Getting people where they need to go is top priority, says new transportation head

Written by 

Brian Atkinson 3.50 INSIDEBrian Atkinson, executive director for UAB TransportationIn his new role as executive director for UAB Transportation, Brian Atkinson is, in one way, back at the beginning of his tenure at UAB.

Atkinson joined UAB in 2018 to manage transportation demand, a role created following a comprehensive parking and transportation study to guide planning, management and policy for short- and long-term improvements. Based on those results and input from the campus community, UAB developed a five-year plan to manage existing and future demand, create a more fiscally sustainable transportation system and improve customer service for the entire enterprise.

Since then, UAB has delivered on its plan:

  • Implemented safety and security improvements in existing parking facilities,
  • Launched a new bus fleet and realigned routes to improve Blazer Express service,
  • Invested in electric vehicle-charging stations,
  • Improved pathways for pedestrians and bicyclists and
  • Begun construction on a new parking deck near the Hill Student Center and Bartow Arena.

“Now we’re back in fact-finding mode,” said Atkinson, who was promoted to his new position in December following a national search prompted by the retirement of André Davis in March 2022. During the past several years, he says, demographic shifts and the construction of new facilities led to changes in traffic patterns and preferences that need to be re-evaluated as UAB enters year five of its plan.

For many years, Atkinson says, the primary question was “Where do we park everybody?” Now, he says, the central question is “How do we get people to where they need to go?”

“Our goal is to get people to, from and around UAB,” Atkinson said. “That requires us to monitor parking and transportation and capture and use data to guide our next steps.”

But recent events — including the pandemic — disrupted data-gathering that would be useful for projecting demand and long-term planning. Modified business operations, a decline in bus use and hybrid/remote instruction certainly altered demand during the first year of the pandemic, Atkinson says, but subsequent changes such as an increase in online learning and the hybrid and remote working options that followed also need to be factored. “Now it is time to reassess our priorities and modernize our transportation services in light of those changes and to anticipate shifts in future demand,” Atkinson said.

UAB had engaged Kimley Horn, a planning and design engineering consulting firm, to conduct a transit study in 2020, but that was postponed due to the pandemic. A parking allocation study was put on hold when Davis announced his retirement in 2022. Atkinson hopes to renew comprehensive planning soon.

In the interim, Atkinson says, “UAB Transportation will be exploring ways to use technology to maximize and streamline parking access, improve bus circulation on and around campus, increase the efficiency of its fleet service and enhance customer service.”