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APPA COVID-19 Message Following the June 26, 2020 APPA Town Hall

June 29, 2020

headshot of Lander Medlin

An occasional blogpost from Lander Medlin, APPA’s Executive Vice President

Transportation & Traversing To, From & Within the Campus

June 29, 2020 — What difference can one week make?  When it comes to the “exponential” transmission of the coronavirus, a huge difference!  The situation has turned grim.  Six months in, this crisis is broadening and widening.  Globally, new coronavirus cases surpassed 10M with 500,000 deaths.  Sadly, the U.S. is 25% of the world’s total cases and death count, and there’s no end in sight.  COVID cases in 36 states are now increasing, some dramatically.  New cases hit an all-time daily record of 40,000.  We are going in the wrong direction. 

Only our collective behavior can change that fact.  Public health officials are seeing this “disturbing surge” of infections given less than adequate social/physical distancing, few wearing face coverings, and inadequate plans for testing and tracing those who get sick.  The virus is not going to magically disappear.  As Bill Gates said last week, “We must restrain our behavior.”  Testing and contact tracing capabilities must be amped up.  This all reinforces the importance of and criticality for social/physical distancing and face coverings or masks.  Again, it comes down to your behavior and the three Cs:  Closed spaces with poor ventilation; crowded places with many people nearby; and, close-contact settings, such as close-range conversations.

As for the economy, stocks are now down again amidst the soaring new COVID cases, and we added another 1.5M Americans who filed new claims for unemployment insurance totaling 47M people.  This continues to weigh heavily on higher education’s enrollment prospects and financial viability.  Nonetheless, Higher Education is proceeding with face-to-face reopening plans.  There remains much preparation from the campus and its surrounding community.  Early signs concerning the efficacy of proceeding with athletic programming are not positive with so many athletes having contracted the virus. 

Hence, we engaged two panelists for APPA’s 14th Town Hall to share their reopening planning perspectives with all its complexity to deliver a “consistent” experience for students, faculty, and staff across the campus with a focus on various transportation modalities.  The road to reopening takes leadership, collaboration, and aligned culture no matter the chosen path. 


  • Joe Bilotta, JBA Incorporated
  • Adam Lawver, Michigan State University

Joe provided a broader perspective on campus planning and focus on the University of Iowa’s approach to different transportation modalities and associated circulation patterns.  Adam provided important highlights of a recent Big 10 Transportation Survey and insight on delivering a consistent experience using Michigan State University’s transportation systems.

Some interesting highlights from the Town Hall follow:

  • Start considering what this is going to do to our campuses – the cultural and operational shifts – and the criticality of supporting ALL campus programs not just academics.
  • Clearly students want to return and institutions want to reopen.  Why?  The WHOLE EXPERIENCE that incorporates not just academic learning but inculcates the institution’s “physical place.” 
  • Before, we went to work; we went to school–a destination.  That destination is now about the “whole experience” steeped in place.
  • Address how the entire environment needs to function and not just the classroom.
  • Situating students (and faculty) in stationary classroom spaces (a controlled environment) is difficult enough, but the real trick is handling the chaos once they start to move throughout the campus and its surrounding community.
  • The challenges of collaborating with and coordinating the needs of the surrounding community(s) should not be minimized.
  • Setting up a framework for students to be safe through controlled movement is the biggest battle we face.
  • Traditional space management practices have been abandoned and replaced with a campus-wide desire to identify ways all spaces can be used differently.  This can create a real challenge to pedestrian movement and the need to develop an internal pedestrian circulation plan for every single building on campus.
  • With the University of Iowa delivering classes online for courses with greater than 50 students, 75-80% of a student’s coursework will technically be remote or mobile.  Therefore, they can and will go everywhere and anywhere to study which will significantly add to the chaos of that mobile movement.
  • Classroom scheduling will be impacted (and vice versa) by the ability to move students to and throughout the campus.
  • Create a standard approach for all rules, protocols, and communications to ensure a consistent experience.
  • Institutions are creating pedestrian flows for building ingress and egress but will not strictly enforce them.
  • Seek to separate pedestrian walkways from bike paths if at all possible.
  • Many institutions are deploying bicycles (possibly mopeds/scooters) or increasing their current programs as part of their transportation system infrastructure.
  • Many are using their bike system to reduce dependency on the bus system. 
  • The CDC guidelines around different modalities of transportation are excellent and include valuable communication, messaging and signage resources.
  • Because bus systems represent a mix of ownership (regions, cities, private, and university-owned) establishing a well-coordinated, strategic partnership with all these entities is critical.
  • Targeted strategies for bus protocols from the Big 10 Survey Analysis include: requiring masks; 6’ physical distancing for seating; no standing-room-only in aisles; reduced capacities at 50% or less will require an increase in buses; possibly limit routes to 15-minute cycles to reduce contact duration time; looking at route density as another input for class scheduling; Plexiglas shields between the driver and passengers; wiping down high-touch points more frequently; deep cleaning/sanitizing nightly; canister misting or fogging overnight; possibly utilizing UV lighting disinfecting system; increased run times; potential support of a six-day-a-week operation (hence additional staff and shifts); and adding instructional signage at bus stops/pavilions.
  • Ensure bus operators bring in fresh air from the outside (even roll down windows) for increased air exchange in these enclosed spaces.
  • Most motor pool or rental fleets will follow similar cleaning protocols along with signage and education pamphlets establishing expectations for the driver.
  • Explore the CARES Act for potential reimbursement of your transportation-related expenses.
  • The on-demand services of Uber and Lyft must be aligned with the institution’s protocols.
  • Students are using WiFi in parking lots for their online coursework.  As such, some institutions are allowing appropriately distanced food trucks in parking lots for commuters.  Also, assists Dining Services with food and seating capacity issues.
  • The University of Iowa will require wearing masks in all enclosed spaces (buildings, buses, “anything with a door”) and will lean on students to self-police and support social/physical distancing requirements.
  • Masks are not required for those with medical conditions (asthma, COPD, others).  However, face shields are a good alternative.
  • Remember, you cannot control everything.  Some things will have to be left to self-policing, self-enforcement, and peer pressure.  As such, most are informing, not enforcing.  Maybe a sign that says:  “No shirt, no shoes, no mask…no entry.” 
  • Facilities Management Departments are being leaned on for just about every operational aspect of the institution.  Facilities professionals have never had such an important role to support campus success.  Herein lies the opportunity to be a partner and more strategic. 
  • There is potential to move from a service model to a strategic model.
  • Staff are experiencing little downtime between meetings nor decompression time normally experienced traveling to and from the workplace.  This has major cultural implications and will change how we operate as well as how we use space now and well into the future. 
  • The long-term nature of COVID and the associated mental fatigue of it all presents a challenge to our capacity to stay present and continue to build those crucial, collaborative relationships.
  • As leaders, how we model the behaviors we are expect matters in establishing new behavioral norms.

Through these APPA Town Halls, your colleagues have armed you with an incredible amount of information and insight.  No one person has all the answers.  No one institution has THE solution.  Together we can help our institutions find answers, solutions, and their best reopening path.  Bill Gates also said, “The world needs our leadership and coordination.”  Your institution needs YOUR leadership and coordination! 

E. Lander Medlin
APPA Executive Vice President

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