Office of the President
Dr. Patrick T. Harker is the 26th president of the University of Delaware. He also serves as professor of business administration in the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics and professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering.
Institute of Transportation Engineers/Mid-Colonial District
Embassy Suites, Newark
April 30, 2010
I appreciate this opportunity to come speak with you this morning. I think you invited me because I’m a double-threat: a civil engineer by training and now a University president with some contracts to hand out. … Well, not just yet.
I’m really glad you’re holding this meeting in Newark because you get to see the extraordinary opportunities all around us on this beautiful campus—and a few of the challenges we’ll confront as we move forward.
Campus Capacity Review
I want to start with a broad overview of how the University of Delaware is approaching campus planning. I should probably mention that “campus planning”—a coordinated effort to assess our capacity and make recommendations for future growth—is a relatively new undertaking at UD.
Around here, we say the capacity review we initiated in 2008 is the first such effort in “recent history.” And we say “recent history” because we think there was some sort of comparable work done around 1915. But we feel fairly confident that we’re not duplicating those earlier efforts.
I can say for sure that our 2008 review was the first time that transportation engineers were engaged in a campus capacity study. I guess there was less urgent need for them in 1915.
The year 2008 is important not just because it inaugurated something new. It’s important because that was also the year we unveiled the University’s Path to Prominence. The Path to Prominence is our strategic plan. It’s predicated on goals encompassing research growth; the integration of sustainable and ecological principles; student development and faculty engagement; and regional, national, and international partnerships.
And just after the Path to Prominence Steering Committee got started with its work and began developing the academic and programmatic principles that would guide us for decades to come, we started a parallel effort to review our physical environment—our buildings, transportation, and green spaces—so that we might, for the very first time, actually organize this environment to support our educational, research, and service missions.
I know land-use planning isn’t groundbreaking stuff. But to us, frankly, it was. For many, many years, the University of Delaware has had the luxury of growing the way many suburban universities do. We’ve been the very definition of “land-rich.”
But we’re a little wiser now. We understand we need to be good stewards of this land we occupy. We need to rethink our approach to growth. And so we worked with a broad cross-section of stakeholders—on-campus and off—faculty, students, and staff; the city, the state. And we engaged Ayers Saint Gross Architects & Planners to head up the Capacity Review. Martin/Alexiou/Bryson served as transportation planners. And Bio-habitats, Inc., came on-board for ecology and storm-water consultation.
We came up with five planning principles that really work in concert with the principles supporting our Path to Prominence. I’ll just go over them briefly.
First, we want a campus experience focused on easing the way students and faculty get around, how they meet and mingle, socialize and collaborate. We want everyone to feel like they’re intrinsically a part of this dynamic and diverse community.
And let me tell you something about faculty and researchers—they need to be close to their colleagues, they need to get together easily and work together easily. Isolation doesn’t benefit them, nor does it benefit innovative scholarship.
Campus Capacity and Architecture
Second, we want to preserve the architectural character of the core, or historic, part of the campus. If you walk up and down our Green and see the Georgian architecture surrounding you, you’ll understand why it’s so important to us.
By the same token, we need to use height and density to maintain a compact and collegial campus. We need to consider “highest and best use” for new and repurposed buildings. We need to prevent sprawl and grow more urban in our thinking.
Our third principle is campus connectivity. We have to create a more cohesive campus by evolving from a car-oriented environment to a more balanced and well-connected one.
Then there’s sustainable growth. We must develop the campus in an environmentally responsible way. We need to reclaim open space and protect the quality of the campus environment.
And, finally, there’s community engagement. UD is an integral part of the City of Newark and the State of Delaware, and so we must invest in campus growth and infrastructure that’s beneficial to the University and to the wider community in which we reside.
So I know which principle is most important to all of you, but—in a way—each one is connected to transportation. A student’s university experience has everything to do with how easily he or she can get around campus and feel connected to a larger whole. Our commitment to sustainability will never be achieved without examining and redressing the impact of transportation-related emissions.
Connectivity Strengths & Weaknesses
But let me go back to campus connectivity because we found some strengths there … and some real problems—common ones—problems you may already have encountered over your last couple of days here.
As far as driving goes, one strength is that our access roads can handle large traffic volumes. And one issue is that our access roads are handling large traffic volumes.
