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No parking? Savvy schools are discovering that building a parking lot is not necessarily the best way--or indeed the only way--to solve campus parking problems. (Facilities/Parking).

Last year, "Parking Problems Far From Solved" were among the many parking crunch focused headlines of the University of Rhode Island's student newspaper, The Good 5 Cent Cigar. But that was before the school's new $8 million transportation plan was set in motion in March. What's more, URI's parking problems are not unique, say campus planning and construction experts. At urban, suburban and even rural schools all over the country, campus growth in the form of new building construction is swallowing up the surfaces that once served as parking areas.

"There's been a real. explosion in lab research space and multimedia libraries, especially," says Chris Luz of Kansas City-based HNTB Companies (, a multidiscipline consulting firm with expertise in parking-facility design and renovation, parking analysis, and planning. Such facilities eat up acreage, he says, and that space often is land that was allocated to student, visitor, and campus employee parking. The primary challenges then become where to find new space for the vehicles, how to manage transportation to and from the new facilities, and how to fund the project--with all of its incumbent (and often costly) wrinkles.


In South Kingston, URI students, staff, and employees constantly complained about the strained parking conditions on the campus. The 6,600 fee-free surface parking spots could not keep up with demand from 3,000 faculty/staff, 4,000 resident students, and 10,000 commuters. It was a surprise, then, when during URI's master planning process in 1999, campus planners discovered the school actually had a sufficient parking supply. But campus officials weren't managing the parking and transportation system properly; people were parking wherever they wanted to--students were even parking in faculty lots. The biggest issues: lack of both financial resources and parking enforcement, and a less-than-adequate campus shuttle service. Administrators knew that lots with programmed entry/exit gates would help curtail the problem of illegal parking, but they didn't have the funds for the technology needed, and no one wanted to take the money out of the operating budget.

"We had to completely rethink the way we allocate parking," says Kathleen Mallon, URI's director of Strategic Planning and Institutional Research. "The planners also suggested the establishment of parking fees as one way to generate revenue needed to better manage the parking system."

Then came the complication: the school's earlier decision to build a 9,000-seat Convocation Center meant that its opening in June 2002 would put URI completely over its parking capacity. Suddenly, the school had to look at parking management plus construction and transportation solutions.

The master plan. To create a master plan, Mallon engaged Boston-based Goody, Clancy and Associates (, a provider of architectural planning, and urban design services. With input from the consultancy, URI created its own parking and transportation plan, which included construction of 1,000 new parking stalls, possibly some gated lots, and an expanded shuttle service. To help reimburse the $8 million loan for the project (they also received a $1 million federal highway grant), campus officials decided to implement the parking fees they had been considering--a first for the university. Starting July 1, URI is establishing an Enterprise Fund to account for all of the revenue and costs associated with the parking projects and to provide for maintenance and related future projects.

As school officials had wished, the university will no longer support parking out of its operating budget. Beginning this fall, URI commuters will pay a $100 annual fee, and residents will pay $175 yearly to keep their cars on campus. The university will contribute $350,000 annually, the rough equivalent of $100 per employee parking space. Mallon says that the Student Senate supported the introduction of the fees because early on she involved the members in the planning process, clearly detailing the magnitude of the parking problem and the costs involved in the solution.

"Having the Senate behind us helped us get the support of the Board of Governors for Higher Education," Mallon says. "Without action from the student body, the Board typically would have advocated holding down expenses." In fact, administrators did make a conscious effort to keep costs low. They decided not to take the risk of instituting the higher fees that would have been necessary to pay for a parking structure; instead, they opted for two new surface lots on the northeast corner of the main campus, near the athletics complex. The school will break ground on the new lots this summer.

