The University of Miami has reduced vehicle traffic along the northern edge of the Coral Gables campus an average of 37 percent over the last 25 years by encouraging students, faculty and staff to walk, bike or take transit, and by instituting innovative policy and parking management strategies, UM officials say.
UM’s efforts provide a road map for businesses or institutions in Miami-Dade County to start similar measures, a move that could have a wider impact in traffic-choked South Florida, experts said.
Improving mass transit in South Florida took center stage in the local political agenda after a recent highway toll hike infuriated commuters. Many commuters also realized promises to expand Metrorail countywide would not happen in their lifetime.
The UM Mobility Plan, though in place for several years, was recently outlined by Joe Natoli, the university’s senior vice president for business and finance and chief financial officer. The highlight of the interview was his disclosure that UM’s numerous traffic-reduction measures have significantly curbed the number of vehicles on campus.
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“Over the last 25 years, these initiatives taken together have resulted in a 37 percent average reduction in peak traffic volumes near the residential areas of the campus,” Natoli said.
UM’s efforts mirror recommendations by transportation experts who encourage employers to promote ways through which employees use their cars less.
“One simple way businesses can go green is to encourage employees to use public transportation and shared rides to get to and from work,” according to a recent report from the Community Transportation Association of America, a Washington group.
One of the traffic-curbing measures UM has started is subsidizing transit use for employees.
UM buys between 2,700 and 3,000 passes from Miami-Dade Transit and then turns them over to employees who qualify for a subsidized price, said Janet Gavarrete, associate UM vice president in charge of campus planning and development.
Other UM traffic-curbing measures include restrictions on where students, faculty and staff can park and drive within the campus.
To discourage driving, UM officials assign a driver to a specific group of parking lots where vehicles can be left for the day. People moving around campus may choose their own personal mode of transport —feet, bikes or skateboards — or hop aboard a Hurry’Cane Shuttle bus. That calms traffic in and around campus, UM officials said.
During the academic year, the shuttle buses take riders around the campus, as well as to nearby South Miami and Coconut Grove.
“It does that as well, but for the most part the shuttle moves students, employees and visitors around the campus,” Natoli said. “There are two different routes, but basically from the Metrorail station down Stanford Drive to the core of the campus on one end and also then to the Ponce garage, which has 1,000 parking spaces, and then around the campus to the other side.”.
The shuttle service runs frequently, passing every five to seven minutes.
“It’s done so that it mirrors our class and peak times,” Gavarrete said.
The Hurry’Cane Shuttle service transports about 700,000 riders per year, UM officials said. There are more than 16,000 students on campus.
UM’s bike-use program offers another way to traverse the campus and gets people thinking about the Dolphins Cancer Challenge event, which raises money to fund cancer research at UM’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, UM officials said. Last year’s event drew 2,800 participants in 2014.
Through the various mobility programs implemented at UM over the last decade, university officials have removed almost 400 vehicles that once clogged the academic core of the campus, Gavarrete said.
Visitors to the Coral Gables campus in the late 1990s, for example, recall driving into the campus and circling in the various parking lots looking for a space.
Besides cutting back on the number of vehicles on campus, UM also has sought to “calm” the traffic by slowing it down.
UM has a 15 mph speed limit within the campus. Outside campus, UM has calmed traffic with several roundabouts at strategic locations. The roundabouts slow down vehicles by forcing drivers to reduce speed while approaching the circular islands in the middle of intersections.
Alfonso Chardy: 305-376-3435, @AlfonsoChardy