Wednesday, August 19, 2009
There is no obvious, elegant way to handle a sudden influx of students when parking is already tight.
The two iron laws of parking:
1. There is never enough.
2. Thou shalt not add parking, anywhere, ever.
Corrolary: Calling attention to the contradiction between 1 and 2 is bad form.
Adding parking involves several sins. It's environmentally suspect, since it acknowledges the private automobile and it (usually) replaces green space with pavement. It's incredibly expensive to build, since you have to address water runoff, lighting, grading, snow removal, yadda yadda yadda. And politically, there are few harder sells than spending great sums of money on parking lots or decks. Nobody wants to be remembered as the Parking President, and philanthropists aren't tripping over each other for parking lot naming rights.
In a perfect world, students would heed the call to use public transportation and/or carpools. We encourage that; we help them set up carpools, and they get free municipal bus passes with their student ID's. But students have complicated lives, off-campus jobs, and quotidian issues that often just don't fit the locations and times of local bus routes. (Depending on where they live, they may not be within reasonable striking distance of a bus in the first place. I'm not. If I schlepped myself to and from the nearest bus stop, I'd spend literally 5-6 hours per day commuting, not counting errands or off-campus meetings. Not gonna happen.) While I'm all for making our campus as public-transportation-friendly as we can, I'm under no illusions that this will solve the problem.
Online classes are similar. On paper, adding online classes should ease the parking problem, since you don't have to get to campus to go online. In reality, though, most of our online students also take onsite classes; they just use online classes to build friendlier (i.e. all "prime time") schedules. They probably help on the margins, but again, they're not anywhere near the scale of a real solution.
Offsite parking ('park and ride') is no picnic, either. It requires people to show up considerably earlier, and it requires expensive shuttle bus service. It's particularly unfriendly in inclement weather and at night. The time delay involved in 'park and ride' systems makes the added capacity least relevant precisely when it's most salient -- if I'm already late for class and can't find a space, how likely am I to drive five minutes away and wait another five minutes for the ten minute shuttle ride back to where I started?
Some community colleges are built basically as vertical compounds surrounded by moats of asphalt. In those cases, it's sometimes possible simply to expand the moats. (Although it's still expensive and sometimes surprisingly challenging even then. A single observation of the rare three-toed hornswaggler, and you're hosed.) Mine isn't built that way, so topography and local land use don't cut us much slack.
Worse, enrollment fluctuates, but a parking lot is forever. It's a commonplace of the hospitality industry that you don't build for peak. As expensive and politically difficult and environmentally ugly as they are, you don't want to build them just before your enrollment starts to decline.
(In high school, some friends of mine pranked the rest of us by sending us mock enrollment materials for Bessotte Sanitation University, whose motto was "plenty of free parking." Every year, that gets a little bit funnier.)
We've had some talk of congestion pricing -- require a paid permit for prime time, but allow free parking during off-peak periods (i.e. late afternoon). The problem there is that anything regressive enough to make a difference would crash into our 'accessibility' mission, and anything sufficiently painless as to be completely nondiscriminatory would also be ineffectual. There's also an issue of inflated expectations when students actually pay. Not being able to find a free space is annoying, but not being able to find a paid space feels like being ripped off.
In a few weeks, we're going to get an entering class of a magnitude we haven't seen before. I wish them well in their quest for parking spaces.
Wise and worldly readers -- has your commuter college found a reasonably elegant solution to the parking problem?
Because everyone pays, we don't have parking permit enforcement -- which seems to be pretty expensive for the return.
1. Faculty will not be getting additional reserved parking (there are about 30 spaces at one end of our 1/4 mile main building, and none at any of the other buildings).
2. Reserved parking will not be enforced (so any student who parks there is safe).
3. Enrollment for this semester is 11,000 (I'm hoping that's statewide, but they didn't specify).
I'd settle for a single IT-reserved space so we don't have to haul computers halfway across the parking lot in the rain, but we can't even get that much.
The biggest flaw in our public transportation system is that it was designed by someone thinking of the convenience of the system and not that of the user. Unlike my old university's system, it does not connect housing and the area campuses. If you happen to be able to go from your apartment complex to campus, you have to go downtown to go home. The student complexes are compact enough to be as easy to serve as dorm complexes, but they don't even try to do it.
