BWC Sparks Competitive Spirit for The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Expanding campus uses award-winning TDM program to help manage the challenges of growth.
Competition has long been an important part of life for many universities. Some channel that competitive energy into sports, others into academic achievements. The University of North Carolina at Greensboro extended that spirit to its transportation demand management (TDM) program — with impressive results.
“We started down the TDM path in 2005, when we came to the realization that we couldn’t just look at our parking needs, that we had to see transportation in a broader sense,” said Suzanne Williams, UNCG’s associate director of campus access and transportation demand management.
After building the university’s TDM program from scratch over several years, Williams — who’s been at UNCG for 18 years — found out about Best Workplaces for Commuters (BWC).
“We knew our TDM program was working, impacting our community in a very positive way and getting people to choose alternatives. Our only stumbling block was lack of an emergency ride home service, which we remedied through a partnership with PART — the Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation,” she said. “So, in 2010 we submitted our BWC application — and held our breath.”
Williams said she and her colleagues were not sure UNCG’s young program would qualify their first time out. “We were very happy to learn we’d been accepted.” UNCG received its first gold medal in the university category of the annual BWC Race to Excellence program in 2010.
Engaging with BWC opened up a new world for the university. “We realized that being part of the BWC program plugged us into a network so we could learn best practices, get articles and tools from their website, discover fresh ideas for things we hadn’t thought of yet,” said Williams.
“Being part of BWC’s network helped us take our TDM program to the next level,” she explained. “We love the webinars. It’s cool to see what other schools in the country are doing.”
Well, seeing other universities’ achievements turned out to be more than cool — it proved to be downright motivational. “I’m a wee bit competitive,” Williams confessed.
After seeing fellow BWC gold winner Stanford University named “Best of” the Race to Excellence in 2011, Williams started studying Stanford’s program closely. “I wanted to up our game and model our program on theirs,” she said.
That competitive spirit, along with an open-minded willingness to adopt best practices modeled elsewhere, paid off when UNCG was named “Best of” in 2012 — so far remaining the only university in North Carolina with that achievement.
“That showed we were in the same league as prior winners, and it was a huge boost for us,” said Williams. “To be in the company of schools that are doing great things is awesome. It energizes us to keep raising the bar and keep striving to do things better year after year.”
Integrated Transportation & Parking
One of the keys to UNCG’s success is rooted in Williams’s comment about seeing transportation in a broader sense — a perspective that still takes some courage these days despite its proven importance. Around the U.S., plenty of campuses, and employers of all sorts, continue to cling to the increasingly outmoded belief that parking is separate from mobility.
Combining parking and transportation under one roof, so to speak, enables UNCG to offer students and employees a balanced approach to mobility while preserving the university’s long-term land use options and advancing its commitment to sustainability. Solo driving is accommodated, but not promoted, by maintaining sufficient parking but also using pricing and the availability of robust mobility options to manage the demand for parking facilities.
UNCG educates students and employees about the wide variety of transportation options serving their campus and surrounding community. Some of those options enable people to get to the campus from around the region, while others facilitate their movement within the campus itself.
Getting to Campus
There are many options for getting to UNCG.
- Greensboro Transit Authority (Students can ride GTA fare-free when they present their UNCG Spartan Card ID.)
- Higher Education Area Transit (HEAT serves seven campuses plus other selected locations, providing connections to student housing areas, shopping, and Greensboro’s downtown rail depot.)
- Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation (PART serves North Carolina’s 10-county Piedmont area, providing discounted rides for UNCG students within the region.)
Intercity Rail & Bus
- NCByTrain: Operated by the North Carolina Department of Transportation Rail Division, NCByTrain offers six rail lines statewide (three south/westbound routes and three north/eastbound routes), all of which serve Greensboro.
- AMTRAK: AMTRAK trains offer regular service via the Galyon Transportation Center near downtown Greensboro.
- Greyhound: Greyhound buses arrive and depart seven days a week via the Greensboro Bus Station (next to the train station) near downtown.
- UNCG Zimride is a private ridesharing network for students, faculty and staff, which enables registered participants to find others within the network with whom they can share rides on a one-time or regular basis. Despite promotion and the availability of preferential parking for carpools, low gas prices have caused a dip in participation over the past two years, which Williams expects will be reversed when prices go back up. Share the Ride NC is another option for ride sharing matching.
- Zipcar: Carsharing at UNCG has doubled over the past four years, said Williams. There are currently five Zipcars on campus, with additional Zipcars in other locations off campus. The UNCG Motor Pool, run by Enterprise, is another short-term vehicle sharing option.
Getting Around Campus
Moving between point A and point B on campus can be as easy as walking or bicycling, with plenty of free bike parking available. UNCG also operates shuttle service, known as the Spartan Chariot.