At 12 noon, the corner of Delaware Ave. and S. College has to be one of the state’s most congested intersections—with cars, buses, pedestrians, and bicyclists all going nowhere fast. And if it’s not the state’s most congested intersection, well … it’s certainly the intersection that most affects me.
We’ve got large trucks on S. College Avenue, a road that shouldn’t be hosting large trucks. The Newark street system is inefficient for thru trips, and we have no thru link to our Laird Campus to the North. The intersections at Elkton Rd., Delaware Avenue, Main Street, and North College need to be remapped.
Onto parking, one of our strengths is that we have a large existing parking supply and flexible permits. And, yes, you guessed it: One of our weaknesses is that we have a large parking supply and flexible permits.
We have 60 acres of surface parking on our central campus. Really, is that “highest and best use” of land? On our central campus, we have 6,446 spaces. In all, 9,705 spaces. Our flexible permits allow too much “hunting.” And our oversell rates are too high, which leads to frustration, unnecessary traffic circulation, and visitor parking being filled with non-visitor vehicles.
Our transit strength is high ridership on the North-South Routes, but we have a large coverage area, which leads to low frequency. We have overlap between UD’s transit service and DART. And we have inefficient night service.
It was either God or Mother Nature that gave UD its biking assets: level terrain, good weather, and an established bike rack program. Okay the bike racks are all us.
But our on-road facilities are too narrow and incomplete; bikes and pedestrians share off-road paths; and the wave racks don’t support bikes well enough.
And, finally, walking. We have a very walkable campus. To Laird on our north side, it’s a 13-minute walk. To the technology park to our east, it’s 17 minutes. To Delaware Stadium to our south, it’s 20 minutes. But few people know how close these destinations are because few people walk them.
Addressing the Issues
We’ve addressed many of these issues and have plans to address many more. Our pedestrian crosswalks bisecting The Green were put in place after this study was published. We’re replacing our entire shuttle bus fleet. The fleet operates eleven fixed routes from early morning to late-night, and our old fleet wasn’t going to cut it for long. We added four new transit buses last spring, and we’ve got seven more on order.
Of the 1 million+ passengers UD Transit carries each year, the vast majority are students. And that’s a great ridership rate. But we hope a newer, more modern fleet—with just the most basic amenities like entry and exit doors and low floors—will significantly up our faculty & staff ridership. Just a few months ago, we launched real-time shuttle tracking to make transit efficient and dependable, and to curb the frustration that depresses bus use. We’re exploring ways to integrate our transit system with DelDOT’s regional bus system to eliminate overlap.
We’re serious about optimizing parking. We have garages on campus that are under-utilized. So if we’re smart about the way we organize lots and assign people to them—if we can inhibit our basest “park wants”—we can reclaim some land. I think parking might be our most suburban vestige. In fact, I think people might accommodate higher and denser if we’d just leave their parking alone.
Impact of Capital Projects
And, of course, we’re making decisions every day that—without careful planning—could erode any progress we’ve made. We’re relocating the University Bookstore from the Perkins Student Center to Main Street. We’ll start construction this spring and open it up next summer.
The location isn’t by accident; we want to invigorate downtown. But if we didn’t already consider and plan for the impact, we could apply devastating pressure to foot and auto traffic, to parking, to everything.
When we tore down Gilbert Hall on our East Campus last year, we recycled well over 90 percent of the concrete, metals, asphalt, and masonry—and we hauled it away. Not by truck, but by rail. This, alone, minimizes our impact.
Next January, we’re breaking ground on a state-of-the-art, 200,000-sqare-foot Interdisciplinary Science & Engineering Lab. It’ll go up at the corner of Lovett and Academy, and its construction will take out about 1,000 parking spaces. Where will they go? Where should they go? Should they just go away? I think you know where some of them might end up.
Last November, the University of Delaware purchased 272 acres of land adjacent to our South Campus—land that used to be occupied by the Chrysler Newark Assembly Plant. The property is the largest-ever land addition to the Newark campus and adds 22 percent to our footprint. Without a doubt, redeveloping this land into one of the nation’s major University-affiliated science & technology campuses will consume our next several decades.
Aside from the sheer size of the property, it has a lot of key features that make it a once-in-a-lifetime acquisition. Not surprisingly, primary among them is its direct access to commuter and Amtrak rail service. The four rail lines border the property to the north. The land is a little more than a mile from I-95, and two interchanges serve the site. While the arterial roads are at—or close to—capacity during peak traffic, the road network itself is extensive and could be expanded. This access to the University and its intellectual assets—this access to rail service on the cusp of significant growth and to major transportation corridors—all of it made the property very attractive.
