Driving Force

Aug. 1, 1998
The last decade has seen a dramatic shift in the administration of colleges and universities. Whereas in the 1980s there was a glut of prospective students

The last decade has seen a dramatic shift in the administration of colleges and universities. Whereas in the 1980s there was a glut of prospective students from which institutions could choose, today schools must aggressively compete for students and faculty. In response, schools have had to develop strategies for attracting students and staff, as well as additional sources of outside income. Colleges are relying on concerts, sporting events and educational conferences to generate revenue. Also, there has been a rise in the number of quasi-institutional organizations, such as research and business incubators, located on campuses.

In addition to bringing in money, these organizations have the capacity to enhance a university's reputation. On many campuses, these changes have placed new demands on parking programs. In the past, schools have focused primarily on providing parking for full-time students and staff. However, today's colleges must accommodate the needs of part-time students, visitors and employees of organizations located on campuses.

With effective planning, parking can satisfy the needs of various constituencies and serve as a marketing tool for attracting staff and students, particularly part-time and evening students. It also can generate valuable income through permits and event parking. However, if improperly planned, parking can be a burden. It can cost much more in maintenance, security and other expenses than it produces. It also can become the focal point of student and staff discontent if it is inconvenient, expensive or unsafe. Finally, it can impact the neighboring community when insufficient parking leads to excessive on-street parking on residential streets.

Steps to success The keys to effective parking planning are to identify goals and objectives for parking, identify stakeholders and build consensus. A parking committee comprised of students, faculty, staff, administration, and possibly neighborhood representatives, is the first step. Including stakeholders can strengthen the process by providing insight from user groups and helping to build consensus. A parking committee can review goals and objectives, as well as the completed plan.

There are two issues that must be addressed at the outset. First, determine who are the primary campus groups to be served through the parking plan. Then, determine how the parking policy impacts the effort to market the school.

Whether campus parking consists of on-street and surface lots or parking structures, it is an asset that must be carefully planned and operated through a clear set of goals and objectives. Often, however, schools do not pay attention to the details that matter most to students and staff, such as walking distances to classes and functions, availability of spaces and security.

Evaluating needs In developing a parking plan, it is important to evaluate the needs of all parkers, determining who parks where and when. For instance, many campuses have a certain number of resident students who need long-term parking or vehicle storage. Students who want to store vehicles for long periods of time would benefit most from being able to park vehicles in structures or lots that are close to residence halls. It is less important for resident parking to be located near classrooms since students who live on campus are likely to walk or take a university shuttle service. While students might enjoy the convenience of having parking available at residences, administrators must weigh convenience against the availability and cost of land, as well as the cost of development.

While schools traditionally have relied on full-time-resident students to fill classrooms, there are more part-time and evening students attending college today. This has led to a change in the typical parking needs. When students are on campus for a limited time each day, they need quick and convenient access from parking areas to classrooms. Therefore, institutions with large numbers of part-time students should offer parking close to classrooms.

Not all students have class at the same time, so schools can afford to oversell student parking by as much as 200 percent. For instance, if a university has 1,000 part-time students, it probably can get by with 500 to 600 parking spaces, depending on the number of students requiring parking during peak hours.

Faculty parking, on the other hand, presents a separate set of issues. Most universities provide separate parking for faculty, with some offering limited assigned-space parking. While assigned-space parking can be an attractive perk and an advantage in recruiting staff, colleges run the risk of creating a system in which there are haves and have-nots. The answer for most campuses is to offer a separate reserved parking area for faculty without assigned spaces.

Since professors tend to have classes at different times, faculty parking also can be oversold. As a rule, institutions should set aside enough parking to accommodate 75 percent of the total staff at one time. Any overrun can be handled with general-use parking.

It is difficult to apply strict rules for the number of spaces needed. The key is to determine how many drivers regularly visit the campus, how often they come and how long they stay. Only after evaluating these factors can parking planners determine the number of parking spaces needed.

Adding parking After making an evaluation, it may be determined that the existing parking capacity is insufficient, and that additional spaces must be added. The planner must decide what type of parking to add: a lot or a structure.

If land is plentiful, a parking lot may make more sense. Lots are less expensive to build and maintain than structures; costing anywhere from $1,000 to $2,500 per space, depending on conditions, landscaping, and amenities. This is a particularly attractive feature for parking areas serving large events where many drivers are entering and exiting simultaneously. The open design also offers a greater measure of safety, since there are fewer places for attackers to hide, and fewer obstructions to shield pedestrians from drivers' view.

On the other hand, there are potential drawbacks. First, they require more land than structures. This can be an important issue on urban campuses where land often is at a premium. Also, many parking planners believe lots are less attractive than well-designed structures, and lots may not fit in with the architectural scheme of the campus.

In addition to providing additional spaces and more attractive architecture, parking structures are enclosed, offering protection against weather. This is important in areas that experience temperature extremes and severe storms. Also, parking structures concentrate vehicles in one area, which enhances the real and perceived security, making monitoring easier.

Keeping it safe Safety is one of the most important issues to consider in developing a parking plan. Parkers worry about crime. A badly designed parking area can be a haven for criminals, increasing the danger of robbery or assault by offering offenders numerous places to hide. Many parking designers are addressing this through Crime Prevention through Environmental Design, which uses design elements or strategies to enhance crime prevention.

There are a number of design elements that can be introduced to make parking safer. Lighting is probably the most important factor. Parking areas should be well-lighted, offering pedestrians a clean, unobstructed view of the surroundings. There also should be as few potential hiding places as possible. In structures, that means sealing off the backs of stairwells and alcoves. In lots, there should be a minimum of large trees and shrubs. Of course, vehicles can offer a perfect hiding place, therefore parking managers should provide adequate and ongoing security personnel.

Another safety risk, and one that is probably more predominant, is the risk of vehicle/pedestrian conflicts. The solution is to provide separate and clearly designated lanes for walking and driving. Signage also is important. By providing easily understood graphics directing pedestrians and drivers to their individual destinations, the amount of time they are sharing the same space is reduced.

However, proper design is not always enough to assure the highest possible degree of safety. Effective management is important. For instance, replace burned out lights immediately. Also, discourage criminals by partnering with local and campus police for surveillance. If a crime does occur, police will be prepared to respond.

Maximizing operations As important as it is to create a plan for the development of campus parking, it is equally important to institute an ongoing operation plan. On some campuses, mismanaged parking has become a focal point for student and faculty discontent. In addition, ineffective management forces some schools to subsidize parking, rather than rely on it to generate revenues.

This is another area in which a parking committee can play an important role. Committee members should advise the university's parking manager on an ongoing basis to assure that all the goals of the parking plan are being realized. The committee also should serve as a channel for educating the school's various constituencies about the goals of the parking program and how it is being implemented.

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