Rutgers University faces unique problems given it’s transportation situation. Most colleges have been developed such that most or all university buildings are walking distance of each other. However Rutgers’ fragmented campuses, divided by both rivers and highways, make getting around difficult at times. As Rutgers continues to grow it needs to take special precautions as to how it deals with the transportation network.
As most students know, buses are the main source of transportation for navigating the campuses during class time. Most bus stops are near classroom buildings, not to mention there is limited parking for cars. With classes 20 minutes apart, walking is not a realistic option for inter-campus travel. Bikes are an appealing choice, but for trips between Livingston and College ave or Livingston and Douglas it is a lengthy trek. Thus, buses remain the primary source. As Rutgers expands and enrolls more students, more people are riding the buses. Buses are getting more crowded and students may miss a bus due to overcrowding. For instance, it is known that going from College Ave to Busch is near impossible between classes if you’re leaving from the Student Activities Center. If a student is physically unable to get to class because buses are full, the system is failing.
There are multiple methods to try and remedy this problem. One of the most exciting, but equally outrageous, would be a monorail or light rail type transportation network. The rail would connect campuses and students could take them between class. They would be large enough to support the growing population at Rutgers, even between class periods. They would also avoid lights, stop streets and traffic altogether, making the trip expedited. Existing roads would be cleared without the congestion of buses, and car and bike transportation would be smoother. However financially Rutgers is likely unable to burden this proposition, though an intriguing one, so it is not realistic.
One of the methods that is a short term solution would be to simply add more buses. More buses arriving more frequently makes it more likely students can board a bus and get to class on time. However there are multiple problems with this trend. Roads on College Ave are already heavily congested. Pedestrians delay traffic on College Avenue throughout the day, and it is important to drive cautiously down this road. The route from College Avenue, Hamilton and George Street causes significant delays during rush hour. What should be a two minute loop around the College Ave campus can turn into a 20 minute nightmare. From the Rutgers Student Center around to the Route 18 exit there are four street lights to delay traffic. As more buses are added this congestion will only get more significant.
In the past there have been rumblings about turning College Avenue into a green space or a mall. Eliminate the road completely and make it a tree lined pedestrian location. This would certainly enhance the College Avenue atmosphere and make it more pedestrian friendly, but where does that traffic go? Cars and buses formerly using that road would be forced to use George Street or Easton Avenue, two roads that are already heavily congested. Traffic would become a constant problem. This green space idea would work however, if a bus only lane were added. The area wouldn’t serve completely as originally intended, but the area could still be enhanced and buses would experience much less traffic. However, this does not solve the problem of diverting car traffic elsewhere.
Another idea that is realistic and has potential to solve some problems is truly invest in a bike network. Biking between Busch and Livingston is simple enough and is a 10-15 minute trip, enough time to get between classes. The only intimidating aspect may be conquering the overpass over route 18, which is a fairly steep hill and can take the wind out of you. Busch to College Ave does has a bike network, but it seems it is not used frequently enough. That trip is also a 15-20 minute trek. Biking is an excellent option during nice weather, providing a chance to avoid crowded buses and get exorcise and fresh air. If more students used bikes, buses would be less crowded and perhaps would eliminate students missing buses completely. However Rutgers needs to truly invest in a bike system to encourage students to use it. Illustrate and define paths between campuses so that students know exactly where to go. Provide bike rentals that students will use and make it accessible. I used a bike during a trial last year but was unimpressed with the bike. It had backwards-pedaling brakes, something I hadn’t used since I was very young. It also only featured 3 speeds, and I enjoy the freedom of having a multitude of speeds. The handlebars were also strangely shaped, much different from what I was accustomed to on a mountain bike or race bike. I feel that this bike program was a step in the right direction but did not effectively convert everyday bus riders into bike users.
In the coming years Rutgers is going to have to make some important decisions regarding traffic. The current system of adding more buses (or deleting them as budget cuts set in) may not work long term, as current New Brunswick roads may reach maximum density soon. As more students ride buses and crowd streets, it is becoming slower to ride them that it would be to ride a bike or even walk. A light rail system is exciting but likely not a reality. Thus, a strong alternative that is relatively inexpensive and has many upsides would be to invest in bike transit. Information should be distributed to students regarding bike paths, average trip lengths and places to lock up bikes. Offering appealing bikes would make students more likely to switch from buses to bikes. The opportunity of bikes at Rutgers is there, and they need to start investing in it.