Driving solo is one way to get to campus — but thousands of students and employees prefer to carpool, bus, bike, walk or skateboard.
William Doe’s daily commute is about 100 miles round trip. That means he spends three hours a day on the road.
But Doe, who lives in Fort Collins, Colo., doesn’t mind the journey, because he’s got company: To get to Boulder each day, the research coordinator in CU’s engineering college relies on a van share program. He pays $157 a month to vanpool company SmartTrips, which provides him and five others in his area a van for their round trip.
“Our van does 25,000 miles a year,” he said.
Doe’s monthly payment, which covers gas and van maintenance, is a significant savings from what he would spend driving alone in his car, he said. CU and the City of Boulder subsidize the cost for him, further reducing his expenses.
CU encourages alternate forms of transportation to help meet its 2009 commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by the year 2020, said Clark Rider, the university’s sustainable transportation coordinator. Subsidies for vanpooling are one of a variety of available incentives.
Given the university’s growing student and employee population — now about 38,000 in all — traffic and demands for parking will increase unless more people leave their cars at home.
“Successful implementation will lead to avoided costs for roadway and parking expansion, savings for users, more efficient land use and better community livability,” Rider said. “All while helping the university achieve its environmental goals.”
According to a 2014 survey conducted by CU’s parking and transportation services department, about 6,700, or 18 percent, of CU Boulder’s workers and students drive alone. The rest, like Doe, find other ways to campus.
For students, who tend to live on or near campus, getting to CU is generally simple. In a smaller 2014 CU transportation survey of 1,000 students, about 80 percent said they live less than two miles away. Many walk.
But it’s a different story for faculty and staff. Of more than 7,700, 66 percent live more than five miles from campus. Some live as far away as Lakewood, Aurora or Evergreen.
The 2014 transportation survey indicated that more than 12,500 members of CU’s campus population ride the bus (33 percent), 9,000 walk (24 percent) and 7,300 bike (19 percent). Others car or vanpool or use a car share program. Some even skateboard.
Graduate student Benjamin Fried (MMechEngr’18) lives in Superior, eight miles from CU, and alternates between riding his bike and taking the bus. He particularly enjoys riding the downhill route along U.S. 36 into campus.
“As I’m riding into Boulder, it’s always a relief to see the snow-topped mountains in the distance and the entire Boulder Valley,” he said.
While riding or busing decreases the amount of time he thinks he would otherwise spend in traffic in his car, sometimes it has drawbacks.
“The schedules for these buses can sometimes be unreliable and inconsistent, making them a chore,” said Fried, who also has some frustration with the lack of space on bus bike racks. “I refuse to put my nice road bike underneath, and will often ride to Boulder Station to verify that I have a spot on the rack.”
Nonetheless, the bus is a way for commuters to avoid the driver’s seat and serves as a link to other modes of transportation.
To encourage fewer cars on campus, CU provides a bus pass for all campus personnel working more than half time, allowing them to ride city and regional buses and light rails for free. Each student receives a bus pass upon enrollment, paid for by student fees.
“Without the bus option, particularly being able to bike to campus and ride the bus home, I probably wouldn’t bike nearly as often,” said Aaron Malone (PhDGeog’18), a PhD student who lives 10 miles from campus, in Lafayette.
Once on campus, there are many ways to get around via bicycle even if you don’t bring one, said Rider. The university offers Buff Bikes, free two-day bike rentals obtained at one of two campus bike stations. And discounts for memberships with B-Cycle, a nonprofit that provides public pay-per-use bikes throughout the city, are available for CU faculty and staff; the campus Environmental Center provides free memberships for some students.
Malone uses the bikes to run errands.
“It’s a great way to get around town on days that I don’t ride my own bike,” he said.
For long-distance biking commuters, the US 36 Bikeway — an 18-mile stretch from Westminster to Boulder which opened in early 2016 — provides a direct route to Boulder.
Graduate student Scott Gregory (MCivEngr’18) rides the path as often as possible on his 11-mile commute from Broomfield to campus.
“The bikeway is awesome!” he said. “It’s wide, well-kept and you never have to cross traffic thanks to the bridge and tunnel systems in place.”
Commuting can be frustrating and expensive — and it can be fun, healthy, social and sustainable.
Said Rider, “We strive to provide resources to help make the commute more efficient and less expensive, while reducing our shared impact on the environment.”
William Doe certainly considers the environment on his lengthy vanpooling commute from Fort Collins. It’s one reason he chooses to travel with others.
“I feel like in some small way I’m contributing to overall climate issues,” he said.
Photos by Casey A. Cass