- Daytime Shuttle: The Spartan Chariot shuttle bus operates on a regular loop through campus Monday – Friday, 7:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., stopping at 12 designated locations at 30-minute intervals.
- Evening Safety Shuttle: To facilitate passage between buildings and perimeter parking lots, this service operates at 15-minute intervals Sunday – Thursday, 5:30 p.m. – 11 p.m., and at 30-minute intervals at other scheduled times. It runs Monday – Wednesday, 5:30 p.m. – 1:30 a.m.; Thursday – Friday, 5:30 p.m. – 2:30 a.m.; Saturday 5:30 p.m. – 2:30 a.m.; and Sunday 3:30 p.m. – 1:30 a.m.
- Spartan Village Express: This express shuttle service serves four designated locations Monday – Thursday, 7:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m., and Friday, 7:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.; reducing to three designated locations Saturday-Sunday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Bicycling has cycled (no pun intended) up and down over the years, having leveled off from the peak growth UNCG saw from 2008 to 2012. A partnership with a local bike shop is in development now.
A small but rapidly growing mode of intra-campus travel has been catching on, too: skateboarding. Williams’s team installed a special rack near the new wellness center for parking skateboards and created a short video showing how to use the rack — which was posted to Facebook and got about 3,400 views.
“We wanted to give them a safe place outside to securely lock their boards,” she said. “And we’re trying to teach them to stop riding through the hallways of our buildings!”
Moving Hearts & Minds
Like any good university, UNCG offers lots of classes in lots of subjects — but students, faculty and staff are sure to get a year-round education in transportation alternatives. To keep green mobility options top of mind, Williams’s team uses a variety of approaches to connect with people.
“We rely on a combination of face-to-face events and digital strategies to get the word out,” said Williams. “The face-to-face efforts have been most effective. We have a presence at every new-employee orientation twice a month, we present at 10 new-student orientations each summer plus more in August and January, and we get invited to open houses for prospective students.
“We use print materials (which echo a lot of what’s on our website), PowerPoints and video at these events, followed by time for Q&A,” she explained. “Our 10-minute entertaining video for new students puts people in a good mood. It’s not as informational as we used to do, but it has a vibe and in a playful way we get the message across that we’re focused on ‘transportation’ rather than parking.”
Past event marketing included an outdoor attention-getter using gamification in a live version of “Angry Birds” called the Angry Birds Transportation Challenge. The Challenge involved TDM program staff and students costumed as Angry Birds characters (including a twist on the game’s green-pig character, dubbed the Gas Hog), engaging passersby in a tabletop contest using Angry Birds-shaped plush toys they could throw at a wall of cans to see how many they could knock off. (See photos on the Facebook page.)
Williams and her team are focusing on some particular improvements they want to achieve in 2017. She notes that showing program gains every single year can be a challenge, as the UNCG campus grows in both acreage and enrollment. “Some years we can move the needle more than others,” she observed.
They will work especially hard to expand bicycle use. “UNCG is one of the most bike-friendly campuses in the state, so we were heartbroken when we only achieved the bronze-level rating from the League of American Bicyclists’ Bicycle Friendly University℠ program,” said Williams.
To help grow its bicycling culture and environment, UNCG partnered with a local bike outfit — ReCycles (http://recyclesbikeshop.com) — which will move its shop onto campus in late 2017. ReCycles has taken on UNCG’s bike rental program and is offering some educational programming. “Next year, their involvement will be on a much larger scale. The partnership will give us a full-service, one-stop shop to support our cyclists better,” said Williams.
The TDM team is also exploring automated bike share, which would enable users to reserve and rent bikes via their phone or on-site kiosks with no staff required. “We’re just looking for a program that’s a good fit for us — one with the right mix of value and cost,” she said.
Williams said UNCG’s transit program represents a big piece of the campus’s sustainable-transportation pie. While ridership in transit around the campus has plateaued, she said, the on-campus shuttle program has grown apace with UNCG’s growth over the past few years. The university negotiated with Norfolk Southern to build an underpass tunnel so pedestrians and cyclists could walk or pedal under the railroad’s tracks into a growing mixed-use village development on the south side of campus. Walking and biking are the top mode choices for people getting around campus, and shuttles are also popular.
BWC Helping Stretch Limited Resources
As Williams makes the rounds at various parking and transportation conferences, she said she sees other universities that need a TDM boost. “I always talk about BWC and encourage them to apply,” she said.
“Higher education has struggled with outrageous budget cuts. People are always being asked to do more with less. So, BWC’s online resources and webinars [really help] people like me to learn best practices and make changes incrementally!”
(c) 2017 Best Workplaces for Commuters