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A Car Ban Aimed at Carbon

August 14, 2008

As campuses across the country look for ways to reduce their own carbon footprint and the environmental impact of their staff and students, many have tried to add services (like offering loaner bicycles as an alternative to the use of gas guzzling vehicles) to change behavior. Few if any, however, are actually saying No.

But Bowdoin College is, by banning cars for freshmen.

Starting in the fall of 2009, first-year students, who like second-year students are required to live on campus, will no longer be allowed to keep a car on the Maine college's grounds.

While some institutions have historically restricted freshmen from having cars to keep them involved in campus life or to minimize campus parking woes, Bowdoin's ban, first raised by a member of the president's Climate Commitment Advisory Committee, was specifically designed to make Bowdoin greener, says Tim Foster, dean of student affairs. “The driver for it, no pun intended, was really an environmental one,” he says.

Eighty-three first-year students had cars on the campus last year, Foster says, but most of those cars weren't used much during the year. Instead, the freshmen primarily used their cars as a way to get home, especially on breaks and at the end of the semester.

Foster says Bowdoin has a number of transportation services either in the works or already in place on the campus. The Bowdoin Communal Bike Club provides community bikes for those wanting to ride from place to place. The college recently entered into an agreement with Zipcar and two vehicles will be available to students starting this fall. The Bowdoin Shuttle, which starts September 4, the first day of classes, will be an “on demand” service that will give rides to students from campus into town. (The campus is within walking distance to most needed things in Brunswick.)

The college also updated its ride-share board to make it easier for students to connect with others who need rides, Foster said. This included making more students aware of it, which they hope to achieve by giving it a more prominent place on the Bowdoin Web site, as well as giving the Web page a new look. Bus stops such as Greyhound are also available in Brunswick and the college offers transportation to Portland transportation services such as the airport. In addition, Amtrak is expected to extend to Brunswick come 2010.

The first students to be affected by the new policy will be entering in fall 2009. Although Zulmarie Bosques will be a sophomore at Bowdoin this fall, and therefore not affected by the ban, she wrote in an e-mail that she supports the decision. Bosques wrote she did not have a car her first year but also didn't need one. Bosques said the campus is located close enough to needed shops and when she did need a ride, she could find one from an upperclassman.

“I did not find I needed a car last year,” Bosques wrote.

Bosques also said most of what you need is within walking distance of campus. Restaurants, shops, grocery stores are all within a reasonable distance. “The essentials are there,” she says.

Bosques didn't think there would be any problems or backlash from the new policy. She has some friends at other schools who are not allowed to bring cars as freshmen and didn't think it would deter anyone from attending Bowdoin. “I don't think there will be any major drawbacks," she says.

While reducing the number of cars on the campus will also surely have a positive impact on that eternal campus issue -- parking -- Foster says the fact that the car ban will alleviate congestion a bit factored little into its decision, especially since the university will add more parking with a new hockey facility it is building.

“The decision was really driven as a green decision, not a parking decision,” he says.

 

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