As is abundantly clear to everyone, this past year turned all of our lives upside down and kept us away from the routine that we had known so well. While students, staff, and faculty settled into remote schooling, Transportation & Parking Services & the Associated Students (AS) Bike Committee began a series of sustainable transportation improvements, including adding more electric vehicle charging stations, installing parking occupancy systems, improving bike paths, and planning the building of a new AS Bicycle Shop.
Though most people give little to no thought when driving their cars, personal vehicles emit a large amount of carbon emissions and typically use non-renewable energy. The department of Transportation & Parking Services at UCSB has been and is continuing to normalize the use of electric vehicles to commute to campus. In the past year, they have considerably expanded the number of electric vehicle charging stations on campus. Operating on a tight budget, they leveraged grants to offer a total of 89 charging stations that are available for use to the campus community and visitors up from the 23 that were available two years prior—and this number will only continue growing. This was only possible through a grant which gave Transportation & Parking Services 135 make-ready stubs that provided the infrastructure necessary to add EV charging stations for the cost of only project management fees.
Many of the charging stations operate on what is called a trickle charge function. Trickle charging frees up EV drivers to leave their cars parked for their full workday while charging, instead of having to move their car after two hours or so, increasing convenience and accessibility for those who drive electric vehicles. The goal for EV charging on campus is for it to become a self-sustaining system. There is a small fee for charging, but it is intended to cover only the electricity and the maintenance of the charging stations rather than making revenue. Additionally, UCSB’s main campus procures carbon-free electricity, making it an ideal place for electric vehicle charging.
Transportation & Parking Services also installed a parking occupancy system in order to streamline on-campus parking. As vehicles enter the lot, sensors deduct from the number of spaces available so people can visualize how many spaces are available in the lot. This system has been expanded across multiple lots, including structure 10, 18, and 22. They are bringing an app online so visitors can see which spaces are open before they even get to the lot in real time. With the new system, the department is working to reduce idle time of pointlessly driving through areas. Instead of unnecessarily building new parking structures, which is extremely costly, this takes advantage of the resources our campus has. This parking occupancy system has been in the works for multiple years and they hope to expand it to flat lots in the future as well.
The last large initiative Transportation & Parking Services has undertaken is making a switch from physical, paper permits to e-permits. Drivers can purchase parking permits directly from a computer or their phone and their e-permit will be connected to their license plate. This opens up flexibility providing for opportunities like daily permits for commuters, incentivizing drivers to be more conscious of their driving. If drivers have to pay for parking on a daily basis, they are more likely to only drive when they need to and consider other sustainable options.
Nestor Covarrubias, the Director of Transportation & Parking Services, says that all of these projects have momentous significance on the future of sustainable transportation at UC Santa Barbara. Maximizing use of the parking spaces available on campus reduces the need for unnecessary new parking structures, the parking occupancy system reduces aimless driving while looking for a parking spot, and the EV charging stations serve to normalize electric vehicles and make them more accessible.
“The UC system has goals in place for seeing more people use alternative forms of transportation instead of driving alone between their homes and campus, and in order to do that the infrastructure has to be there for our community. It’s a UC issue but also a community issue,” says Nestor. The projects in place bring huge leaps in helping people think critically about the options that are available.
In addition to these new parking upgrades, the Associated Students (AS) Bike Committee also made improvements to many of the bike paths on campus. They recently finished repaving a section of the path near the Physics and Bren buildings. Over the summer, the committee is also planning to repave a section of the bike path near the bus loop, for which they have already allocated funds and received necessary approvals. Long-abandoned bikes clogging up bike racks were also successfully removed, further improving the quality of bicycle parking on campus.
One silver lining to this past year of remote learning is that these path redevelopments would have been extremely difficult to do while in-person classes were in full swing. Thousands of members of the UCSB community use the bike paths everyday in normal conditions, and a repaving project requires a complete shutdown of major sections of the bike system for several days at a minimum. Due to the pandemic, the AS Bike Committee was able to close the paths without causing major traffic jams and debilitating students’ abilities to travel to class during construction.
Adding to the exciting upgrades to our biking campus, the UCSB AS Bike Shop will soon have a new home and completely revamped appearance. Established on UCSB’s campus in the mid-seventies, the AS Bike Shop has been a vital resource for the community—and it has never had a permanent geographic location. Although the shop’s previous location is familiar to many, it has always been an understanding that the shop would eventually move at an unknown deadline. This date has been pushed back for years but with the energy and foresight of student mechanics stretching back to 2017, the conversation of a permanent home for the shop became a campus priority.
According to shop coordinator Adam Jahnke, “The construction of a brand new AS Bike Shop has been a long time coming…. It is our hope with this new building that the shop will be able to expand our programming and storage capabilities, which is desperately needed.”
To get a better idea of what is happening with the shop, please visit the Associated Students Bike Shop website at bikeshop.as.ucsb.edu, their Facebook at UCSB Associated Students Bike Shop, and their Instagram @as.bikeshop.
Beyond these initiatives, UC Santa Barbara also has an Alternative Vehicle Incentive Program in place to further the momentum of sustainable transportation. There is a barrier to entry for departments to make the switch from standard gas-powered vehicles to alternatively fueled vehicles. This program offers departments an approximately 10% rebate on the purchase of an alternatively fueled vehicle. To learn more, visit the Alternative Vehicle Incentive Program page on UCSB Sustainability’s website.
With all these initiatives in place, the future of sustainable transportation is growing brighter and more accessible at UC Santa Barbara. Slowly but surely, climate awareness is bringing impetus for change both system-wide and for individuals. Though COVID-19 still presents an obstacle for sustainable options such as public transportation and ride-sharing, the hope is that when we return to campus, the campus community can enjoy these improvements and make more sustainable choices.
Written by Connie Yoon, Undergraduate Communications Intern, UCSB Sustainability