Planet Princeton

How Stanford University Has Grown Without Increasing Car Travel

There are a lot of simStanford Margueriteilarities between the campuses of Princeton University and Stanford University. They are both located midway between large cities, both have walkable town centers adjacent to them but are surrounded by auto-reliant suburbs, both have access to nearby commuter rail stations, and both are surrounded by communities that are motivated to preserve their long-established serene characters.

So as Princeton University moves ahead with its strategic plan and campus plan initiatives, it’s worth reviewing Stanford’s recent growth experience to see what the Princeton community might be able to learn from that.

First, Stanford’s University population grew from 2002 to 2012, but the demand for parking declined. The total campus population at Stanford rose from about 27,000 to about 31,000. At the same time, the inventory of on-campus parking spaces remained stable; the number of parking permits declined from about 22,000 to less than 20,000, and the number of occupied parking spaces declined from 17,800 to 16,600 (see the chart below).

Parking Inventory at Stanford

Second, as a result of a comprehensive set of “transportation demand management”, or “TDM,” programs, the way that members of the Stanford University campus community traveled to campus changed markedly in just one decade. The percent of people arriving to campus by driving alone dropped from 72% in 2002 to 42% in 2013; the percent of people arriving by commuter rail increased from 4% to 24% over the same period, and other modes of travel, including biking, walking, and car-pooling increased as well (see chart below).

Stanford Mode of Access

The changes in how Stanfordians get to campus have generated both public and private benefits. Stanford has calculated that, as a result of its TDM programs, the University has saved about $100 million in parking construction costs (plus, my estimate, on the order of between $1.5 and 3.0 million annual in parking facility and parking program maintenance costs, see pages 5-4-3 and 5-4-4 of the link)

Stanford Parking Costs

In addition to these fiscal savings to the University (which, to be fair, are offset by costs associated with the University’s TDM programs), the University has also estimated that annual commuter-generated greenhouse gas emissions have declined from a high of 32,000 metric tons of CO2 in 2002 to about 25,000 metric tons in 2013.

Stanford Carbon Emissions

An interesting feature of the Stanford’s TDM program development is that it took place within the rubric of a negotiated agreement reached in 2000 between the University and Santa Clara County, the jurisdiction with authority to regulate growth and development in unincorporated parts of the county.

The agreement replaced what had been a fractious project-by-project permit issuance approach with a “General Use Permit” approach that provided the University with permission to grow subject to specified conditions. Among these key points was the establishment of a “no net new auto commute trips” cap, regular monitoring of TDM program results and traffic counts at specified “traffic cordons” (places where traffic counts are taken), and a transportation impact mitigation program funded by the University if the University failed to meet the “no new trips” standard.

Contemplated under the GUP issued to Stanford in 2000 were construction of up to:

  • 2,035,000 net square feet of new academic and academic support uses
  • 2,000 net new student housing units
  • 350 net new housing units for postdoctoral fellows and medical residents
  • 668 net new housing units for faculty and staff
  • 2,300 net new parking spaces above the then-current base of 19,351 spaces

A few concluding thoughts :

  1. Regardless of similarities, different places are different, and the opportunities to reduce growth impacts and provide growth benefits are inevitably specific to each place – the precise approaches used at Stanford might not be appropriate in central New Jersey; that said…
  2. There are opportunities to make transportation improvements and establish transportation programs that meet both the closely held strategic interests of private universities and also the growth and quality-of-life interests of surrounding communities
  3. It is possible to replace conflicted, one-off approvals processes with programmatic approaches that more smoothly meet the mutual interests of campuses and communities.

Nat Bottigheimer

Nat Bottigheimer is a professional transportation planner and consultant with a background in public policy and real estate economics. He is currently working on TOD, streetcar, and bus dedicated lane planning projects in the Washington, DC region. He was a member of the Alexander Street University Place Task Force, and is a current member of the Princeton Traffic and Transportation and Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committees. He’s married to Eve Ostriker, an astrophysicist at Princeton University; and has two daughters, one at PHS. The most recent family addition is Basil, a one-year old labradoodle who gives the term “active transportation” new meaning.

  • Which mass transit system would allow a Montgomery Township or Hopewell Township resident to get to Trenton or New Brunswick or Jersey City without a car?

  • There are opportunities to make transportation improvements and establish transportation programs that meet both the closely held strategic interests of private universities and also the growth and quality-of-life interests of surrounding communities.

    Perhaps the problem is the “..the closely held strategic interests of private universities.” Perhaps more transparency would help?

  • Nat Bottigheimer

    Great question, Alexi, sorry it’s taken so long to reply.

