Imagine a newly admitted student seeing UT for the first time. Imagine a guest speaker arriving on campus, preparing to give a lecture.
They’re excited to arrive on our beautiful campus, and they’ve heard all about our commitment to environmental sustainability. After all, UT was named a top environmentally responsible college last October by The Princeton Review.
Now imagine our visitors struggling to find their way around the The Forty Acres. When they turn to one of the posted maps, what will they see? Roads. Parking garages. Interstate 35, complete with ramps.
The message is clear: UT is a campus that is car-first. The message that one does not get to campus by any means other than a car is implied; and the parking garages, marked with eye-catching “P” logos and a distinctive shade of navy blue, are shrines to our four-wheeled idols of metal, oil and rubber.
Even the heart and soul of campus — the newly renovated Speedway Mall — has vanished now that it is closed to cars. And so dissenters from the church of the automobile, like Joseph Stalin’s political foes, have been erased from the public record.
Our worship of the car is thoroughly at odds with the idea of sustainability.
UT’s Campus Sustainability Policy, adopted in 2008, defines sustainability as the presumption that “the planet’s resources are finite, and should be used conservatively, wisely, and equitably.” From enhanced curricula to smarter campus planning to more efficient operations, the policy envisioned a multi-pronged approach to make the university more sustainable by “(advancing) economic vitality, ecological integrity, and social welfare.”
Encouraging visitors to arrive by car is economic folly — parking lots and garages waste precious real estate that could be used for student housing and classrooms. And obviously, it’s bad for the environment — cars belch noxious emissions that kill thousands of Americans every year and contribute to worldwide climate change.
Our love affair with the car is also socially unjust — less fortunate students already struggle with the high costs of Austin rent. A map that excludes their choice of transportation suggests they’re second-class Longhorns because they can’t afford to drive to class.
Despite the campus map’s narrow focus on car travel, sustainable transportation options are abound on campus. Nineteen percent of students walk to campus, according to a 2014 study on transportation choices at UT. Eight percent commute by bicycle, producing no pollution whatsoever. Twenty-two percent ride the efficient and environmentally friendly UT shuttle system. Only thirty-three percent of students drive alone.
Looking at our campus map, visitors to our school would never discover these alternative transportation modes or realize how integral they are to our culture. The map should show not just parking garages, but also UT shuttle lines, bicycle lanes and major walking routes. Perhaps, as I noted previously in my critique of the Be Safe initiative, it could also show the real-time locations of UT shuttles using existing bus tracking technology.
We must demonstrate that we give equal attention to more sustainable, efficient and environmentally conscious ways of getting around. Our commitment to sustainability rings hollow so long as we give the prospective student and guest speaker the false impression that our campus is obsessed with cars.
Young is a computer science junior from Bakersfield, California.