But before I get too deep into the property itself, let me tell you about what we plan to put there. Because this wasn’t a land-grab. It wasn’t property for property’s sake. We’ve had our activity zones mapped out for a while.
First, we need space for health sciences research, education, and clinical care. Bounded by DC to our south and Philadelphia to our north, Newark is nearly dead-center of a major bioscience corridor. And we have enormous capacity in biomedicine and biotechnology.
So we’re dedicating significant acres to healthcare R&D. The campus will house UD’s College of Health Sciences and its various research centers—many focused on rehabilitation, chronic conditions, aging, and biomechanics.
It will be home to several components of the Delaware Health Sciences Alliance, a bioscience research and healthcare delivery partnership we formed last year with Christiana Care, Nemours, and Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. Jefferson is planning to locate its Campus for Healthcare Education there. That means we could have more than 100 medical, pharmacy, nursing, and occupational and physical therapy students not only working and studying in Newark, but living here as well. And that means building more than offices, labs, and classrooms. It means housing, retail, and residential services.
Another major presence will be the U.S. Army. Earlier this year, we signed a broad R&D partnership agreement with the Army, and we hope that, one day, part of this site will be home to a major cooperative research center.
Right now, the Army is consolidating its Research Development and Engineering Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. That makes UD the closest Category I research university to RDECOM, and it makes us an ideal candidate to meet the Command’s education, research, training, and staffing needs. We’ve already signed a statement of work outlining joint research in antenna technology and composite materials, and we’ve established several internship, degree, and certificate programs.
In fact, we’re initiating a partnership with Cecil College in Maryland to get the Army’s civilian incumbent workers credentialed in civil engineering and supply chain management. We’ll work with Cecil to get an articulated program in place that takes Aberdeen workers from associate’s degree all the way through graduate programming, should they want to pursue it.
These partnerships up the ante for viable commuter rail service between APG and Newark, for easy I-95 access, and sufficient on-site parking.
We’ll locate other research initiatives on the property as well. We’re known for our chemical engineering, composites, and alternative energy programs. Research centers in any of these—or all of these—could be tenants as well.
And then, of course, there’s transit, which—despite my order here—will certainly be our first development priority.
We have the capacity to make this campus a regional transportation hub accommodating trains, buses, and car parking. We have the chance to integrate the needs of commuters—whose presence will rise dramatically—with the needs of the campus tenants, and serve both constituencies well. We can make it a TOD model.
We’re encouraged by efforts to improve the existing rail infrastructure and systems serving Newark—plans that include a new rail station. We’re encouraged by the prospect of more and better service between Newark and Wilmington and the eventual expansion of MARC commuter service from Perryville, Maryland, into Newark.
I can’t emphasize enough how absolutely critical well-planned, well-implemented transit development is to a research campus of this size—especially one involving so many regional partnerships and predicated on regional economic growth.
We now have a tentative conceptual design showing how all the rail interests—Norfolk Southern, Amtrak, SEPTA, and MARC—could be accommodated at the site. The planning work is being coordinated by Wilmapco, and we’re working closely with the Delaware Transit Corporation and DelDOT, the City of Newark, New Castle County, and the Delaware Economic Development Office.
We all agree it’s important that this be a 21st-Century hub—not just for passenger rail, but for freight rail as well.
All this talk of development might obscure the fact that we’re not there yet—not nearly. We began site stabilization shortly after we purchased the property last fall, and we’ve awarded about $1.8 million in stabilization work. Last month, we invited firms to prequalify for decommissioning and demolition, and we received 72 applications by deadline. Just this week, we announced six finalists submitting for the RFP, which we should release early next month.
On May 10–11, in conjunction with the Delaware Economic Development Office, we’ll be hosting an all-day, on-site Opportunity Expo so that local contractors can meet the finalists. The contract award is scheduled for June. Overall, we expect decommissioning & demolition to take 18–24 months. And, again, we expect to salvage a lot of material.
Preliminary Development Planning
Of course, it doesn’t matter how early we are in the process, we’re going to start throwing out numbers, plotting our property, and divvying up the land for different kinds of buildings—labs, classrooms, research centers and institutes, clinical space.
