Magazine

Don’t Go Now, Doug – We Still Need You!

By Doug Holmes

Parking industry veteran Doug Holmes, a former IPI Board Chairman and President of the Pennsylvania Parking Association, recently announced his retirement as Director of Transportation Services at The Pennsylvania State University in State College. Editor.
When JVH asked me to write “a farewell article” for PT and “give us your take on university parking,” I was both flattered and irked. “Farewell,” indeed! In the end, my ego accepted flattery.
The request made me think a lot about where parking was when I entered the industry from the police side of the house.
At the time, I was a young father with two daughters who barely recognized me due to shifts, court, training, etc., working Christmases, weekends, Penn State football games, etc., and was rarely around for the fun times, such as when they were awake. So I quit the police department and got myself a steady job, as the saying goes.
It did not take long before I realized that managing parking on a major college campus such as Penn State is no walk in the park. First, you have the politics that exist at any university where someone is always more important than anyone else on campus.
Also, invariably, you have to deal with a parking deck or lot that is open to certain faculty and staff, closed to students, and open to visiting public at an hourly rate. Keeping students out is pretty tough, because you have to know they are truly visitors and not students visiting class.
If you don’t keep the students out of the restricted parking, you won’t have enough spaces to satisfy the “real” visitors, faculty, patients, doctors – insert client type here – and then those groups will complain. But if you are successful in keeping students out and wind up having empty spaces, you are losing revenue in unsold hourly parking. This is a very delicate balance to maintain.
Then, at Penn State, there is Nittany Lions football. On a typical football Saturday, Beaver Stadium becomes the third-largest city in Pennsylvania. Our record crowd was just over 110,000 – and stated capacity is 107,000-plus. With an average of three to four people per vehicle, that means we have to deal with a ton of cars.
(And, of course, all these people are always sane, rational, civil folks.)
Fortunately, we have ample agriculture land that we use to park most of the 35,000 or so vehicles that we get per game. This is crucial, because there are only 17,500 hard-surface spaces on the entire campus.
Football, generally, is not that big of a problem. Logistically tough, however, is when someone schedules a basketball game in the arena across the street from the football stadium within hours of kickoff. Similarly challenging is dealing with a major rock concert in January when the grass parking is unavailable and we know parking demand will force fans across campus.
My guess is that these problems of supply and demand, balance of parking demographics, financing the operation and the politics will probably remain relatively consistent well into the future.
For now, a check of the parking listserv CPARK-L (CPARK-L@lists.psu.edu) lists several salient current parking issues. Some involve high-tech tools that may help the industry solve the longer term problems noted above. Maybe someday we can even push the environment into a market-based economy where we collect the true full value of a parking space.
It’s tough looking into a crystal ball to foresee the future. One issue I do see involves management software for … bicycles. This makes sense in a world where planners see Transportation Demand Management (TDM) as the panacea for all parking ills on a college campus, and where bicycling is becoming more and more accepted as a serious means of transportation.
Additionally, TDM strategies are connected to programs such as parking buyouts, subsidized access to mass transit, vanpools, carpools, car-sharing, park-and-ride locations, shuttle services and a whole slew of other alternatives.
Parking is expensive. We took a look at all costs on the Penn State campus this year and found that building the next parking space in a surface lot costs $500 and in a deck $1,800. Those figures include maintenance with a projected 30-year life span with either type of facility. We picked the incremental value as a good yardstick because we accept that it is impossible to eliminate all parking. This means that certain infrastructure costs remain.
Transportation Demand Management is where the technical aspects of parking will meld more fully with management techniques to reduce the need for parking. But care must be exercised with TDM to ensure that methods chosen are possible for your application and will be accepted by your customer base: What works in Chicago may not work in Bloomington, IN.
But TDM will loom ever larger on university campuses because it is a viable tool to satisfy demand without increasing supply too much.
Other topics I see relate to management of contractor/vendor/service and delivery parking. Where to put both construction vehicles and those transporting non-university workers can soak up a lot of parking space if you are not careful. New technical marvels will continue to evolve and will not always make life easier.
Free vs. paid parking remains a raging battle on campuses, as elsewhere, especially where university visitors are concerned. I always think of Rina Cutler’s words of wisdom: Parking should be friendly, not free.
Even though I have retired from Penn State, I have learned a lot over the years, developed some very good friendships and hope to continue to be a part of the industry for many years to come. So, if you hear of a job opening, let me know!
Doug Holmes is on “emergency rehire” as Penn State’s Interim Director of Transportation Services. He can be reached at wdh1@psu.edu.

Article Abstract from September, 2011




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