Student Focus: Sustainable Transportation at HSU, Access and Behavior

By Aneika Jasmine Perez 

When I first visited Humboldt State University (HSU), I found myself instantly admiring the Northern California redwood forest coast. I grew up and lived my whole life in Southern California, where it seems that everyone is moving non-stop, traffic congestion is unavoidable and most of the year the weather is warm. For my master’s degree, I wanted to go to a university that focused on sustainability and HSU has long been dedicated to conserving resources, advocating for social responsibility and reducing overall carbon footprint. Although HSU is devoted to sustainability, the campus faces challenges similar to those of other universities in terms of managing transportation demands efficiently. These issues include commuting infrastructure, limited access to public transportation, pedestrian safety and behavior towards forms of transportation other than a single-occupant vehicle. 

Humboldt Transit Authority Redwood Transit System bus. Photo source:

Commuting to the HSU campus without a private automobile is a challenge for many students. As soon as I moved to Humboldt County, I had a hard time getting around outside of the university without the use of a car. I decided to try out public transportation, such as the Arcata & Mad River Transit (A&MRTS) and the Redwood Transit System (RTS). I came to conclude that the public transportation is not reliable because buses would run infrequently or, at times, not show up. Since Humboldt County has a much smaller scale of public transportation, I had to adapt to using other forms of transportation to get around the area. 

My goal for this thesis is to understand the specific ways in which individuals within the campus community can access campus facilities without reliance on private automobiles, and how past and current behaviors play a role in individuals’ behavior, intention and choices in transportation. To address this broader research agenda, this thesis asks the following questions: (1) What are the main geographic, economic and sociocultural factors that limit transportation choices for students at HSU? (2) What factors motivate individuals to use alternative modes of transportation when accessing campus facilities? (3) What is HSU’s role in advocating for safe bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure for students within broader sustainable transportation frameworks? 

In order to answer my research questions, I primarily used a socio-psychological framework to explore the relationship between travel access and behavioral intention within the HSU community. I draw primarily on Icek Ajzen’s (1991) framework, Theory of Planned Behavior, to investigate the behavioral intentions of the HSU community in relation to the limited sustainable transportation available for students at HSU. I investigate this relationship to understand at an institutional level the manner in which HSU is addressing underlying reasons behind single-occupancy vehicle travel and sustainable transportation infrastructure in order to meet the broader goals of the 2016 CSU Climate Action Plan (CAP).

This research is designed to provide further insight for the HSU Advisory Committee on Sustainability on how to not only analyze the state of sustainable transportation at HSU, but also to provide theoretical and empirical evidence that can be used to promote and encourage HSU commuters to change their transportation behaviors when accessing campus. If Humboldt State is truly dedicated to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, then there need to be stronger efforts in promoting more sustainable transportation choices and working with the community to increase the safety of roads for all community members. I hope this research will be a catalysis for expansion of the existing transportation programs at HSU to meet the future demands for its stakeholders. My goal is to analyze how understanding a broader theory of planned behavior in conjunction with existing material conditions at HSU and the surrounding community can contribute to a more nuanced understanding of sustainable transportation for the campus and its community. 

The research provided evidence that safety and access are barriers to commuting in a more sustainable form. Many of the researchers argued that in order to make transportation sustainable, it should be able to meet individuals’ and society’s basic needs, be affordable and operate efficiently, and limit carbon emissions. Furthermore, in planning for sustainable transportation, it is necessary to have a balance between social equity and economy in order for it to be truly sustainable. In regard to barriers, the HSU Parking Market Demand study acknowledged that the location of the campus can impact students’ ability to get to the campus. Montigny, et al. (2012) concluded in their research on environmental barriers that it is necessary to provide the right infrastructure for commuting by walking in cold and wet weather climates, such as in Humboldt County. Walker (2012) argued for changing the barriers to using public transit with the seven demands of public transit. Lastly, research concludes that by providing incentives for the community, many individuals’ behaviors towards sustainable transportation can change. 

I recommend that additional research is necessary for cycling and carpooling. I focused on walking and public transit because that was the form of commute I used in Humboldt County. There is much research on cycling and carpooling and current studies show that there are additional barriers and safety issues when it comes to commuting by cycling. I suggest that any future research on transportation at HSU assess the modes of transportation available to students, staff and faculty at HSU while considering that HSU is different from most campuses in its population, topography and climate – and how these factors create barriers to the use of sustainable modes of transportation. 

I believe my research will make a difference at the Humboldt State campus. I found it satisfying to do research on a topic that focuses on sustainability because that is what the HSU campus is known for. I hope this will encourage future researchers to develop new ideas in transportation planning and find ways to overcome the barriers to sustainable transportation.