There are a lot of similarities 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).
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).
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)
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.
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 :
- 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…
- 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
- It is possible to replace conflicted, one-off approvals processes with programmatic approaches that more smoothly meet the mutual interests of campuses and communities.