Simple Solutions for Your Parking Problems

"I think the best solution is to take the first step of knowing exactly what the problems and existing conditions are," Chuck Cullen, CPFM, CAPP, assistant director of Parking and Transportation Planning in the Cincinnati office of Mt. Prospect, Ill.-based Consulting Engineers Group, Inc., says about solving parking challenges. "Then you can incorporate the technologies that are available to improve your parking situation."

Bill Gmiterko, P.E., president of AGA Consulting in Minneapolis, is another professional who assists campus administrators in solving their parking challenges. He says administrators can determine their problems and existing conditions through a supply/demand study. It allows you to get an estimate of parking demand from on-campus students, commuters, faculty and employees. The demand is compared to supply - the actual number of available parking spaces.

Cullen agrees, adding that the study has to consider that not every student is going to be on campus every day and that a lot of parking spaces are used numerous times in the course of a day as people come and go.

"It makes sense to have at least a one-page summary of parking operations so that people who are responsible for long-term planning know about situations that are coming so that you can compare from year to year how many people are using the lots and how many permits are being sold," Cullen summarizes. "If trends go up or down, decisions have to be made. And the sooner you can plan for those changes, the better. You don't have to have a formal study done by a consultant every year; you can hire students to count cars."

Choosing to Build

If the supply/demand study shows a deficit, one option, of course, is to add additional parking. This leads to a site analysis and a financial analysis, says Gmiterko.

Again, Cullen agrees, noting that he looks at the four "C"s when considering using existing land for additional parking:

1. cost of building;

2. conservation of available land;

3. concern — parking garages are perceived as less safe than parking lots; and

4. convenience — parking garages are perceived as more convenient than parking lots because they are often placed in closer proximity to buildings than are parking lots.

Choosing to Reduce Demand

However, another option is to not increase the number of parking spaces, but to reduce demand for the spaces that already exist.

"I've heard of paying students not to drive on campus, although I don't know of it actually happening," says Cullen. "It's not uncommon for freshmen and sophomores to not be issued parking permits, but to restrict parking permits to upperclassmen. So, it's not always a decision to build more parking. You can keep what you have, but reduce the demand by discouraging people from bringing their cars to campus."

How It's Done at the University of Minnesota

Bob W. Baker, CAPP, is executive director of Parking and Transportation Services at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus in Minneapolis. With an FTE of 48,000, Baker has had to come up with creative solutions to parking challenges on this campus, made all the more challenging by the fact that it's actually composed of three campuses: East Campus, West Campus and St. Paul campus. He's had no shortage of ideas.

Housing: In the last three to five years, administrators at the Twin Cities campus have added 3,000 to 5,000 beds, some of it university housing and some of it privatized. The highly demanded apartment-style facilities have been built. "The result is that living on campus or near campus is the thing to do," says Baker. "In essence, we've reduced the number of commuters. That was one of the significant factors that helped reduce parking demand on our campus."

Metropolitan Transportation: A federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality grant has allowed administrators to implement a UPass program. For $50 per semester, students, staff and employees can ride the Minneapolis transit busses throughout the entire metropolitan region. The grant's goal is to increase transit use at the university, thereby reducing carbon monoxide emissions, vehicle miles traveled and single-occupancy vehicle trips. The bonus, of course, is that the program also reduces parking demands. Baker comments on the program's success: "We went from approximately 7,000 transit riders before the program four years ago to 15,000 today."

Intercampus Bus System: A dedicated intercampus bus system connects everything, "so we can transport students within the entire Twin City campus," says Baker. This program is free.

Carpools: "We have a discounted parking rate for carpools," Baker notes. "It's $1.75 per day for carpools and $3.25 per day for single-occupancy vehicles." The program is several years old. "With the carpool program, we work in conjunction with our Metro Commuter Services Division of the Metropolitan Council, and they offer a $25 voucher twice a year that's good for an emergency ride home," he says. For example, if you carpooled to campus and had to leave early because a family member was ill, you could take a taxi home and then be reimbursed for the cost, up to $25.

Bicycling: "We've tripled the number of bike racks on campus to make biking more attractive," says Baker. "We rent bike lockers for added protection by the day, semester or year. We've also increased bike routes and striped bike lanes." This program has been implemented in the last five years.

Parking Rates: "We're always trying to balance our parking rates," says Baker. "We want costs to be low enough for students to afford but not so low as to encourage single-occupancy vehicle demand. If parking is inexpensive, it simply doesn't discourage people from thinking about travel alternatives."

The Parking and Transportation Services department ties all of these options together in a yearly transportation fair. At the beginning of the school year, representatives from each of the programs come together to educate students on transportation alternatives "before they get stuck in a particular mode," says Baker.