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Created: November 1, 2004
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Index of Topics on Site Backup of Opinion: How to Solve Campus Parking Problems Without Adding More Parking
By Daniel R. Kenney
SOURCE: California State University/ Paublic Affairs
Copyright: Source Copyright. Cites source as Chronicle of Higher Education 3-26-04.
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Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs
Friday, March 26, 2004

Chronicle of Higher Education 3-26-04

Opinion: How to Solve Campus Parking Problems Without Adding More Parking

Clark Kerr, a former president of the University of California system, once defined the university as "a series of individual faculty entrepreneurs held together by a common grievance over parking." However tongue-in-cheek that characterization was meant to be, it certainly rings true on many campuses today.

Faculty members, administrators, and students always want their colleges to build more parking, no matter how much is available. Sometimes, indeed, more parking is needed. Most students today grew up being chauffeured everywhere until they were old enough to drive, and, in a recent survey, almost 7 out of 10 said they owned a car. Moreover, they drive those cars often: Two colleagues and I, in the course of writing a book on campus planning, have interviewed many students who confessed to driving from their dormitories to classes that were only a five-minute walk away.

Institutions can usually serve their missions far better by not adding more parking, and by discouraging the use of cars on the campus. The overall deterioration of the college environment can largely be traced to the automobile.

In a vicious cycle, dependence on driving and the availability of parking cause campus facilities to be dispersed beyond reasonable walking distances. As a result, the need for more roads and more parking continually escalates. Each parking space and associated access roads pave over about 300 square feet on a campus -- and when institutions run out of room for surface parking, they build garages.

Automobiles increase health and safety risks. We estimate that student injuries or deaths caused by automobiles on campuses have occurred at as many as 20 percent of all colleges. In addition, a dependence on cars promulgates a sedentary lifestyle -- a primary factor in more than 25 percent of all deaths from chronic disease in this country. And, of course, cars pollute the air and damage the environment; they are the single largest contributor to global carbon-dioxide emissions.

Even if people aren't in immediate danger, the current orientation toward driving everywhere discourages a sense of community on campuses. Large parking lots are generally not places to linger and talk.

The automobile can also drive a wedge between an institution and its neighborhood. In many nearby communities, a college can be the largest traffic generator. What's more, some institutions have bought up land in surrounding areas and torn down houses to create surface parking. Such barren parking lots can destroy the character of neighborhoods and perhaps even cause them to decline. Ultimately, that hurts the college itself: Being surrounded by traffic and parking lots, perhaps in a declining neighborhood, does little to enhance its image.

Higher education's reliance on the automobile has direct financial costs as well. On most campuses, parking is free or so heavily discounted that the fees rarely cover the cost of providing it. In fact, for every 1,000 parking spaces, the median institution loses almost $400,000 a year for surface parking, and more than $1,200,000 per year for structured parking. The amount not recovered in fees is typically buried in the budget and charged to all students -- drivers and nondrivers alike -- as a part of their tuition. Everyone pays to subsidize parking.

At a round-table discussion during a meeting of the National Association of College and University Business Officers, we asked some campus business officers why they didn't charge the full cost of parking. The immediate answer, amid a burst of laughter, was, "Cowardice!" Faculty members and administrators want reserved spots and resist higher charges. The business officers perceive that students and their parents, already paying tuition, would also oppose higher fees. Some administrators on urban campuses also note that increased charges for parking might force more people from the college to park in the neighborhood, increasing already strained town-gown relationships.

What can colleges do to escape the tyranny of the automobile?

Eliminating all driving and parking is neither desirable nor possible. But each college should evaluate its traffic and parking situation and consider both the quantifiable costs and the less quantifiable, but perhaps more significant, costs of the destruction of quality of place, learning environment, and community. The remedy will vary, depending on the institution: An urban institution like Brown University, in dense Providence, R.I., will have a different approach from a suburban, commuter-oriented place like George Mason University, in Virginia. After years of experience planning dozens of campuses, however, we can recommend some general areas to explore.

One approach is to set more-appropriate parking fees. Politically it may not be possible to change the parking-fee structure all at once, but an institution can establish a goal of raising charges over time to reflect the full cost of providing parking.

Pricing strategies should also include incentives to promote desirable behavior -- for example, offering subsidized parking for car and van pools. For example, the free-parking program for car-poolers at the University of Washington has reduced purchases of single-occupancy-vehicle parking permits by 32 percent over the past decade.

Some institutions express concern that recapturing all parking costs will drive fees so high that they would create hardships for lower-paid employees and needy students. As a remedy, colleges can offer parking subsidies for such employees through cafeteria-style benefits, or add some portion of the parking costs into the financial-aid packages of needy students.

Institutions should also create transportation options that include:

Bicycles. As much as possible, colleges should create bikeways and convenient bicycle parking. If a regional bicycle network exists, the campus bike system should connect to it. Colleges might want to follow the example of the University of New Hampshire, which runs the "Cat Cycles" program. Students can sign out bikes free and use them to go anywhere on the campus for up to a week. At the end of the week, they can return the bikes and sign them out again, if needed.

Car pools and van pools. At the University of Washington, those who use car pools can park free, while others pay $192 per quarter. "Without vigorously managing our parking and providing commute alternatives, the university would have been faced with adding approximately 3,600 parking spaces, at a cost of over $100-million," says Peter Dewey, assistant director of transportation services. "The university has created opportunities to make capital investments in buildings supporting education instead of structures for cars."

Mass transit. More than 70 colleges give free or reduced-price transit passes to students, faculty members, and administrators. At the University of Colorado at Boulder, for instance, student fees pay for free bus and light-rail service for all students. The program helped increase public-transit use by students from 300,000 to almost two million trips per year between 1991 and 2002, and surveys show that 41 percent of that increase replaced trips in single-occupancy vehicles. The promotion of mass transit at Colorado has allowed the university to avoid the construction of nearly 2,000 parking spaces, a saving of $3.6-million annually.

Many colleges run shuttle buses to serve high-volume destinations on or near their campuses. Rice University, which has limited parking, operates a well-organized, frequent, and free shuttle-bus system that connects the campus with off-site graduate-student hous-ing, remote parking lots, and neighborhood areas.

A long-term strategy, yet ultimately the most effective, is to build or reorganize campuses so that most destinations are within walking distance of one another. If campus buildings that serve a variety of uses are located conveniently together, then more facilities and services will be reachable by walking or bicycling. Colleges should design their campuses so that people can walk from any classroom to most others within the 10-minute interval between classes. Frequent destinations should be close to their normal origins; for example, the recreation center should be close to campus housing, and campus housing should be close to academic facilities. Even when the entire campus is so large that walking everywhere is not realistic, each area should provide a mixed-use selection of services, so that people don't have to drive often, if at all.

Landscaping, shade trees, covered walkways, and good lighting after dark can all enhance the quality of the pedestrian experience, as will a chance to see and be seen by others. People will happily walk 15 to 20 minutes if the experience is pleasant.

Tackling the issues of the automobile's impact is not easy, but it can have great rewards in terms of safety, environment, town-gown relationships, and -- most important -- creating a sense of community and collegiality on the campus. Many institutions have taken the lead in controlling cars on their campuses, and they are saving money in the process. In fact, colleges may offer our society's best and only chance to introduce new habits into our culture and to educate students on the benefits of not driving.

Daniel R. Kenney is a principal and director of institutional planning at Sasaki Associates, a planning and design company. He is co-author, with Ricardo Dumont and Ginger Kenney, of Mission and Place: Renewing Community on Campus, to be published this fall by Greenwood Press.

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