The environmental wrinkle. Of course, there had to be an obstacle somewhere along the way: Campus officials encountered resistance from environmentalists when they proposed their surface-lot construction plans. As it happens, URI is located on an aquifer that provides an underground drinking water supply to South Kingstown residents. Construction of a conventional nonporous asphalt lot would create runoff that would have to be channeled into conduits, moving the excess water off site--and away from the aquifer. But school officials decided to construct the lots with porous asphalt, enabling the school to recycle water collecting on the lot right back to the aquifer. Layered below the asphalt will be a 3-foot-deep stone bed, and 14 feet of natural soil profile to groundwater. The university is also installing test wells to ensure that the water percolating through the Layers is properly cleaned before it reaches the aquifer.

"Data revealed that the university--the most nonporous site in the area--was already impacting the water supply," Mallon says. "If this works for us, we'll be able to install more porous pavement on campus."

Construction of the two porous asphalt lots (with stone beds, wells, etc.) will cost an estimated $5.9 million, approximately the same outlay as traditional surface lots. But Matron points out that it is difficult to find engineers familiar with the technology (which has been used in other parts of the country, but not in Rhode Island). To help get public support for the paving project, URI included in the design process the Department of Environmental Management, the town planner, town engineer, town manager, and a member of the Town Council--individuals who, typically, would be on the outside of the process until the school was in the final stages of a plan.

"This time, we didn't take the `us versus them' stance," Mallon says. "It's been very productive."

Parking reassignment/transportation.

One of the more interesting aspects of the URI parking project was the school's decision to build only 1,000 stalls instead of the 3,000 spaces it appeared it would need to accommodate the new 9,000-seat arena. To produce the other 2,000 spaces, the school decided to free up stalls from its existing supply, primarily on nights and weekends, when the arena was likely to be active. "That meant we had to reassign where our resident students parked," Mallon says. "And once we undertook such an enormous reassignment of parking, we had to supply transportation to and from the parking areas."

Since the resident parking will be located farther from the dorms, the university expects to spend $600,000 a year for an expanded shuttle system to move students to and from their cars, dorms, and classes. The shuttle service will be provided as part of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority's service to URI.

Enforcement and security. Enhanced security will come in the form of security cameras and more foot patrols, along with centralized technology at each parking lot access gate. (After the lots and new transportation system are up and running, school officials will decide where the security, fool patrols, and access gates are needed most.) Electronic feeds from each lot to a central computer will enable the school to operate gates from a remote location.

University officials also plan to install parking meters to promote short-term access to spaces in prime Locations such as Memorial Union (where students buy books or go to the bank) and the Potter Building (which houses Health Services). These spaces will be able to turn over more frequently, Mallon explains, which will increase parking access for more drivers.


With about 11,000 parking spaces, University of Wisconsin-Madison has the fewest stalls per capita in the Big Ten. Students there will tell you that on any given day, there is rarely a spot to be had. In truth, the school has routinely been issuing only several hundred permits for commuters, out of a student population of 42,000. In addition, at any one time, 200 or so employees are on waiting lists for annual parking assignments. The school expects the parking problems will only worsen as surface parking is gradually absorbed for building sites. And while new parking structures are indeed being planned, geographical limitations (the hilly, 900-acre main campus is set against a lake) have forced campus officials to acknowledge that it is unlikely the parking supply will ever meet demand. But that doesn't mean that the parking situation can't be dramatically improved.

Travel demand management. "Parking structures aren't always the answer," says Richard A. Rich, director of Parking Planning for MI-based Rich Associates (, parking planners and designers. "There are other creative, less expensive options out there that can simply reduce the number of cars coming to campus." One such option is travel demand management, a term used to describe efforts to reduce the reliance on automobiles, and replace it with workable alternatives. For example, through marketing and incentives, a school can try to increase the number of students, faculty, and staff who use the public transit system. In Madison, UW has been involved in researching and developing TDM programs since the early 1990s, when the school received a $50,000 state grant to study the campus parking problems.

