Beth Reissenweber

Augsburg College recently broke ground on a new, 135,000-sqare-foot academic building. Once completed, the mixed-use Hagfors Center will be the 24-acre campus's largest and most state of the art. Unfortunately for commuters accustomed to driving to and parking at Augsburg, construction on this showpiece required the removal of two popular surface lots and 189 parking spots.

"That represented a permanent loss of something like 20% of the college's parking inventory," noted Beth Reissenweber, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and Vice President for Administration. This left Augsburg with a problem, as a full 78% of students and faculty drove solo to campus.
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In lieu of building new parking lots, the City of Minneapolis encouraged the administration to invest in multi-modal transit opportunities. Reissenweber, an Edina resident and no stranger to the trials and travails of commuting, took on that challenge with enthusiasm. She accepted a role as co-chair of Augsburg's new, interdepartmental transit task force.

"It wasn't easy, as change never is, but the strategies employed [by recommendation of the task force] have already resulted in many more individuals opting for a different commute choice," she explained.

Reissenweber's team implemented a number of incentives - and disincentives - to promote ride sharing. Increased parking rates and permit costs, and "preferred parking" locations for carpoolers, are the new normal on campus.

Augsburg is conveniently situated near both the Metro Blue and Metro Green rail lines, and Reissenweber's task force also targeted bus and light rail ridership. Among other programs, Augsburg now offers subsidized Metropass cards to students and faculty, and has invested in a new transportation website to inform commuters about MetroTransit bus routes and campus connection options.

Last but not least, the college doubled down on its commitment to bicycling infrastructure and bike safety. Newer measures include added bike racks and a free bicycle rental program through Lindell Library.

As a visible driver behind many of these initiatives, Reissenweber wanted to be sure to lead by example. "I have lived in Edina for three years, but started taking the bus just last June," she recalled. "This was driven by a desire to step up and hopefully motivate others to utilize the great transportation services we have here in the Twin Cities."

Reissenweber made the conscious, permanent choice to give up her reserved and heated underground parking space - lest she renege on her good intentions at some later date. In point of fact, however, she took to her new commuter lifestyle immediately.

"One of the first times I rode the bus, I was startled to find the bus barreling down the shoulder while cars were at a standstill in rush hour traffic. Given the right-of-way that buses have on the roads, I [don't want] to go back to sitting in traffic."

"Benefits for me include a reduction in stress, the opportunity to build community by meeting new people along the way, and getting exercise as I walk to and from the bus stop," she continued. Moreover, "I am also very productive working on the bus ... It allows uninterrupted time to read contracts, review financial reports and other responsibilities that require uninterrupted focus."

Recent data suggests that, thanks to its transit task force, Augsburg's solo driver commute ratio is already down considerably. They hope to have the figure down to 50% by 2021.

In April 2017, in recognition of efforts to date, Metro Transit recognized Augsburg College as "Employer of the Year" during its annual Commuter Choice Awards ceremony. Reissenweber also came away with an honorable mention all her own.

Reissenweber is pleased that, after a hard day's work championing multi-modal transit (to say nothing of her other job responsibilities), she can come home to a community that just seems to understand. Among other Living Streets initiatives, "I appreciate that the City of Edina has created extraordinary bike and walking paths - and designed crossing zones for roadway safety," she explained.

"What it is all really building is a sustainable future."