    The program’s components are detailed at Stanford’s Parking & Transportation Services home page (google those words and you’ll get the URL, I can’t post the link here), but key elements include:

    – Pricing of parking

    – Provision of bus transit (The Marguerite)

    – Payment by the University to employees who give up parking

    – Purchase by the University of commuter rail and transit passes that can be used for more than just work trips

    – Emergency ride home guarantees for employees who don’t take cars to work but might have to get home quickly for an emergency

    – Parking credits for parking up to 8 times a month for days when driving is critical for daily logistics

    And other program elements that help/encourage/reward Stanford employees for not driving to the campus.

  • FreshAir

    It’s getting harder & harder to stay here, because of high taxes. That’s why transit solutions must be modern, smart & economical. Placing more huge mass transit buses, on colonial roads with bikers in “sharrows” is a bad solution. They are rarely full & hazardous. There are healthier, modern mobility options, Small alternative fuel vans, for example, would employ more drivers & pollute less. Shweeb cycle systems are cheaper than light rail, support personal freedom, are safe & nonpolluting. Large trucks are so dirty, damaging, & hazardous on roadways that they need to run along (or on) rail lines. I pray that the old guard who jeopardize our bright future will realize the permanent damage their outmoded, expensive plans do, & the freedoms & opportunities they compromise.

  • Modest Proposal

    One question: Do Stanford’s cops have acces to rifles?

  • LowlyRenter

    The comments so far ignore a big part of Stanford’s approach that eliminates cars on the road. If Princeton University and the town allowed for significant housing for postdocs and staff, a large amount of traffic issues would be eliminated. Staff housing is almost impossible to find, and they are a population that is not transient. They stick around for decades. They have children in local schools. They vote. They contribute to their towns and make them less homogenous and more interesting. Princeton needs this. A similar problem faces other workers in town, such as staff and teachers at the public schools.

  • Alexi Assmus

    Nat — so what did Stanford University do?

  • PrincetonVoter

    Clearly, you don’t like mass transit. But your fact don’t stand up. Yes, there is crime on NJ Transit, as there is crime everywhere. But I doubt there are statistics showing that the crime rate is any worse than in the general community.

    Similarly, the budget issue with NJ Transit goes to the Transportation Fund and how the politicians have decided to not fund mass transit with the same subsidies as the rest of the transportation system.

    It can be easily fixed if only people want to fix it.

  • Jim Jenson

    You get paid by the word? “HotAir” is more like it.

  • FreshAir

    If you want to wait at a cold bus-stop, see BIG buses like Nat pictured rolling on our colonial scaled roads, and line up and be herded like a cow into a cattle car for a dangerous ride on NJ Transit…that is your choice. I prefer a SMART zip car that runs on my schedule, does less damage, & keeps me safe & dry. Don’t be afraid…retire that big hulking system & pick up that mobile device : )

  • SFB

    “Like dinosaurs, old school Planners keep the focus on FAILING systems, instead of areas where there is hope”
    I think we’re both agreed about that. Perhaps we disagree about what the ‘FAILING’ systems are though. 😉

  • FreshAir

    roadway & auto safety can be improved in so many ways to reduce death rates. it is simply a matter for focus. Like dinosaurs, old school Planners keep the focus on FAILING systems, instead of areas where there is hope…at a high cost to us all.

  • SFB

    Cars kill between ten and one hundred times as many people as are killed in transit-related accidents and crime around transit stops. 501 people died in auto crashes in New Jersey in 2014. Cars provide convenient transport, but they are polluting, and car-dependent transportation systems do not scale. At a certain point, you just can’t fit any more cars on the road, making it hard for anybody to get anywhere. We can widen roads to try to fit more cars, but it is very costly, destructive of green space, and doesn’t necessarily solve the traffic problem (e.g. Route 1, which is a nightmare despite multiple widenings.)

  • FreshAir

    Actually, I’m a calm, reasonable person who like facts. And yes, there are facts to support my post. You will find them in reported news & available statistics online from state & transit system itself. NJ Transit is bankrupt as reported. They recently raised rates, cut services, etc…leaving consumers with whatever services & price NJT decides. As for crime, NJ Transit’s last radio advertising campaign placed safety own-ess squarely on the ridership to report anything they see, because, as the ad states: “your life depends on it”. Are you aware of two recent derailments in our corridor, that killed & injured riders? or the Princeton man murdered at a transit stop in Trenton? Do you know that a Mercer County family founded a .org after the lack of safety/rail security that led to the suicide/death of their son? There are many grim stories & statistics that show more deaths, injuries, & assaults on & along transit lines than are reported for bikers & pedestrians on roadways. I offer counterpoints to the strong anti-car sentiment that is continually placed on Planet Princeton, as a frequent cyclist, walker, driver & environmentalist. I do so for the preservation of personal freedoms that cars allows…for example, to set one’s own schedule, arrive on time, and go wherever one wants, protected in any weather. Solar powered, electric, natural gas fueled, & hydrogen cell vehicles offer cleaner alternatives to fossil fuel burning vehicles. They simply have to be advanced by industry to become mainstream. Anyone who really wants to boost the environment & human safety, as Nat claims he does, is actually blogging/campaigning against the cattle & animal based meat production industries & trucking hazards, which do FAR more environmental/human damage on the planet. I offer the other side of the story. Someone has to do so. Not planning for auto roadways creates epic scaled Washington DC traffic jams, which must be experienced to be believed…we already have enough problems & delays without that added burden.