According to Lori Kay, transportation consultant for UW, "Travel demand management doesn't mean you don't build new parking spaces, you just build fewer spaces." Thanks to TDM, says Kay, the school has been able to spend its allocated funds on sorely needed visitor parking rather than plowing the money back into staff and student parking. In fact, the TDM program component UW administrators are most proud of is the construction of Kohl Center, which holds more than 17,000 people, but which only required 300 new structured parking spaces and 300 new surface parking spaces.

TDM partnerships. The key to building so few spaces for the Center was TDM, says Kay--and the partnerships the school forged with local businesses and organizations, as part of their management initiative. UW constructed the surface spaces in conjunction with the school district administration. The school district uses some of the spaces for its staff during the day, and though UW uses some of the spaces for campus parking during that time as well, during special events all of the parking belongs to UW. Additional parking was created via lease agreements with nearby Madison businesses and Meriter Hospital, because those institutions have large parking lots. The agreements allow UW to use the institutions' parking facilities in the evening and on weekends.

"We staff and police the lots, and clean up after ourselves," Kay says. "It's been a very good relationship."

Public transportation incentives. To encourage increased dependence on public transportation, UW contracted with Madison-Metro, the city bus service, to allow students unlimited access to the bus line, for an up-front fee of $20 a semester. Recently, the school has even reached a tentative agreement with Madison-Metro to provide prepaid passes for faculty and staff. The effort has been so successful, several buses have been added daily to meet demand.

Park and ride. Five years ago, the school established a Park and Rides service at the UW Research Park. The school provides peak-hour express bus service from the Research Park to the UW Hospital and Clinics. Any UW or UW Hospital employee is eligible, and pays $162 annually to park and then ride the bus for free. This fall, UW will add an additional lot to the Park and Rides program, with the same services and fees.

Flex Parking. In September 2001, the UW Transportation Services received a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to implement a pay-as-you-use parking system, encouraging people with parking permits to reduce the number of days per month they drive to campus. Flex parking also permits users to receive money back on the parking they don't use. And this year, the campus is piloting a new technology to be used in the Flex Parking Program: an in-car parking meter--a mini meter attached to a car window or rearview mirror, set with a smart card of purchased time. The permit holder inserts the smart card in the meter, and the meter clock tracks the time elapsed and deducts money from the smart card. As with stationary parking meters, lots must be patrolled to check for violations: a green light indicates the meter is on and money remains on the smart card. If the light is off, the permit holder receives a ticket.

Marketing TDM. Says Kay: "Americans love their cars. It takes time for them to understand that alternatives to driving are not as an inconvenient as they think, and a small inconvenience might save them the annual cost of running an automobile. Ongoing marketing keeps the message out there." UW marketing tactics have included a "TDM week" in the fall when T-shirts and free bike tune-ups are proffered. (The school has encouraged bicycling by adding storage Lockers, air pumps, and showering/changing facilities in key areas on campus.) The school also makes use of brochures and a Web site ( to circulate information about TDM. And the transportation department is piloting an electronic information kiosk. "Because of the tight market for employee parking, we've got a captive audience for TDM promotional info when permit applications go out each spring for the following fall" Kay says.

Whether it's shuttle transportation, the relocation of spaces, or municipal parking agreements for campus visitors, parking planners agree that marketing can be key. The "If We Build It They Will Come" axiom just doesn't hold true here. A push (sometimes even a shove or a free ride) can make all the difference.

Parking for Dollars

Building parking structures can be expensive--anywhere from $8,000-$20,000 a stall ($20,000-$40,000 a stall for underground parking) or more, depending upon the part of country in which the school is located. And then there's maintenance, which can run at least $150-$300 a space per year for a parking structure: $1,250-$1,500 per surface parking space. So it should come as no surprise that administrators are constantly looking to defray building costs and find ways to generate revenue for maintenance and the creation of additional parking. Here are some of the strategies they're using:

Joint-use parking structures. Joint-use parking facilities are those in which the private sector or other not-for-profit organizations build the structures in conjunction with the college or university. Wayne State University (Detroit) is in the process of building such a structure designed to hold 998 vehicles, 498 of which will be designated to the site owner, which is developing residential and commercial properties right in the area. WSU has also partnered with Detroit Public Schools to build its new Welcome Center parking structure. DPS, which is located next to the Canter, was facing a space crunch as well, so the partnership has made sense for them. They will receive 105 spaces for their 15 percent contribution to the $9 million project. To defray more of the cost, WSU included retail space in the structure, which can be rented or teased to other businesses, restaurants, and stores.

Travel demand management. HNTB's Luz advises schools to build parking structures only as a last resort. A more creative--and often more cost-effective--option is travel demand management, used to reduce the reliance on autos. In Ontario, Canada, York University recently completed the construction of one new garage and has two others in the works. But campus officials had to find a cheaper way to provide additional parking on campus when a massive influx of students in 2003 (the result of graduation-year changes in the high school system) will hit the campus. Shuttling students from remote shuttle lots may be a good interim--if not long-term--solution. Hurdles yet to be negotiated: a) getting students to plan ahead to get to class on time, and b) circumventing the part-time employment dilemma (many students need to access cars at odd hours to get to jobs).

Raising parking rates for maintenance. Tough as it may be, colleges are no longer shying away from raising parking fees. Administrators at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are now increasing parking rates so that they are closer to what local and state government employees are charged for downtown parking. Annual parking permits at UW-Madison will be offered in three categories; $400, $650, and $990, based upon central campus Lot or ramp garage location. (By comparison, employees parking in downtown Madison lots such as the State Street/Capitol ramp lot pay $1,128 annually.)

Even though colleges and universities are trying different things to defray costs, some schools still find it difficult to make ends meet and, at the same time, keep their parking facilities in operation and structurally sound. At Wayne State, maintenance has indeed been a challenge: The campus has not had a parking rate increase in more than 11 years.

"Many state school systems require that the parking systems be supported by parking revenue," Luz says. "But traditionally, parking at universities is markedly underpriced. So when it comes to changing mindsets and charging a rate that can actually support the construction of new parking facilities, that's a really tough thing to do."

While considering raising its parking fees, WSU is relying on other means, outside of the university, to generate revenue. The joint parking agreement with Detroit Public Schools is one: When the public school system is closed, WSU is allowed to open the parking facility to the public, to generate revenue. And to reduce the cost of operations and cut down on manpower in the school's lots, WSU has also put automated cashiers at the entrances to parking structures, so that guest and visitor parkers can pay the machine instead of personnel.

But Jon Frederick, WSU's interim director of Parking and Transportation Services, says he is also looking at a possible partnership with the Detroit Lions. "They're building a stadium downtown, and we're not even a mile from there," he says. To bring in more revenue, Frederick is hoping to provide the Lions with some of the WSU parking spaces when they're not being used. --NR

Aesthetically Speaking

Ironically, while schools search for ways to defray parking structure costs, they are pouring dollars into the aesthetics of their parking structures. The intent: Make those [ugly] parking structures blend in better with the look of the campus.

Says HNTB's Luz: "It used to be that campus officials wanted the cheapest concrete parking structure. Now they want it to have an architectural element. They figure if they're going to spend so much money anyway, they can co-locate the structure with campus or town offices so the offices can help screen the parking structure."

In line with this thinking, administrators at Case Western Reserve University (OH) are considering a new garage for faculty and student parking that would be attached to residential housing--something the school has never contemplated. The facades of the structures would be compatible. And at York University in Ontario, Canada, a computer center is being co-located with a parking deck. The garage will have 780 spaces and will include 29,460 square feet of office and computer tab space. Not only did the school need the office space, but administrators there also wanted to create a streetscape and day-long activity around the parking deck, so that people would not be concerned about safety.--NR
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Author:Rivard, Nicole
Publication:University Business
Date:Jun 1, 2002
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