Monday, June 9, 2014

Lessons on Why Biking Matters in Unexpected Places

I recently attended the International Town and Gown Association (ITGA) annual conference in here in Clemson. It's the 10 year anniversary of the organization that started out in the Upstate with Clemson University and the City of Clemson. The organization supports communication and addressing the unique issues that arise in college towns. Think of the new Seth Rogen/Zac Efron movie "Neighbors," but in a more PG version, and where the issues are a little more high stakes.  

Members of the organization include the likes of the Ohio State University, University of Michigan, Weber State, Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, the City of East Lansing/Michigan State University and others.

Why, may you ask, might attending this conference be relevant to biking? During the conference they offered an opportunity to take their certificate program where they have national experts cover a host of topics related to town and gown issues. On the Sunday before the conference started a group of about 18 mostly university folks took advantage of the course.

One of the speakers was a consultant from a national transportation planning firm. His talk covered the changing transportation demands of the current demographic in college and recent grads - and the effects that its having on our national transportation system. Or, to sum it up, how bikes are here to stay! He cited a number of reports from the PIRGS, FHWA, US Census and others showing how folks, especially Generation Y, are demanding more flexible options when it comes to getting around. What made this so exciting was that he was talking to a room full of non-transportation-oriented professionals. He wasn't preaching to a crowd that already got it, but rather to a group that's charged with developing places that young people are drawn to. To hear this message at a conference like this was unexpected, but welcomed.

At the end of the course/day, I thanked him for sharing this information with the group, and that I have seen similar things at Clemson University. I wanted to take the opportunity to share my experience and also be an encouragement that this message matters. I found out that this was one of the first times he had covered the topic like this, and that he was still working on developing the course. So, I feel like it was even more important that he hear that this is a message that needs to be shared, especially to a crowd like this.

Providing sound, safe infrastructure and programs to meet the changing needs of transportation in our cities and communities, including the campuses of higher education is important. Not only are the demands changing (along with expectations), but folks arrive at college campuses looking for new opportunities. Supporting alternative modes of transportation and infrastructure, like bikes and dedicated facilities, can be part of that new, interesting collegiate experience.

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