Editorials, Opinions

The problem with parking: Niagara’s most universal pain in the boot

By Christine Burke and Emily Parisi

Asking almost anyone at NU what they think is the biggest problem on campus overwhelmingly results in the word PARKING. As one of the most universal issues here, affecting not only students but faculty, staff, and administrators, parking is widely agreed upon to be what people want changed most. Just about everyone finds it near impossible to get a parking spot near where they want to go, when they want to go there.

As of 2017, there are 2,252 parking spots on campus, including those at the Power Authority. With approximately 743 residents and 1,406 commuters registered, that only fills 2,149 parking spots at any given moment. NU has also added parking spots since 2004, boasting a net gain of over 300 spaces. So why does there seem to be such a problem with parking?

As John Barker, the Director of Campus Safety at NU, said, “the people who say there are issues with parking are really saying that there’s an issue with convenience in parking.” Looking at the numbers, he seems to be right – he said that even at the busiest times on campus, between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., he can usually see at least 150 open spaces, not counting the apartments.

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“It’s a walk, but it’s a walk on every campus,” Barker said, giving parking stats for other colleges in Western New York. “People who leave here and go to the University of Buffalo tell me that our farthest parking space is better than the closest parking space there.” UB was recently the subject of a parking crisis of their own, as it came to light that they had issued more parking permits than they had spaces. Barker shared similarly dissatisfying results for Canisius, Medaille, and Buffalo State University.

“If you parked in the farthest parking spot from the center of campus in the back of Dwyer B, the absolute last parking space, and you walked from there to, let’s say the Academic Complex, for the average walker, that’s less than a five minute walk,” Barker said, referencing a study conducted several years ago on campus.

“The other thing I think is a bit misunderstood by students, particularly residents, is the model for parking at NU for a resident student is that you come to campus and you park your car and, as you traverse around campus, you do so on foot. You don’t drive your car from place to place,” Barker added. “Same thing for commuters, same thing for employees.”

Another major complaint students have is the number of parking tickets handed out. Barker said that the most common ticket violation is not registering a car, which results in a $50 fine. Registering a car for a full year (2017 rates) costs $80 for a resident and $70 for commuters, which means that if you get two tickets, you’ve already paid more than it would cost to register.

img_6818Campus Safety has made efforts to reduce the number of tickets they have to give out by making separate regulation sheets for each type of permit and keeping the rules consistent for the last four years. When a car is registered, it used to be that the registrant got everybody’s rules on one sheet of paper and had to figure out which ones applied to them. Now, the regulations have been split into four different-colored sheets – one each for residents, commuters, faculty, and employees. Barker said this has helped to minimize confusion about parking rules.

Even so, there is much about parking that members of the NU community wish to change. Chris Sheffield, Executive Director of the Office of University Planning and Assessment, said that student voices are particularly important in fostering innovation on campus. “I wouldn’t presume to extrapolate my experience to all the rest of the people who are here on campus, and so we need to hear from our resident students, what they need, what their interest are in parking, but also importantly from our commuter students,” Sheffield said.

Sheffield added that it is necessary to look at how student demographics have changed since the last major alterations to campus, specifically at how the resident and commuter populations have increased or decreased. The last time NU had large-scale changes made, the priority was to make the campus more aesthetically pleasing by keeping vehicles and parking lots to the perimeter of the university. With the next planning period coming up in 2018, Sheffield said “we need to take stock again of where our students are in terms of their priorities, because that may have changed.”

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Sheffield agreed that convenience, rather than space, is more the main problem in the issue of parking. “Given our climate, and I mean our climate in the wintertime, here, that’s really important, because if people feel as though they have to walk what they perceive to be a great distance in the cold, in the snow, that’s important to their experience and the level of satisfaction here,” he said. “So even though we may have a sufficient number of parking spaces on campus, that doesn’t mean that we’re best serving the needs of our students and our faculty, staff, administrators and their experience here.”

Sheffield said that NU will be entering a planning stage for the next period of large-scale changes in 2018, beginning by bringing together stakeholders, including students and faculty, to talk about their major goals and focal areas for upcoming projects. “We’re hopeful that from hearing from the students about what their experience is, that we’ll be able to incorporate that into our planning.”

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