MoveVU, Vanderbilt University’s developing mobility strategy for faculty, staff and students, has received a major boost from a $4.5 million, three-year federal grant, which the university will match. The $9 million total will fund shuttle operations, shuttle shelters, bike share shelters and other efforts to encourage greater use of sustainable travel options.
Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos, Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer and other state and university leaders made a formal announcement about both MoveVU and the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program grant Tuesday at the Wond’ry as part of Vanderbilt’s FutureVU Mobility Expo.
“The development of MoveVU, Vanderbilt’s new mobility strategy, has been a unique collaboration with faculty, administrators, staff and students,” Zeppos said. “MoveVU is about creating a plan to better move to and around our campus. We need to be inclusive and careful in our approach so that we are better stewards of our environment while meeting the mobility needs of those who live and work here at Vanderbilt.”
Vanderbilt also collaborated with state transportation officials to begin developing its MoveVU strategy, which will lead to a comprehensive path forward for mobility on and around campus.
“The CMAQ program provides dedicated funding for projects that improve the quality of life in our communities,” Schroer said. “Cleaner air and reduced congestion not only improve the quality of life, they also are important to maintaining a healthy economy. We look forward to working with Vanderbilt to improve these issues for many more Middle Tennesseans.”
The faculty’s transportation expertise was integral to a successful grant application. The team was led by Mark Abkowitz, professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Craig Philip, director of the Vanderbilt Center for Transportation and Operational Resiliency. They said Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s joint status as Middle Tennessee’s largest employer, with thousands of employees traveling from across the region to the Nashville campuses daily, presented a significant opportunity to expand the university’s leadership role in addressing congestion and air quality.
“We’re very pleased that TDOT awarded us a grant of this scale. We were helped by the fact that it’s rare that they’ve been approached by an organization that had such a full-scale, integrated approach to solving this problem,” Philip said. “Vanderbilt is seizing the moment and saying there are ways individual organizations can work to solve transportation issues within their own communities and among their own employees.”
Abkowitz said one of the grant’s major areas is transportation demand management, which means providing motivation for travelers to change their behavior.
“In the case of congestion mitigation and air quality, that is getting people out of single-occupant vehicles,” he said. “What makes Vanderbilt so appealing as a flag bearer for this effort is its size. If we could come up with an integrated approach to addressing this problem, it would be a demonstration for other employers. We’re working very closely with Metro Nashville as well to be sure our plan fits in with the city’s overall.”
In advance of the grant, Vanderbilt is installing motion and air-quality sensors across the campus and its periphery to understand how people navigate it and any air quality issues present. Over the next three to five years, the MoveVU program, with funding support from the CMAQ program, will launch a variety of new initiatives, including expanding shuttle operations using vehicles that rely on alternative fuels (either electricity or biofuels), instructing new shelter stops, and establishing bike and scooter share stations, shelters and repair sheds.
Erin Hafkenschiel, recently appointed executive director of mobility in the Division of Administration, will lead MoveVU planning. Hafkenschiel most recently served as director of transportation and sustainability in the Nashville mayor’s office.
It’s important that the entire campus be involved in developing the plan and also understands transportation options already available, said Eric Kopstain, vice chancellor of administration.
“Much of our effort is aimed at educating the Vanderbilt community about the environmentally-friendly, traffic-friendly options we’re making available to reduce an unsustainable one-person, one-car culture,” Kopstain said. “We’re a landlocked institution in the heart of Nashville, and so we are positioned to make a significant, positive impact on our students and the surrounding area by replacing acres of parking spaces with green spaces and academic buildings that better serve our mission.”
FutureVU, the overarching, comprehensive land-use plan for Vanderbilt’s 333-acre campus, ensures the university can follow its academic mission while accommodating Nashville’s fast-paced growth and remaining a good neighbor. The FutureVU Mobility Expo provided students, faculty and staff an opportunity to explore Vanderbilt’s mobility and transportation progress and learn more about MoveVU, plus enjoy demonstrations, free food and prizes.
The federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement program provides dedicated federal funding to state departments of transportation for projects that improve air quality and reduce congestion. The CMAQ program improves air quality by funding transportation projects and programs that reduce air emissions from cars, trucks and buses in air quality non-attainment and maintenance areas, which are the only areas eligible for CMAQ funding.