Senior Staff Writer
Davidson’s campus is only 19 miles away from uptown Charlotte, providing students with access to the largest city in North Carolina and one of the largest in the southeastern United States. Yet students find they aren’t able to take advantage of it as much as they would like.
According to a survey administered to the student body by the Davidsonian last week, many students make a trip to Charlotte one to three times per semester, but a large majority wish they went more frequently. Barriers to visiting Charlotte include lack of transportation, cost, time to travel there, and lack of awareness about events and activities.
According to the survey, which received 406 anonymous responses, most students go into Charlotte for dining purposes, a concert, or sporting event, with over 80% doing so using a personal car. Many students claimed that the amount of school work, the “Davidson pressure to always be working,” and rigorous academic environment leaves them with minimal time to plan a trip to Charlotte.
“People don’t go into Charlotte because we have 48 hours of work to do each week. There’s also a general lack of awareness of attractions in Charlotte, but I would consider going if I had a car or a date,” said Benson Klingler `18.
Respondents to the survey explained that transportation difficulties hold them back from visiting Charlotte more often. “It would be nice if Davidson had more economical ways or opportunities to go into Charlotte more” and “Zipcar is too expensive” were two responses.
“If there was a commuter rail I would go more often, but also there is nothing to do in Charlotte. It is a lame and desolate city. In the downtown area there are no storefronts and hardly any restaurants or bars. I’m from New York, and honestly I think Charlotte is pathetic,” answered another student.
Others expressed the difficulty of finding convenient modes of transportation. “I feel like I have so much to do here on campus that it is hard to set aside time to take an outing to Charlotte. Also, now that I’m 21 and can drink, it is a hassle to either find a [designated driver] or pay for an Uber,” said one respondent.
“I could definitely use the bus,” explained another. “However, I really need to get to Charlotte on the weekends from time to time, but the I-77 bus route is closed on the weekends. Thus, I have to rely on others to take me there, and that is not always a possibility depending on their schedule. I don’t have car or a driver’s license. Hopefully, I’ll get a driver’s license next semester, but I still would not have car, so transportation will still be a problem regardless.”
Students are interested in having greater access to Charlotte, with roughly 70% of survey respondents wishing they went more often. One student commented, “I’d totally go on some day trips to Charlotte if the [Union Board] offered them!”
Jack Owens ‘18 expressed a similar opinion. “Because I would prefer to go to a concert in downtown Charlotte or try out a new restaurant, I hope the college will provide additional awareness of events and also inexpensive means to get into Charlotte that meet student interest and demand,” he said.
However, Tom Shandley, Dean of Students and Vice President for Student life, said, “I don’t think students have ever gone into Charlotte very much. I don’t imagine that’s going to change dramatically when there’s so much that students tend to do on campus. The whole purpose in getting the Zipcars is to provide an opportunity to students who don’t have a car to go into Charlotte or other places if they choose to. The students that I know that go into Charlotte do so for very specific reasons, but it’s not a routine journey.”
Shandley also discussed the general difficulty of accessing Charlotte, including the lack of public transportation and traffic on I-77 as barriers. He senses, moreover, that students prefer a Davidson Outdoors experience, rather than a trip to Charlotte, to get off campus.
This year, Zipcar took the place of Enterprise as the on-campus car rental service. Students and faculty can reserve a car for an hourly or daily rate by going online or through the mobile app. The on-campus rate is less expensive by a dollar for the hourly rate and by eight dollars for the daily rate, as compared to typical Zipcar prices, the former $7.50 per hour and the latter $69 per day. The college made the switch because Zipcar claims to have a simpler rental process, be more economical, and reduces carbon footprint.
The Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) conducts a bus service for Mecklenburg County, in addition to a light rail — called LYNX — and streetcar in the city itself. Though no plans have come to fruition, a proposal was put forth for a North Corridor Commuter Rail Line, known as the LYNX Red Line. If put into action, the commuter rail would extend to Mooresville, with a stop in Davidson. In 2010, the Metropolitan Transit Commission created the Red Line Task Force to find other resources and funding for the generation of this commuter rail.
The college sponsors trips to events in the city via the Union Board’s CATS Excursions committee, which often provides free transportation and tickets. CATS Excursions is the newest committee within the Union Board, having formed three years ago “to provide a bridge and opportunity for Davidson students to explore the social and cultural offerings of the Charlotte community,” according to the Union Board’s website. The committee’s events have gradually increased in popularity and funding, its annual budget increasing from $2,500 to over $12,000. This semester, it has sponsored a trip to SCarowinds and the Of Monsters and Men concert at the Uptown Amphitheatre, both in Charlotte.
Lauren Schassberger `16, President of the Union Board, oversees the CATS Excursions committee and works with the Union Board to get students into Charlotte. “Recently, [trips sponsored by the Union Board to go into Charlotte] have been really popular,” she said.
“I definitely think [not going into Charlotte frequently] is part of the culture at Davidson in that there is this fear of missing things that are going on on-campus if you happen to leave for a few hours,” Schassberger continued. “I’ve definitely felt that, and in retrospect it seems a little silly because I can’t say that anything spectacular has happened while I’m gone. At the same time, there are so many things to do at Davidson and around Davidson, such as being with your friends, that you don’t necessarily want to leave.”
Mackenzie Nolan `17, head of the CATS Excursions committee, explained that she and her committee gather to find events in and around Charlotte, then work to gauge student interest. “I went on a bunch of CATS Excursions my freshman and sophomore year. Otherwise, I rarely go into Charlotte unless my parents are visiting,” Nolan explained. “CATS Excursions does a great thing in providing transportation to these events because people don’t have to own cars or have friends with cars to be able to go into Charlotte.”
Students can access areas around Davidson through the Safe Ride Van, commonly known as the ‘Vamonos Van,’ sponsored by the Student Government Association (SGA) and Department of Public Safety. It runs to and from the Walmart located in Mooresville on days deemed “Walmart Wednesdays.” On Thursdays to Saturdays, it runs on demand from different points within the town of Davidson and places on campus.
The Safe Ride Van originally shuttled students between Interstate 77 exits 25 and 36. Pablo Zevallos `16, SGA President, explained that for it to revert to this purpose would require a clear student demand and an increase in funding. As of now, the van maintains “good demand,” meaning that the bus regularly carries up to 15 people. Extending the van’s services to Charlotte would require a significant increase in resources, meaning it would likely not run as an on-demand service. “I am invested personally in students breaking the Davidson bubble and students getting off campus,” Zevallos said. “In a more cosmopolitan area, it forces us to interact with a variety of forces and cultures, and going into Charlotte is a great way to do that and to break the mold of suburbia.”
A popular alternative to visiting Charlotte continues to be Davidson Outdoors, which organizes include student-run trips that often involve whitewater kayaking and canoeing, backpacking, rock and mountain climbing and caving. Opportunities to go on such trips come as early as the summer prior to a student’s freshman year with the Backcountry Odyssey Program. However, an equivalent program for exploring the greater Charlotte area does not exist.
Nick Elder `18, Davidson Outdoors executive board member and trip leader, said, “From what I can tell, Charlotte isn’t really a destination. It’s more of a place where we end up when what what we want isn’t at one of the closer exits. I prefer [DO] trips to escape Davidson because it’s pretty much impossible to do homework on the trip, and I’ve found that I end up forgetting about my responsibilities entirely. Instead I get to focus on getting to know this new group of people that I’m with.