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Wheels in Motion: Panel talks sustainable transportation

March 3, 2023

Chinwe Bruns
I LIKE TO MOVE IT: Left to right: Jean Sideris, Barry Woods ’83 and Eileen Sylvan Johnson. On Wednesday, the three speakers hosted a panel on increasing access to sustainable modes of transportation.

How to get from place A to place B may seem like a mundane consideration, but a panel hosted by the Office of Sustainability asked the Bowdoin community to approach choices about transportation more critically.

The panel, “Wheels in Motion: Exploring Transportation for a Sustainable Future,” was the second in a series of sustainability-focused panel discussions organized by the Office of Sustainability’s Civic Engagement team.

The panelists represented a variety of backgrounds with respect to sustainable transportation. Panelists included Jean Sideris, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, Barry Woods ’83, senior director of eMobility at solar power company ReVision Energy, and Eileen Sylvan Johnson, senior lecturer in environmental studies at the College.

Much of the panel’s discussion centered on alternative forms of transportation, including driverless cars, buses, trains and other public transit options. For Sideris, decentering car-dependent infrastructure means increasing both the accessibility and quality of these alternatives.

“If I want to go to work, it’s about a 10 minute drive, 30 minute bike ride, [but] it’s an hour and a half [on the] bus. What? That’s crazy,” Sideris said. “I should be able to get up in the morning and have choices in front of me of [as to] how I want to move around that are all viable, efficient, easy to access and safe.”

To increase efficiency and viability of public transit, all three panelists discussed “multimodal transportation,” or the availability of a wide range of transportation options in a given area. Johnson, in particular, emphasized the importance of giving people more control over their transportation.

“My dream would be that when you get up in the morning and you’re trying to go somewhere, that there are a lot of choices, but that I can know that if I start at point A and go to point B, maybe I’ll ride my bike, I’ll be able to put my bike on a bus, I’ll be able to take my bike off,” Johnson said. “In other countries, that’s a very normal thing.”

The panelists agreed that innovation in sustainable transportation cannot come without innovation in renewable energy.

“What I think is one of the most exciting developments with transportation is the fact that it’s not about transportation really, it’s about energy,” Woods said. “So I think the future of transportation is going to be inextricably linked to our ability to transition away from fossil fuels and to renewable energy.”

In addition to efforts to increase transportation options and create new, more sustainable technology, Sideris says that ensuring people feel welcome to make sustainable choices should be a priority.

“One of the things the Bicycle Coalition hears over and over and over again is the reason people don’t bike and walk more is because they don’t feel safe,” Sideris said. “So really looking at how we can improve the infrastructure so more people feel welcome to be able to get out of cars and take a walk or take a bike ride [is a priority].”

Sebastian Sanchez ’25, who is interested in transportation, decided to attend the panel after reading about it in the student digest.

“Transportation is something that I’ve been interested in for, honestly, probably as long as I can remember,” Sanchez said. “I thought that it’d be a really unique opportunity to hear from experts in the field, to hear what they had to say about sustainable transportation and how transportation will be shaped in the future.”

Luke Bartol ’23, a member of the Civic Engagement team, hopes the talk will increase awareness and implementation of sustainable practices among members of the Bowdoin community.

“I think from a sustainability office perspective, it’s always about having this be a conversation that’s happening more and more in classes and common rooms and everywhere in between, and sort of have it be something that’s on people’s minds in every decision [they] make,” Bartol said.


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