We’re going to start thinking about transit-oriented development: a new rail station, commuter amenities, housing, retail, hotel & conference center. With a healthy amount of speculation, we built a conceptual grid, with the help of our architectural firm, Ayers St. Gross.
We decided we’d cut ourselves off where the Silver Brook Stream cleaves the rough first third of the property, the eastern third. Everything past that western demarcation is no-man’s land.
So we looked at a full build-out from South College Ave. to the Silver Brook Stream. And we figure a good, sustainable design—with preserved green spaces, attractive streetscapes, substantial walking and bike paths, adequate roadways—could still net upwards of 4 million square feet of development, maybe 5.
I should mention here that we hope to unearth the Silver Brook Stream—which has long been diverted underground—and show it some daylight. That should open up some space.
But our charitable act on behalf of Silver Brook Stream notwithstanding, this development will have repercussions. It will increase congestion. It has to: There’s no one on-site right now. We’ll have more daily vehicle trips, and those trips will probably require expanding nearby roadways—S. College, Christina Parkway, Elkton Road.
And, don’t forget, this is a UD-affiliated science & technology campus. The students, the faculty, the researchers and partners—they’ll go back and forth between campuses. And they should. Otherwise, there’s no sense locating the two together. So how will the site interact with the main campus to its north? How do we ensure sufficient bus and shuttle service? Where will bottlenecks emerge?
And then there’s the issue of parking—who gets to do it and where? How much space can we reclaim on the main campus by relocating faculty, staff, and student parking to the transportation hub? And what of that parking hub? If we get a good number of our graduate students to live on-site, we might reduce peak traffic, but their non-commute will likely have little impact on parking demand. If we build out 8 million square feet—and, again, that’s many decades into the future—we could need more than 16,000 parking spaces. By then, we’d better have found a way to reduce parking demand.
Educating Transportation Engineers
And that’s the thing about this development. It does get you thinking—not just about the site itself, but its implications elsewhere—its unintended consequences, and how one’s planning and follow-through can exacerbate or mitigate them.
And that’s why it’s critical we keep educating this nation’s most talented, most engaged civil and transportation engineers.
Every year, the University of Delaware has 10–15 undergraduates concentrate in transportation and infrastructure engineering. With about 70 undergrad civil engineering majors total, that’s a pretty good share. Our master’s and PhD students number about 35.
And yet when I think about the truly unprecedented implications of transportation planning and management, I think maybe it’s not enough. Never before has transportation been more important to our environmental sustainability, to our safety and security, to our economy. Transportation is the lifeblood of a nation’s economy. If you have a good transit system, you have a reasonable chance of doing well. If you don’t, you’re virtually guaranteed to fail.
Delaware Center for Transportation
Delaware’s Transportation & Infrastructure Engineering students have a distinct advantage here, as the University is home to the Delaware Center for Transportation—the research and education arm of DelDOT. They have access to state-of-the-art hardware and software. They can get real-time video feed, 24/7, from DelDOT’s 120 cameras, so they can assess safety and operational issues around the clock. They can mine data from the system and conduct their own analyses. It brings the field into the lab in a pretty powerful way, and helps them replicate real-life in simulated models—lane and road closures, evacuations, disabled vehicles, accidents.
Also bringing the real world into the lab is … the real world. Transportation is uniquely suited to interdisciplinary scholarship and authentic application. Our students worked with the Mechanical Engineering Department to develop the zero-emission hydrogen fuel-cell buses UD launched last year. They worked with the College of Agriculture on a highway vegetation and landscape project, and with our Disaster Research Center on a study of disaster-related evacuation patterns. They worked with researchers in the School of Urban Affairs and Public Policy on transportation-related economic issues and their public policy implications. They’ve collaborated with the College of Health Sciences on a study of the health benefits of non-motorized transportation.
I know we have some of those students here today, and I want to thank them for coming. I’m proud to say that UD has an active student ITE chapter, along with thriving membership in the American Society of Highway Engineers and the American Society of Civil Engineers.
There are also quite a few UD engineering alums in the room. Welcome home.
As a civil engineer myself, I find this sense of community gratifying. Together, we can do great things. We can solve regional transportation problems, secure our collective safety and well-being, increase our efficiencies, and achieve sustainability.
We can engage with one another and with our constituencies to plan and build the kind of environments we need—and deserve. The kind of environments that uplift and energize, that unify and that work.