Deric Gruen is the Sustainability Coordinator and Resource Conservation Manager at Bellevue College, where he works to plan, implement and evaluate initiatives to integrate sustainability into institutional practices.
Deric received his Masters in Public Administration from the University of Washington, and has lent his expertise to a diverse array of organizations, including the Sightline Institute, the Puget Sound Regional Council, and the Trade Development Alliance at the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce.
In just one year at BC, he has already spearheaded a successful movement to bring Metro bus route 240 to campus, heightened the campus sustainability web and social media presence (see Facebook and Twitter pages), as well as instituted a college-wide paid parking program that began this fall.
We chatted with Deric about organizing, land use, making biking “cool,” and what’s next for Bellevue College.
CYWB: Can you begin by telling us a little bit about how you came to work at Bellevue College, and what you do there?
Deric: I began working at Bellevue College in September of 2010, following a year of traveling through the Middle East and Southern Africa by bike on a fellowship through the University of Washington. The first thing I was tasked with was tackling the longstanding transportation issues on our campus. I quickly helped to develop a task force comprised of students, faculty and staff that served as a platform for ongoing discussions about how we continue to grow mindfully while remaining an accessible institution for everyone.
CYWB: We hear you’re a something of a community organizer—would you mind telling us the happy story of bus route 240?
Deric: Earlier this year, I worked with student groups in an effort to get the Metro bus route 240 to make a stop at the Eastgate Park and Ride, the closest transit station to the College. We determined that 23% of Bellevue College students come from areas that would be served by this route, and that the cost of this change would be a mere five minutes for some commuters, but would save our students about a half an hour. We encouraged students to send letters and emails of support to the King County Council, and they went and testified before Council about how critical the bus service was to them. Their testimony tipped the scales, and as of October 1, the 240 now stops at Eastgate. Students often don’t count as much as jobs in transportation route planning, but they matter just as much, which I’m glad the Council recognized.
CYWB: Bellevue College has also been in the headlines lately for their new paid parking program, which is quite a change for the suburban-style campus where about 70% of the students and faculty drive alone. Can you explain how this came about?
Deric: We’ve long offered subsidized ORCA passes for our students, but with sharp increases in the cost of the pass, we realized we wouldn’t be able to continue to make the numbers work without a funding source for both parking and ORCA. We hired a consultant to conduct a parking study for us as a requirement of a new building we have permitted, and they issued the recommendation that charging for parking was the best solution to maintain accessibility of our campus. Furthermore, we determined that 75% of our emissions are commute related, and we want to reduce this by 10% over the next 5 years as part of our campus Climate Action Plan.
CYWB: Parking is often a contentious topic—how did you win the support of the campus community in this process?
Deric: The student government came out in support of it after a long review and deliberation—we have a very active student body and strong leaders on campus. The toughest sell was some of the employee union groups—they’ve long considered free parking to be one of their benefits. The whole bargaining process took a good 6 months. But in the end, the students were able to make the case to the Board of Trustees that we would never have a different future if we didn’t make this change now. It was approved in June of this year, and we began implementation this fall. The rates aren’t prohibitively high—$65 a quarter for students, less if you drive less, and just $15 a quarter for faculty and staff.
CYWB: If you could explain why institutions should charge for parking to the unconverted in just a few sentences, what would you say?
Deric: People need to understand that parking is not a free resource, and at Bellevue College, we’ve decided that we’d rather put our resources towards the students. Parking costs about $500 annually per stall, so it’s really a trade off when you think of it like that. As an institution, we want to become mode neutral and not subsidize one commute method over another. We want to always give people the element of real choice.
CYWB: Transportation and land use is often thought of something separate from sustainability efforts—often organizations that have recycling and energy saving programs don’t even mention transportation. Why the disconnect?
Deric: There’s always the fear factor of engaging around commute issues—it’s a very personal thing to people, with often intangible manifestations. It also takes work to organize non-drive-alone commutes, which is why before we enacted the paid parking scheme, we set up 5 informational booths around campus with representatives from King County Metro and the City of Bellevue and other students to help people plan their new commutes. That way it became more tangible, and manageable. Interventions like (PARK)ing day can help to make physical effects of parking more visible, as well. That’s something we might try on campus.
CYWB: Do you have any thoughts or tips for other institutions (schools, hospitals, etc) who might want to shift to paid parking?
Deric: Do the analysis to find out the true cost of parking on your institution and explore whether subsidies for parking are more than your subsidies for other modes and consider if that is fair. In times of tight budgets consider your priorities. Once you’ve done that analysis bring the findings to your employees and clients.
CYWB: How will you be able to tell if the new paid parking program has been a success?
Deric: We’re planning to do parking counts and a transportation survey but we haven’t decided whether it’ll be the spring or fall. Sales of parking passes and ORCA cards are going briskly, as expected—we’ve actually sold out of the cheaper ORCA pass—and we will continue to help with individualized commute planning through our SHIFT partnership and RideshareOnline. The parking program is a biennium, so we’ll re-evaluate it in 2013.
CYWB: What’s up with biking on the Bellevue College campus? You’d think it would be the perfect demographic for it.
Deric: Anecdotally, I’ve seen more bikes this fall than ever before. We’re installing covered bike parking, and our gym is free to use for showering purposes. We’re in the process of setting up a maintenance facility, and working with the Bicycle Alliance of Washington to organize safety and maintenance classes that will train our faculty and staff so that they can offer classes on campus themselves.
In the longer term, I want to work to make biking “cooler” on campus. That could look something like organizing something to coincide with the Tour de Fat (beer tour) or a “pimp yo bike” ride, or bike swap similar to the annual one in Seattle.
CYWB: What are some other forthcoming projects at Bellevue College that you’re excited about?
Deric: We’re starting a carshare service with WeCar, a service of Enterprise sometime this fall, which will help those traveling the 5 miles between our two campuses, as well as to our newest location in Issaquah in the future. We’re also researching the idea of installing trip planning electronic kiosks similar to the ones in South Lake Union.
CYWB: What does Bellevue College 10 years from now look like to you?
Deric: A campus that uses of land, energy and material resources only to the extent necessary to advance College goals. A campus that’s easy to access to bicycle, transit, and personal vehicles. More space for learning and campus life due to a drop in demand for parking.