Magazine

Easing the Parking Crunch

Richard Hartger

With more than 60,000 students, the University of Minnesota is one of the largest universities in the country. However, only about 14 percent of the student population lives on campus. The remaining 50,000 students join 30,000 employees who commute each day.
Of the 80,000 people who make the journey to campus each day, many choose to drive. This poses a problem because only 21,000 parking spaces are available. You can imagine the frustration drivers feel and the pressure they put on the university to improve the situation.
Compounding the parking squeeze, the university's Parking and Transportation Services has lost several surface lots over the past decade to new building construction on campus. To maintain the same number of parking spaces, the department has been forced to replace lost surface parking with ramps and garages. Because it costs considerably more to build and maintain those facilities, parking costs for commuters have increased.
University of Minnesota officials have responded to the situation with several initiatives aimed at encouraging commuters to bike, take the bus and carpool. The university provides carpool parking for vehicles with two or more passengers, thereby encouraging ridesharing. Buses running near campus have bike racks on the front, allowing commuters to bring a bicycle with them from remote locations.
Officials realized early that an effective bicycle program would require more than the installation of a few bike racks. Students wouldn't make the switch from gas power to pedal power unless they were guaranteed peace of mind. They needed to know that their bikes would be safe when left unattended.
The university needed secure, dependable, easy-to-use bike parking. Students got all of this and more in 1995 when the university purchased six bicycle lockers. Impressed with the durability, security and quality of the units and gratified by student acceptance of them, officials installed 12 more lockers a year later. There was a waiting list in most locations for lockers. This, coupled with the university's continued enrollment growth, led officials to install an additional 134 lockers.
The lockers helped reduce bike theft on campus. Like most universities, the U of M had become a shopping mall for bikes. Students who chained their bikes to racks, lamp posts or trees could never be sure the bikes would still be there when they returned. The number of thefts hovered around 275 per year. This figure has declined significantly, thanks to the lockers' theft- and vandalism-resistant design.
Steve Sanders, Executive Assistant and Facilities/Campus Bicycle Coordinator for the university's Parking and Transportation Services, said there has been a great response to the lockers, which are now installed in 15 different locations across three separate campuses. The lockers are available to students and faculty members for $75 per year, plus a $25 key deposit.
The university's decision to provide secure bicycle parking strengthens local transportation initiatives. "The university is the third largest traffic generator in the state," Sanders said, "so the more people we can stop from driving, the better."

Richard Hartger is president of Cycle Safe. He can be reached at
info@cyclesafe.com.

Article Abstract from December, 2004




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