  • PrincetonVoter

    That’s quite a rant.

    Is there a factual basis for any of your statements? How about:

    “NJs transit systems are crime ridden.”

    I ride NJ transit all the time and have never had a problem.

    And how about:

    “NJ Transit is a bankrupt, money & life sucking, black hole.”

    Transportation is a black hole. The entire highway/road system also sucks up money. Transportation taxes are meant to pay for roads/mass transit. And it’s cost efficient to pay for mass transit as it takes cars off the road that would be clogging the system — eliminating the need to build more roads.

  • FreshAir

    Nat, you mean well, but are too attached to mass transit rail systems to see the FUTURE…much like an old man who won’t touch a mobile device or tablet. Fortunately, there are brilliant minds in Princeton who realize the urgent need to innovate outside the failing box. The entire world looks to Princeton to lead. Moving humans with a reliance on archaic rail & bus transit system designs is too expensive & dangerous in NJ, to be our chosen way for these reasons:
    -NJs transit systems are crime ridden.
    -They cause FAR MORE deaths & injuries than autos cause walkers & bikers, making rail & buses more dangerous to humans.
    -Efforts to increase NJ Transit safety have failed. Accidents, trespasser deaths, suicides, & attacks on users continue.
    -Terrorists target mass transit & its ridership, for death & destruction.
    -911 trapped & killed NJ commuters. Many residents still have PTSD. Once is enough.
    – Rail travel comes to halt during long, expensive reconstruction periods, after rail accidents/tragedies. (The WTT transit station has yet to reopen.)
    -NJ weather patterns include temperature extremes, storms & high levels of precipitation that don’t occur in Stanford. Existing weather conditions often make efficient biking & walking impossible.
    – People are not tardigrades. Ignoring regional weather patterns when planning is completely disrespectful to human life. Exposing people to extreme temperatures & extreme weather on platforms, at stops, & in unventilated railcars/buses is cruel & dangerous.
    -Frequent mass transit delays are also cruel, stressful & damaging.
    – In short, NJ Transit is a bankrupt, money & life sucking, black hole. Ride it often & you will see. Fortunately, clean, liberating, affordable mobility technologies & options already exist. In a SMART future, high-speed railroads will carry goods to distribution centers housed in converted railroad stations. Computerized carriers, on these high-speed transit lines, will replace/remove most large trucks from our highways & local roadways. Smaller, computerized, hydrogen powered cars will safely carry humans on roadways & highways. These will liberate humans from time-consuming expensive mass transit, saving them precious time & money. Hydrogen & natural gas powered vans & buses will move groups quickly & safely to their destinations. Vehicles on roadways won’t harm pedestrians, bikers, or the environment, thanks to advanced navigational & fuel technologies. Humans will finally be freely mobile & protected while traveling. The use of smart technologies will reduce taxpayer burdens to fund massive prehistoric transit systems & will also protect our environment. Transit security will be proactive, protective, preventive, & possible in this scenario. There will be less travel related crime & less injury. Life will be better for commuters, when they are liberated in these ways. Cleaning up human remains from a NJ rail accident or mass terrorist attack will no longer be a needed task. Commerce will be well supported when consumer goods move quickly. Old ideas from the failing state of California, shouldn’t take root in the beautiful remnants of suburban NJ that we have left. Humans & nature are worthy of protection from large buses/trucks, dangerous rail tracks, platform crime, high costs, & pollution. People are smarter & braver than those in Cali. We already know real loss & tragedy well. I’m sure Princeton can design & introduce a MUCH better, cleaner, safer MORE MODERN future than the one you’re selling. Think of it like the DC Metro designers of the 1970s…they were so far ahead of the curve, & gave you something to work with (and mess up) in DC. Now, it is Princeton’s turn to innovate transportation in a NEW functionally beautiful way.

Events Calendar

« December 2017 » loading...
Mon 11
Mon 11

Mercer County CHADD Group

December 11 @ 7:45 pm - 9:00 pm
Tue 12

Princeton Board of Health Public Meeting

December 12 @ 7:30 am - 9:00 pm
Tue 12

Set in Stone: Lithography in France, 1815-1900

December 12 @ 10:00 am - 4:30 pm
Tue 12

Worship in Color and Family-style Dinner

December 12 @ 6:30 pm - 8:00 pm


  • Small World Coffee accepting donations for hurricane victims until Sat. noon.

Follow Us

           Buying a domain is easy

Events Calendar

%d bloggers like this: