Shadley: We Need Less Parking on Campus


Storey McDonald

(Graphic by Storey McDonald | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Will Shadley, Opinion Writer


After a short reprieve during the pandemic, parking on campus has once again become wildly competitive. With 60,000 students, faculty and staff returning to campus, the U’s parking lots fill up quickly, with the most popular lots filling up before 9 a.m.

After spending $145 on a parking permit to not have a place to park on campus, it’s become topical for students to groan about commuter services and the need for more parking. However, the U has already tried that.

In 2015, the U built two new parking lots that created 1,000 new spots. Those parking garages were extremely expensive, costing the U roughly $30,000 per spot. Even after spending upwards of $30 million dollars to add more parking, the problem persists. This causes most people to think “Hey, we need more parking garages and parking lots on campus,” but we’ve tried that. What if the answer to our parking problem at the U is not more parking, but less?

Why People Drive

I spoke with Andrew King, associate director of Campus Planning at the U, to try to understand why we continue to face this crippling commuting problem.

For the most part, people tend to opt for the form of commuting that they find most convenient. King finds that, currently, “our system of commuting caters to the vehicle.” Commuting to campus via public transportation can sometimes involve 10-15 minute delays that can make you late for class or stuck waiting in poor weather conditions.

With our campus situated at the top of a hill, biking or walking up to class can be physically taxing, which isn’t always what I’m looking for at eight in the morning. For some commuters, they’d rather spend a little more time looking for a parking spot than putting up with the headaches of other forms of transportation. Yet, there are costs associated with driving, too. We’ve just done a good job of hiding them.

King told me that “at any given time on campus, even at the times when people are complaining that ‘there’s no parking,’ there are hundreds of vacant stalls.” The closest stalls to your class may be unavailable, creating a perceived shortage of parking. That shortage, real or not, leads to worse air quality and more carbon emissions.

A study done at UCLA found that people spent about 3.3 minutes looking for parking. Which, when multiplied by all the people who park there in a given year, leads to the burning of an additional 47,000 gallons of gasoline, or 730 tons of carbon. When we already suffer some of the worst air quality in the world, we cannot afford to make it worse.

So, what are our options? We can either spend tens of millions of dollars adding to our already abundant supply of parking spaces, ruining our air quality and taking up more space on campus, or we can rethink commuting on campus and make other forms of transportation more convenient. Let’s imagine the latter.

A Campus Built for People

You wake up, late for class, quickly sling your backpack over your shoulder, and jog out the front door. The new TRAX line they put up stops a block from your apartment, so it only takes you a few minutes to get there. As you approach the stop, a train rushes up the hill with hundreds of students, you just missed it. “Oh, well,” you think, “another one will be here soon.” Sure enough, another train shows up two minutes later. You have a brief chat with one of your friends who’s also on the train, and decide to grab coffee together on your lunch break.

The train comes to a stop at central campus and you hop off, your class is about a 15-minute walk from here, but it starts in eight minutes. Where the parking lot used to be, there’s now a docking station for dozens of motorized scooters and bicycles. You think about taking the shuttle instead, which leaves every four minutes, but it’s a nice day out, so you tap your transportation card on the screen and jump on a motorized scooter.

You take the scooter lane to your class, after all, scooters, bikes, pedestrians and skateboards travel at different speeds, they ought to have their own lanes. You drop off your scooter at the docking station outside your building and check your phone. Four minutes to spare.

After class, you walk over to one of the dozens of revamped green spaces on campus. Since very few people drive to school anymore, campus has decided to turn old parking lots into places where students can read, throw a football and connect with each other and nature. Even though the temperature rises each year, you find it enjoyable to sit under a tree and read.

You go throughout the rest of your day, bumping into new people, getting coffee with friends and feeling far more connected to the campus community than you ever have before. This is a place for you, not your car.

What We Can Do

King makes it his job to “give you transportation options and make any option that you choose to take as convenient as I [he] make it.” Part of doing so includes actions like improving bicycle and scooter infrastructure on campus, introducing bike-share and motorized scooter programs, improving green spaces and adding new world-class coffee and ice cream shops on campus. All of these things, which would make our campus experience richer, the U has considered King says. However, there’s also a growing demand to add more parking to campus, further alienating other forms of transportation.

We stand at an inflection point: we can choose to perpetuate a system of commuting that leads to a car-centric campus, or we can reimagine our campus as one built for people. I choose the second option and you should too.


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