U. to collaborate on parking crunch solution with city, school and neighborhood leaders

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Parking shortages on and near campus will be the main topic of discussion for a new group of city planners, University administrators, other local school leaders and College Hill community groups meeting for the first time Nov 4.

The meeting is part of an effort to coordinate Brown’s efforts to reduce parking shortages with the efforts of other groups, such as Moses Brown School, the Wheeler School and the Rhode Island School of Design. The group will also include representatives from the College Hill Neighborhood Association, the Fox Point Citizens Association and the Jewelry District Association, according to Brendan McNally, special assistant to the executive vice president for planning, who is coordinating the effort.

Lack of parking has been a longstanding issue on College Hill. Finding on-street parking can be very difficult, especially near Thayer Street, during “high-traffic times,” said Ward 2 City Councilwoman Rita Williams.

“The parking situation (on College Hill) is very dire,” Williams said.

McNally said there is a perceived parking shortage because people expect spots to be available due to the residential feel of the campus.

People “have an expectation that they will have guaranteed parking,” which is not realistic, McNally said. “Parking is not a constitutional right. … We’re always going to have a parking crunch,” he said.

Despite the perceived lack of parking, Brown currently has an excess of the number of parking spots mandated by city law.

“It might not feel that way out on the street, but in terms of what is required by the city, we are in good shape,” McNally said.

The need for more parking will come with the planned construction of new capital projects like the Jonathan Nelson Fitness Center and the Walk, McNally said. These projects will result in the demolition of more than 300 parking spaces. Coupled with the increase in faculty and graduate students outlined in the Plan for Academic Enrichment, the new shortage will put the University below city parking space mandates.

The increased need for parking comes on the heels of the University’s decision to scrap plans for constructing a parking garage behind the Olney-Margolies Athletic Center or underneath the planned Nelson Fitness Center. Plans for the garage were derailed after numerous complaints about increased traffic from neighbors and officials at Moses Brown School.

The committee will discuss Brown’s plans to build parking infrastructure and reduce demand for spaces, McNally said.

A major component of Brown’s plan includes moving undergraduate parking off campus and using a shuttle service to transport students to campus, McNally said.

McNally did not disclose potential locations for undergraduate parking lots and said there is no date set for moving undergraduate student parking off campus.

“What we don’t want to do is sort of bias it by announcing … where we are going so that the people that own that land know that they have a captive audience.”

He acknowledged, “The lots would be on the existing shuttle route … so the possibilities of the Jewelry District are good.”

The University will request input from student groups in the near future, and McNally said suggestions for potential off-campus parking locations will be considered.

“We want to talk to the different students groups about where this parking might be,” McNally said. “It’s not something that will happen in the dark of night.”

The University will also look for proposals from Providence community members.

“We might find there are ideas (for parking) from the Convention Center, from the (Providence Place) Mall,” McNally said.

The University is also making an effort to decrease demand for on-campus parking.

“What we are trying to discourage for everyone is the sort of inter-day travel around campus,” McNally said. “We are encouraging the growth of programs like Zipcar and safeRIDE” to decrease daily student traffic around Thayer Street, he said.

These programs have experienced significant growth in the past few years. Zipcar, an hourly car-rental program, has been used for almost 5,000 hours since the beginning of 2006, according to University figures. More than 4,000 safeRIDE shuttle rides are also taken each week.

Still, College Hill residents are not convinced the University is committed to working with the community to resolve parking issues. The CHNA has cited “serious inadequacies” in the relationship between Brown and the community, especially related to parking, according to one CHNA member who asked to remain anonymous.

Brown should engage in “sensible, long-term planning” with regard to development on College Hill, including discouraging students from bringing cars to campus and increasing shuttle programs, the CHNA member wrote in an Oct. 23 e-mail to The Herald.

Still, Brown is working harder than it has in the past to communicate with its partners in the community, Williams said.

“Brown has made attempts to lighten the parking problem. That didn’t happen in the past,” Williams said.

Some students agree that more needs to be done to reduce the on-campus parking crunch.

“I live off campus … about 15 to 20 minutes away walking, so when I am late, I usually end up driving,” said Carrie Petri ’07.

“I think they should have some sort of school bus system” to pick up off-campus students, Petri said.

“If (the University) could extend safeRIDE hours to pick up students on a call system, that might be the best idea,” she said.

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