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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Campus parking woes

Published: October 24, 2014
Section: Opinions

I would really appreciate it if no one hit me with their car. I don’t find this a particularly trying request to make, nor do I believe it will be an undue hardship for our university’s drivers. In fact, I’m not entirely sure why I need to bring it up at all. However, since someone nearly hit me when they pulled their Jeep over a curve, across a grassy strip and onto the concrete pad in front of my residence hall, I think we may need to talk about our driving practices.

Whenever Brandeis has a discussion about parking, which seems to be almost all the time, discourse invariably focuses on the impact of parking access, or lack thereof, on drivers. I’m not going to argue that drivers aren’t majorly impacted by parking access, but I want to address the ways that our parking situation affects those of us who don’t have cars. Access to parking has been steadily decreasing on our campus for the last decade, with class sizes increasing and more students forced to live off-campus. Though restricting underclassmen access to parking (a decade ago first-years actually could park on campus), as well as steadily expanding the number of spaces available in lots, has prevented a total crisis, even as recently as last year there were more parking permits issued than spaces available. In short, despite all the student input and administrative efforts, over the past 10 years there has been little improvement in the parking situation on campus.

With access to actual parking limited, over the past two months I have witnessed more and more people resort to parking in locations that are not parking spaces at all. The concrete pad, located between Deroy and Shapiro, has gone from a place for first years to unload on move-in day to a place for someone to stash their Subaru for a few hours. Besides the obvious safety concern of having to look for cars coming across areas not designed for traffic flow, this influx of illegal parking makes Public Safety’s job even more difficult. More frightening, however, are the ways these problems will get worse over the next few years.

Besides the current effects of the parking situation on first-years, the potential problems faced by the class of 2018 when they gain access to parking are significant. Despite the ongoing nature of the parking crisis on campus, the university has never initiated a long-term plan to address it and it has not found a solution during the last decade. With the chances of any substantial improvement to the parking system in the near future slim, the parking situation will only get worse. The class of 2018, like recent classes before it, is one of the largest classes Brandeis has ever admitted. Without real improvements to campus infrastructure, the minor problems in parking will become a full-on crisis. Visualize adding 100 cars onto campus today and imagine the havoc that would cause. The possibility of a car parking in the wrong area would be far outweighed by the traffic chaos and continual lateness for every commuter, faculty member and student living off campus. In fact, with more and more students and no new housing, more students may be forced off-campus and forced to drive to class. The potential parking crisis around the corner is significant.

Luckily, however, this doesn’t have to be our future. We have a few years to implement some real changes on campus to address the parking problems and enough goodwill among our students to succeed. In the short-term, low cost options such as carpool incentives, improved bike share access and an improved shuttle schedule could all decrease the number of cars on campus while not costing the university too much. Over the long term, the university needs to plan for the construction of more parking, be it a garage or simply another lot. Construction is expensive, but if the university invested each year in a parking fund, then the cost could be shared over successive budgets. Whether or not these increases in class size are good are another matter, but if they’re going to happen the university needs to prepare itself.

The potential for a Great Parking Crisis of 2016 hangs in the balance, and I hope the university can take the steps necessary to avoid it. The solutions to the parking problem are various, ranging from an expanded bike share to a parking garage. The costs can be moderated through careful planning. The time to make a lasting change is now. At the present, it’s the administration’s turn to implement these policies to improve our community. While I wait, meanwhile, I guess I’ll just keep my eyes peeled for any oncoming Jeeps.