You’d still have the lower impact of not needing as many parking spaces.”

While a car-sharing service would likely implement a new student fee, the benefits would would be numerous, including avoiding insurance and surprise mechanic fees.

Zipcar, a corporate car-sharing service, resides at 250 college campuses in North America, including the U of M Twin Cities. The service involves renting a car online hourly or daily. Gas is included in the rental price, so stopping to fill up is covered, as well as roadside assistance.

“[A car-share program] is something that I’ve wanted to do for a while,” Herbst said.

The reason it hasn’t come up sooner?

“It hasn’t made it up the list of all the things we want to do,” he said.

The only form of public transportation our campus currently has access to is MATBUS, which is only used regularly by 7 percent of students and faculty. However, when asked how to reduce their carbon footprint associated with commuting, 40 percent of survey responders said the best way is public transit.

Herbst suspects that the lack of use of MATBUS can be attributed to its lengthy commute times. MATBUS requires transfers to take extended trips, including a stop at the Ground Transportation Center to get beyond downtown Fargo.

“We have a mid-sized Midwestern town in a very cold climate,” Herbst said. “We are very spread out. The big picture is that people are living further and further from where they go to work.”

Herbst’s solve-all dream for the community?

“I think one of the best things Fargo-Moorhead could do would be to close the train tracks off to freight traffic and make a light rail that goes from Dilworth to West Fargo, and then encourage growth along the core of the city and add that kind of transportation.”

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