Cian Carton examines how the drive towards green commuting has influenced the debates on road safety and parking on campus.
The push for a more environmentally friendly campus by both students and the administration is a popular endeavour. Some campaigns, like the provision of recycling bins are easily visible and measurable, but there is one major green campaign with the possibility to greatly reduce carbon emissions in UCD. The work on commuting is often carried out by committees in boardrooms, but their impact on campus is now starting to be felt. This piece will examine how the push for a green commuting plan in UCD has altered the provision of both road safety campaigns and parking on campus, two issues chosen to highlight the wide-ranging effects of the campaign.
Where are the Road Safety Campaigns?
In the past, UCD Students’ Union (UCDSU) has organised road safety campaigns around campus, and at one point used to host a Road Safety Week. In contrast, Luke Fitzpatrick, current UCDSU Campaigns and Communications (C&C) Officer, could not recall UCDSU organising any road safety campaigns in recent years. While this may appear frightening, the reality is quite different. Rather than organise specific campaigns, road safety has become a more organic issue. Evidence of this new approach is everywhere. Fitzpatrick mentioned that students had contacted him this year about commuting and road safety, which he described as “absolutely fantastic to see.” The day I approached him about road safety, he spoke of how he had gotten hold of some RSA reflector vests which were left over from Bike Week and was going to hand them out with some student volunteers to cyclists outside the library one evening. As part of the upcoming Marchathon, a national walking challenge for third level colleges, Brian Mullins from UCD Sport had given him some slap on reflectors for bikes to distribute. It was an impromptu event to help out student cyclists, but is part of a bigger UCDSU program, which reveals a shift towards a more casual approach, and also an environmentally friendly approach. Shane Grogan, UCDSU Environment Coordinator, told the Tribune that “promoting cycling and bike safety has been an ongoing campaign throughout the year.” Since cycling is popular to promote, UCDSU can effectively layer in an element of road safety awareness, such as through vests and reflectors at no significant cost. Finance wise, this approach towards linking road safety with greener forms of commuting is cost effective.
The UCD Travel Plan
The shifting student perspective merely reflects the administration’s own view on commuting, which is set out in the UCD Travel Plan 2016-2021-2026. The aim of the 10 year plan is to “create a high quality campus environment which promotes sustainable, healthy and active lifestyles, while offering transport and mobility choice for the University community.” In an introduction to the Travel Plan, Andrew Deeks, President of UCD, stated the “implementation of this Travel Plan will be funded by revenues raised from permit parking on our campuses.” The UCD Travel Plan 2016 estimates the staff and student population of UCD in 2016 at 28,000. It is predicted to rise to 33,000 in 2021 and 35,000 by 2026.
The plan noted the proportion of employees and students driving to Belfield reduced from 30% in 2010 to 23% in 2016. However, the plan also stated that 25% of staff and students travelled to UCD by car in 2016. Different statistics aside, the plan targets a fall to 22% in 2021 and to 19% in 2026. These numbers are fascinating. 25% of 28,000 is 7,000. 22% of 33,000 is 7,260. 19% of 35,000 is 6,650. If these estimates are correct, then the number of commuters to UCD by car will actually increase within the next five years. The use of public transport is targeted to increase from 41% to 43% by 2026. The biggest targeted increase is in walking and cycling, where it is aimed to increase by 4% from 34% to 38% by 2026. The annual commuting survey will be used to assess progress towards these targets. The plan is bad news for drivers, as it states that in order to help pedestrians, car movements “will be increasingly kept to the periphery.” Interestingly, the Travel Plan is implicitly a road safety campaign in itself. The target of reducing car usage and keeping them away from pedestrians and cyclists in the centre of campus is to be welcomed.
When finance from the administration becomes available for commuting, it goes environmentally positive proposals. Fitzpatrick mentioned he was aware that Campus Services “have put a lot of funding into getting more Sheffield Stands for cyclists because there isn’t enough of those at all on campus.” The Travel Plan estimated 20% of staff and students cycle to UCD, where there are 4,100 bike parking spaces available. These new spaces mean an increase in that figure. Earlier this month, UCD Estate Services announced it had created two new groups for commuters as a “fun way to encourage students and staff to commute in a sustainable way.” Groups for cycling and running and walking were set up on the Strava fitness app. At present one group has six members while the other has three, so they are yet to take off.
Bike Week: The New Face of Road Safety?
