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Chicago Recognizes Alternative Travel Efforts

June 19, 2008 | by Alan K. Cubbage
EVANSTON, Ill. --- Get on your bike, share the ride or take the bus!

That's the advice for students, faculty and staff headed for Northwestern's Chicago campus. Northwestern was recently recognized by the City of Chicago for its efforts to encourage use of those transportation alternatives and the University will join with its hospital partners this summer to further promote them.

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley recognized Northwestern and the other major universities located in Chicago at the annual Mayor's Bike to Work Rally on June 13 as leaders in the ever-growing movement of bicycle commuting.

"For most of the trips we make, these are great alternatives to the car, which means that we're reducing the traffic congestion and air pollution that cars bring with them," said Daley in presenting the Bicycle Advisory Council Award a ceremony in Daley Plaza June 13.

"We're very pleased to receive this recognition from Mayor Daley and the City of Chicago," said Eugene S. Sunshine, senior vice president for business and finance. "Northwestern is always looking for ways to make our campuses more 'green' so providing alternatives to driving is critically important.

Brian Peters, director of university services, said that Northwestern has hired a student intern to promote walking, bicycling and transit use on the Chicago campus beginning in July. Co-sponsored by the Chicago Department of Transportation, the intern will work cooperatively with Northwestern's hospital partners in efforts to reduce parking demand and traffic congestion on Northwestern's Chicago campus.

The University already has taken several measures to encourage the use of alternative transportation to the Chicago campus, Peters said. Those initiatives include:

• A bicycle storage room in the Erie-Ontario parking garage that provides secure storage for bikes and compressed air for riders to fill their bike tires. The room has space for 68 bicycles.

"We're seeing a real demand for this service," Peters said. "Providing a secure place to lock bikes definitely increases the likelihood that people will use them for commuting. Students will be given the first priority for these spaces, then faculty and staff. A nominal annual license fee of $25 will be charged."

• Shuttle buses to and from the commuter train stations. The shuttles, operated in cooperation with Northwestern's hospital partners, provide service during morning and evening rush hours.

• The Intercampus shuttle bus. Started in late 1999, the intercampus shuttle now provides service from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. with buses making the journey between Northwestern's Chicago and Evanston campuses more than 50 times a day on weekdays.

• The McGaw shuttle bus. Providing service between the Chicago campus and Children's Memorial Hospital in Lincoln Park, the McGaw shuttle operates between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Ridership on all of Northwestern's shuttle bus routes has grown steadily, Peters said. In its first full year, the intercampus shuttle carried approximately 22,700 riders. That number exceeded 255,000 in fiscal year 2007, he said. Ridership for the commuter train station shuttles has doubled in the last seven years to more than 385,000 rides in FY07.

• An employee benefit of a pretax public transit pass purchase program that allows employees to pay for Metra and CTA passes via pretax payroll deductions.

• Placement of an I-GO car in the Chestnut Street parking garage for people interested in car-sharing.

The alternative transportation methods make sense financially as well as being good for the environment. Although Northwestern subsidizes parking in the University-owned garages, the annual cost of a parking permit on the Chicago campus ranges from $576 to $2,868, depending on an employee's annual salary. And with gas at more than $4 a gallon, overall commuting costs are skyrocketing for those who drive.

The intern will work with University Services and other offices to explore additional ways to encourage alternative transportation, including making the Chicago campus more bike- and pedestrian-friendly.

"We're very encouraged by the response we've had to the initiatives so far and we hope to develop more strategies for transportation alternatives in the future," Peters said.