Magazine

Is University Parking a Common Grievance?

By David W. Burr

Many college students, faculty and support staff would certainly find Clark Kerr’s words to be painfully true. The former President of the University of California once wrote, “I have sometimes thought of the modern [U.S.] university as a series of individual faculty entrepreneurs held together by a common grievance over parking.”
Without a doubt, parking is one of the most widespread and frustrating problems afflicting U.S. colleges and universities. Rising enrollment numbers are one of the main reasons that so many institutions are facing parking shortages. Enrollment jumped from 14.5 million to 18.2 million between 1997 and 2007, putting a severe strain on a service that’s already at the breaking point.
One could also point to how today’s students are products of a “car culture” that urges them to drive to destinations when walking will often suffice.
To combat the shortages, colleges and universities need to conduct comprehensive analyses of their parking and transportation management systems. With the proper information, planners could not only make a longstanding college headache a thing of the past, but make a campus safer and healthier, as well as improve its sense of community and space.
Effective planning
Using the data from such an analysis, a parking planner can create an effective way to address an institution’s transportation and parking shortfalls. The data should include:
• Parking supply inventories detailed by assignment (faculty/staff, resident/commuter student, service vehicle, handicap accessible, reserved, metered parking, etc.).
• Class schedules and student enrollment numbers by semester.
• Information from online surveys and focus group interviews of students, faculty and staff.
• On- and off-street occupancy counts between certain hours of the day.
• Traffic constraints at critical intersections.
A parking and transportation plan will have several core components. One is how efficiently parking facilities link up with nearby pathways. The amount of parking that can be provided near academic buildings is limited by the proximity of adjacent buildings, desire for green space or campus master plans that have other intentions for the available land. This means that pedestrian paths must efficiently move students, faculty and support staff from parking areas to their campus destinations.
Improving the circulation of these paths, as well as eliminating any pedestrian/vehicular conflicts, involves improved sight lines and signage. Landscaping, shade-providing trees, covered walkways and sufficient lighting also can enhance the pedestrian experience. If it is a pleasant one, people will easily walk 15 to 20 minutes.
Bicycle paths also can be effective in moving individuals from parking sites to campus buildings. They often feature a number of amenities: conveniently located bike racks, rental bike lockers and links to regional bicycle networks. A bike path won’t be truly effective, however, unless there’s consistency in where it runs. For example, a bike path along the curb lanes of roadways that switches to a sidewalk or pedestrian path will only create confusion for riders and potential conflicts with pedestrians.
Some institutions are taking the bicycling concept in new and exciting directions. For example, the Transportation Services Department at the University of New Hampshire in Durham has its “Cat Cycles” program, which allows students to borrow bicycles for free on a weekly basis.
Alleviating parking issues
Many universities are alleviating their parking issues by encouraging the use of mass transit. This is accomplished by offering students free or reduced-price transportation passes.
Similarly, they are developing their own shuttle bus systems, which connect high-volume destinations on or near a campus with student housing, remote parking lots and neighborhood areas. Shuttle buses are particularly useful in making the overall parking experience more pleasant, because they significantly reduce the amount of time spent searching for available spaces, as a driver knows ahead of time which parking lots to utilize.
Vanpooling and carpooling are also proving to be effective.
Another option is to reduce demand for parking spaces that already exist. At many universities, it’s not uncommon for freshmen and sophomores not to be issued parking permits, restricting permits to upperclassmen only. Some urban colleges have taken this a step further. Columbia University in New York City, for example, doesn’t allow any students to park on campus. Only faculty and support staff members are issued parking permits.
Why more parking spaces don’t work
Implementing a parking and transportation plan is more effective than the solution many students, faculty and support staff often clamor for: the creation of more parking spaces. For starters, many universities simply lack the space to add parking facilities. In addition, many in the campus community believe that parking lots can negatively impact how aesthetically pleasing a campus is.
Another inhibitor is cost. One space in a conventional parking lot costs about $2,000 to build. When it’s a parking garage, the cost is even more: anywhere from $13,000 to $15,000 per space.
Finally, development of additional parking within a campus typically means an increase in traffic, something that existing roadways may not be able to accommodate. This is where a traffic analysis may be appropriate.
A myriad of benefits
Parking remains a frustrating endeavor for students, faculty and support staff at most U.S. colleges and university. Many face a shortage of parking spaces or facilities at inconvenient distances from their destinations. The result is that many end up parking illegally or are issued citations.
An effective parking and transportation management plan will not only bring viable solutions to a university’s parking dilemma, but also help create a safer, more livable campus. Reductions in vehicles circling in lots hunting for parking will mean less negative implications on air quality. This will lead to an improvement in the quality of life for all on campus, as well as the improvement of an institution’s image as being greener and more Earth-friendly.
David W. Burr, Senior Parking Planner with Rich & Associates, can be reached at dburr@richassoc.com.

Article Abstract from September, 2011




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