Road safety is also promoted by staff and students through UCD Bike Week, which is organised by UCD Commuting. What was once an annual day has expanded to a two-day event. The most recent Bike Days were held on February 15th and 16th. Each morning, there were 300 free breakfasts for cyclists who showed up with their bikes. The Dublin Bus Urban Jungle appeared to promote road safety, while a cycling instructor also showed up to offer advice on bike safety and maintenance. The days featured events which promoted healthy eating and competitions. From a road safety perspective, Bike Day revealed the new approach on campus. Aspects of road safety were incorporated into the event itself which had its own distinct brand.
The expansion of the event highlights its success in generating interest among staff and students. Grogan described it as a major environmental event on campus. However, the “Bike Week” name itself may have been off-putting for those who are not already cyclists, namely drivers themselves. While road safety for cyclists was covered at the event, something similar to attract drivers, if that is even possible, would be an improvement.
Parking on Campus: Hell on Earth
“Realistically every student who drives gives out about car parking in UCD.” This one sentence summary from Fitzpatrick explains all. For those who do not drive to UCD, it is difficult to understand just how frustrating a simple experience can be. Environmental and road safety issues aside briefly, getting a parking spot in UCD is a battle in itself. Some attempt was made to cover parking issues by UCDSU in this year’s Wingin It Handbook. It humorously described the state of the various car parks on campus. The handbook made it clear that “most people give up on driving entirely because of parking.” The Handbook explains how Dún Laoghaire Rathdown Council are “blocking more parking because 1. UCD is the greatest generator of car journeys in South Dublin and 2. They don’t want car journeys to increase but conversely want to encourage greener forms of transport”.
UCDSU is a part of the Smart Travel Group, which also consists of members from UCD Estate Services, UCD Sport, and representatives from student societies, students themselves, and someone from the Road Safety Authority. A lack of influence over car parks in UCD combined with an environmentally friendly approach has seen UCDSU back away from cars in general. Fitzpatrick explained how UCDSU “sell Leap Cards from our office which is a key indicator that we promote using public transport over the likes of cars” and said that Shane Grogan, UCDSU Environmental Coordinator, “pushes cycling more than driving.” He said “the only time we promote using a car is carpooling. Which in fairness is better than driving on your own.” He explained how UCDSU “have always pushed carpooling around General Election time to get home and vote” with reference to a cashback competition for petrol money they organised for last year’s general election. While Grogan is promoting cycling on campus, he also mentioned how UCDSU are “trying to come up with a system to promote carpooling amongst students when they go home on the weekends.”
For students annoyed at this situation, the Wingin It Handbook tells them to “run in a student election or submit a motion to Council or start a movement with a Union petition. Because the only thing that’s going to influence the thinking of public representatives is a mass movement of voters.” Surprisingly, one of the four candidates in this year’s C&C race is doing so. Barry Murphy’s manifesto said he would campaign for more parking spaces in UCD, push for a one day “leeway” for students to sort out their parking permits, a set out a plan to create a “UCD Car Pooling Forum”. Murphy explained to the Tribune that “we have a huge campus but yet students often have to waste half an hour driving around UCD looking for somewhere to park their car before heading into our library during weeks 10, 11 and 12 of each semester. Some give up completely and head home before they can even open the books. In other universities, students can drive in at any time of the day and find somewhere to park very easily.” Amusingly, he mentioned how it was “something that was highlighted to me when I was getting my signatures.” Murphy said his campaign would involve “highlighting extremely poor parking and wastage of space” which “would also open up more spaces”. He said “parking spaces do not have to be permanent and extra spaces could be made available for the end of the semester and exam periods. Putting pressure on UCD to use space more wisely has to happen.”
Out of the nine candidates to contest the C&C position since it returned in 2015, two have mentioned road safety and parking in their campaign manifestos. One of them explicitly mentioned organising a road safety campaign (he lost the election). Commenting on parking as a campaign issue, and the calls for another car park, Fitzpatrick suggested it was a common grievance. “Do I think it’s actually possible? Who knows to be honest, it is difficult to find a space to put one. We are fortunate enough to have so much grass and forests I would be worried that another carpark could ruin the beauty of this place. But if the students need it then it’s a toughy for sure.”
The push for a more environmentally friendly campus has influenced both how UCDSU and the administration promote commuting to UCD. Road safety has been rolled into the push to promote cycling to UCD. As it is set to grow, there will be more chances to spread the vital message. However, the targeting of cyclists at the expense of pedestrians and drivers must be addressed. If the perception of road safety has altered, then it is fair to say the debate on parking has fared significantly worse. With car journeys to UCD set to remain stable or even slightly increase due to a growing population over the next five years, it is clear that the provision of new car parks will not be a major solution. Small attempts to limit journeys through carpooling will help, but it may be the sheer frustration of fighting for parking spaces every morning that could cause staff and students to change their commuting patterns.
Cian Carton | News Editor