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Improving Transportation

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) recently held a public workshop at FAU to collect feedback on the idea to add express lanes between Oakland Park Blvd (close to FAU's Davie campus) and Glades Road. If implemented, the project will "create the opportunity to accommodate a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system that will allow express bus service between counties with connections to the existing Park-and-Ride lots along the corridor." That means something like this:

Thanks Wikipedia.

BRTs are neat concepts but I don't see as much specific advantage for FAU students by putting them on I-95 between Oakland Park and Glades Road. Yes, some students live that far away and commute to the Boca campus but when it comes down to it, a more pressing need for FAU is moving students around Boca Raton.

As you may know, Glades Road is way over capacity by something like 20,000 more cars a day than intended and that's why they keep widening the roads. The main traffic generators, the city argues, are FAU (the fact that PBSC also contributes cars to Glades is always overlooked for some reason), University Commons and the Town Centre Mall. No argument there. But how many more times can you widen Glades Road?

One idea they are considering is adding BRT or LRT (light rain transit, so same thing as the picture above, only with trains) that would run east-west along Glades from 441 to Federal Highway. This would be an interesting - and in the case of LRT, expensive - idea. I can see them going with buses here out of cost, and think that would be a good way for students, faculty and staff to get around.

Some people might argue that south Florida doesn't often lend itself well to that sort of transportation because once you get off on the FAU station, you still have to walk all the way from Glades Road to, say, the Breezeway in the humidity or the rain. In fact, Boca Councilman Anthony Mahjess recently used this very point to fight against the proposed University Village project to be built north of Spanish River, just east of FAU's fish farm. For the uninitiated, the is a "mixed-use" (meaning retail AND residential) project that will bring a lot of rental properties near campus to actually serve as a "planned mobility site" that encourages young professionals to bike/walk over to the Yamato Tri-Rail area to get to work. Mahjess contended that it's too hot and rainy to do that here, as if it wasn't hot or rainy anywhere else that public transportation existed.

We're getting off-track here but as a side note, one resident pointed out that the University Village apartments may "just become another FAU dorm if we're not careful" - which they will, at least in some capacity. Young professionals will live there but when you have rental property that close to a college campus... it's inevitable.

And that's not a bad thing - at least from the FAU perspective. I don't think the university (or the City) appreciates how important it is to bring more people near campus. As the land around campus gets gobbled up by churches and elementary schools and adult living, that just creates a situation where more and more people have to drive from farther away to get to campus. Concordantly, it creates the need to widen Glades and add new I-95 interchanges (like the one off Spanish River Blvd coming in 2015) and think about BRT from Oakland Park to Glades. The university isn't getting any smaller and our enrollment inflates faster than our ability to build parking garages, which is in itself an issue because every parking garage will eventually take away from academic space because the campus isn't as expansive as it will need to be.

Think about it. We're at 30k students now and feeling the pressure. When we get to 40k and 50k students, we're going to need highly efficient ways to get people on and off campus without too much issue. A BRT down Glades Road is part of it. Another part is expanding the Palm Tran OR expanding the current campus shuttle system off campus (more likely, for various reasons).

Let's talk about the shuttle for a minute. As you probably know, FAU has two intracampus "Owl Express" shuttles called the Red Line and the Blue Line (you can see the routes here). The Blue Line mainly exists so fewer students complain about having to get from the north side of the stadium to the Breezeway. The Red Line is the workhorse, the true shuttle path that encircles campus and is particularly helpful if you need to get from, say, the University Village Apartments (the ones on campus, not the new ones proposed... that distinction might be a problem in the future...) to the Oxley.

So while we have a way to get around on campus, we still need a better way to get around off campus, and that's where I think the Owl Express shuttle system will have to be expanded. After all, the Board of Trustees is looking into restricting freshmen from having cars on campus. That could fill up dorms and free up thousands of parking spots for other students, but in order for it to work, you need efficient ways to get them around. We'd need to be able to get them to Publix on Federal Highway, to the mall, to Cinemark, to the bowling alley - all of the hot spots. And as more and more student housing projects open up east of campus, especially along 20th Street, effective shuttle service will get those students to and from campus without making them park here either, thus freeing up even more spaces. That's what we're building toward. That's where we're going.

Last but not least, bike rental is a concept that is popular in Europe and a handful of American cities and it's something that could be highly effective for getting people to/from campus over short distances. For instance, let's say you could rent one right outside of the Student Union and drop it off at University Commons, the mall, or maybe even outside the various student housing apartments.

EDIT: I talk more about public bikes in a future entry here.

You might have noticed that Boca Raton is adding more bike lanes in anticipation of more people biking in the future. I think it's not so much a matter of weather as it is culture; right now people reiterate and defend the need for a car in Boca Raton like it's a mantra. And people argue that Boca Raton needs to stay as a "low density" town, which it could, but even at the current density we're still talking about bike lanes and buses and other ways to get people around the city.

So let's face it: public transportation is in Boca's future and the city will be better for it. You'll see.

GO OWLS!

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