OPINION: Student parking is a problem

Just a quarter or so of CMU's 11,000 parking spots are designated for commuters in campus' academic center, located north of Broomfield Road. Commuter lots are colored in yellow. (Courtesy: CMU.)
Just a quarter or so of CMU’s 11,000 parking spots are designated for commuters in campus’ academic center, located north of Broomfield Road. Commuter lots are colored in yellow. (Courtesy: CMU.)

By John Irwin

One of the things I most value about being given a platform to do opinion journalism is the ability to spark debate.

It’s something I’ve cherished as I’ve gotten CMU Insider off the ground, and it’s also something I valued when I was an editor and reporter at CM Life, where I was a member of the editorial board for three semesters in 2012 and 2013. Whenever I saw people discuss, positively or negatively, our collective viewpoint on an important issue, I knew that we had done our job as a board.

I’d imagine that members of the current board felt that way after publishing an editorial last week titled “Student Parking not a problem“.

The editorial came in response to a Student Government Association petition designed to bring alleged issues with student parking to the administration’s attention. The board, however, believes that parking is not much of an issue.

I respectfully disagree.

From the editorial:

Although some students have expressed concerns about parking for years, parking is not likely to change at this university. It shouldn’t. Students’ time and effort would be better spent on other, more attainable goals.

According to Parking Services, there are 11,301 parking spaces on campus, giving the university a better space-to-student ratio than Eastern Michigan University. Only 7,655 parking permits were purchased as of September 2014.

More than 200 parking spots were added to university lots in 2013 and 22 were added in 2014.

The problem with the “space-to-student ratio” argument is that not all of those spots are reserved for students, and many of the ones that are reserved for them are for residential parking or are so far removed from academic buildings that they are, for many students, not worth the trouble.

In fact, only about 25 percent of those spots — roughly 3,000 of them by my count — are dedicated to commuter parking in the area north of Broomfield Road, where CMU’s academic buildings are located. (They are pictured in yellow in the map above.) Five of the largest commuter lots are located around the Student Activity Center and Kelly/Shorts Stadium to the south, far removed from the vast majority of academic buildings. And keep in mind that faculty and staff can also park in these commuter lots, further limiting potential parking.

For students commuting to and from classes in the late morning and early afternoon, the busiest time period for on-campus classes, this can create a parking nightmare of sorts. Even the largest lots can fill quickly, forcing students to try their luck in another lot further away from where they need to be or by parking in a private lot off campus with the hope that their cars don’t get towed.

And as anyone who has driven in the heart of campus during busy hours can attest to, campus’ two-lane streets and limited parking lot entries can make driving to class a hassle that can turn a five-minute drive into one that can last for 15-20 minutes or longer. For students who commute to class from work or vice versa, that’s time that isn’t always available to burn looking for a parking spot.

Commuter students who pay $175 annually for on-campus parking and thousands of dollars in tuition over the course of their collegiate careers deserve better.

More from the Life editorial board:

[T]hose unhappy with the situation have cited limited parking as the cause for being late to class. The addition of more spaces or construction of a parking structure have been suggested as solutions.

A parking structure is an enormous, expensive undertaking. To construct one similar to those on Michigan State University’s campus would cost the university millions of dollars and take years to build.

This is true, but the university is already spending about $150 million on major construction projects, most of which will only directly benefit a small number of students. It’s tough to say CMU can’t afford a new garage when it is already undertaking several large projects. Taking a fraction of what the university is already spending on new buildings and renovations and putting it toward a garage could, if properly planned, be a great investment. So could the construction or expansion of commuter lots.

As the board notes, though, there is no easy answer. But the university must do all it can to re-examine its parking policies to better serve its students and to take their concerns seriously.

That’s why the SGA should be applauded for speaking out for students. Parking has been a major concern for the student body for years, and aside from relatively small additions to commuter lots here and there, little has been done to address it.

The Life board makes the case against that:

Rather than petition the university for an ill conceived goal, students should spend their time and effort on more relevant issues that have a greater chance of being recognized.

Students elect SGA members to represent their needs while in school. Small initiatives like extending the Bovee University Center hours and introducing a legal clinic for students are representative of those needs.

Many students’ needs, however, include receiving a quality parking product for the $175 fee they pay for a pass. Holding the administration’s feet to the fire and demanding students receive better service for their money should not be condemned. It should be praised.

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