A parking ramp is only a partial solution. We have one and the top decks are basically empty. It takes too long to drive up there and then walk down or wait for the elevator, particularly if you are cutting it close getting to class, so they just park illegally. It can also take even longer to get out, because everyone leaves at the same time.
This semester is going to be a challenge, especially since safety and security has informed us that faculty don't get overflow parking privileges at all.
And on top of that, we've opened up a new Jazzman's cafe, and the school is relying on drawing in the public for its success, yet they have graciously awarded the business one (1!) single parking space for 5 minute grab-and-gos. I'm not sure whose genius idea that was, but...
I hate parking, too.
Indiana University-Bloomington (the "flagship" campus) collects more in parking fines annnually from its roughly 30,000 students than the city of Indianapolis (roughly 800,000 residents) does.
It IS a way to help keep tuition from rising quite as fast...
1. They replaced a parking lot with a parking garage. No extra space needed. (And now it's an actual building, so you can slap a philanthropist's name on it!)
2. They built an underground parking garage. Again, no extra space needed, and the greenery above it remained. (It also has underground, rain-proof access into the nearest building.)
The campus is in an urban area and, funny thing, when we eliminated free parking we found out we had been supplying parking for the employees of a number of businesses within a one-mile radius of campus.
Enforcement is key even when you have enough parking. In addition to barriers that require the proper electronic access to get into the lot, we have a full-time employee who does nothing but write parking tickets and apply "the boot" to repeat offenders.
If it is any consolation to you, having enough parking and being well-served by public transportation may solve the problems but does NOT prevent any of the parking arguments. They are just as heated and fierce here even though the loser still has a parking place.
Seriously, bikes as transportation. Talk to a local co-op. Yes, you can bike during the winter. Yes, you can bike 10 miles every day. You really can, I promise. So much cheaper. So much more reliable. Stop thinking of bikes as cheap kid's toys and look at the quality stuff.
At my school, all parking (lots, buildings) must be paid for by the parking fees generated by them. So if we build for peak enrollment, and then enrollment drops, parking fees must rise. (Which may push enrollment down even further.)
So we've been conservative with new parking.
But our existing parking--built and paid for when we had more students--is currently sufficient. Parking fees are not low, however.
For us, public transportation is a limited option. Even though our immediate neighborhood is fiarly urban (and dense), many of our students come from 20 - 30 miles away. Even locally, public transportation is a joke; it runs rarely and erratically and the routes (and interconnections of routes) are not well designed for our students. Pretty much, you drive or you don't come to class.
It is objectively extremely annoying to be unable to park within 4 blocks of your own home because there is a massive influx of non-locals. Especially when those non-locals are doing exactly nothing for your community, because they're there only to take classes, and the campus doesn't do any revenue-sharing with the town. From their perspective, you are an attractive nuisance. Not that you can do much about that except cut enrollment, of course, but "too (bleeping) bad" is kind of harsh.
Like all of us, I've been in a few college towns over the years, and this area doesn't fit that model. It's a rather conservative school. There are no frats, no beer sold on campus, and no nearby bars, so were not talking about the common drunken-student problems. Actually, it's the quietest campus I've ever seen. Oh, and parking isn't a problem at night so the school's lots are sufficient so the complaints are about daytime parking.
Basically the neighbors are objecting to a student's or professor's car parking on their streets while they are at work. No, I don't think that's reasonable....
My mother is a librarian at a large state university. There was a freak ice storm in the spring and she fell on ice in the faculty parking lot on her way home at the end of the day. She broke her arm and had to have surgury to set the bones. The university health insurance system kicked the claims over to workers comp.
Our campus does not charge for parking and I would be pretty annoyed if faculty were charged since salaries are not too high.
Either that, or you take a very long way around and come to it from another direction.
Charge for parking. Provide convenient bike racks and bus stops on campus. Then let faculty and students decide whether they want to pay, or find some other way to get to school. Some will quickly discover that they're not made of sugar so they don't melt in the rain, and they can perfectly well bike to work and save the $300 parking fee. Or carpool. Some enterprising student might set up a jitney service.
I am going to stick with my car.