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U. will give students off-campus parking

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The University plans to eliminate all on-campus parking for undergraduates next semester and will begin offering students spaces in an off-campus garage or lot with a shuttle service to College Hill, University officials have announced.

Currently, about 200 spaces in various lots around campus are allocated to rising juniors and seniors in a spring semester lottery. That practice will continue this year, but the spaces will be in an area off-campus, the location of which has yet to be determined, said Brendan McNally, special assistant to the executive vice president for planning.

Brown has decided to expand by making its core campus denser, pushing space for auxiliary services like parking into other areas. Construction of the $50-million Nelson Fitness Center, will eliminate the large parking lot within the Erickson Athletic Complex. That, said McNally, will eliminate enough parking spaces that Brown would be out of compliance with city law if it didn’t replace them.

Providence requires all businesses and institutions to have a certain amount of off-street parking based on the number of patrons, students or visitors they have, McNally said.

Two spokespersons from the mayor’s office did not return calls from The Herald.

“As we’ve done a lot of these major projects, we’ve had to find a solution for the parking. Leasing spaces off College Hill provided a solution that was the most cost-effective,” McNally said. “Underground parking is extremely expensive, and surface parking – there isn’t enough of it on College Hill. So as we moved forward, that put us to say, ‘Where can we do it off campus?’ That’s what we’re doing right now.”

The off-campus site must be on or near a bus route and a safeRIDE shuttle route, McNally said. The spaces would need to be relatively close to College Hill and safe, both for cars and students, McNally said. The University has been considering such a project for a long time, but now administrators have decided to commit themselves to the plan, he said.

Rates will be heavily subsidized by the University, McNally said, and should be comparable to current prices – $515 per academic year for undergraduates.

Charlotte Lipschitz ’10 pays $50 a month for a private parking space near Hope and John streets, southeast of campus. As a sophomore, she couldn’t enter the parking lottery, so she picked the cheapest listing she could find on Craigslist. One listed at Angell and Thayer streets started at $400 per month, she said.

Lipschitz is on Brown’s sailing team and carpools with other students to daily practices. On weekends, she said, individual members often travel to separate regattas, which requires transportation the team van can’t provide. Thus, a certain number of team members need cars on College Hill.

“I’d much prefer to park on-campus, because whatever spot I could get would be a little bit closer,” Lipschitz said. If she wants to have her current space again next year, she may have to pay for it through the summer months, when she won’t be in Providence.

But an off-campus lot with shuttle service doesn’t appeal to her. “I think that’s a really bad idea,” Lipschitz said. “What if you need to leave at six o’clock in the morning?” So she’ll probably try to find a private spot closer to campus, she said.

University officials have cited Brown’s U-PASS program, which allows Brown ID holders to ride Rhode Island Public Transit Authority for free, as one way of eliminating the need for student parking. An expansion of Brown’s Zipcar service could also help, but negotiations are still underway to lower the rental company’s membership age to 18 and add additional cars to the three currently on campus, The Herald reported Jan. 30.

Lipschitz is skeptical. Zipcar “would work for people who use their car once a month and know in advance,” she said. “It’s not like you can call Zipcar and say ‘I need a car in 20 minutes. Where is it?’ “

Community leaders and officials appealed to students’ sense of community. “If more students were keen to the idea of utilizing what the college provides as far as transportation, it’d make it better for everyone up in that area,” said Providence Police Department Sgt. Paul Zienowicz, commander of the police traffic services unit.

“In the year 2008, where everybody is concerned with global warming, sustainability and green initiatives, why are students complaining about not being able to bring their cars onto campus?” asked Chris Tompkins, a member of the College Hill Neighborhood Association who supports the plan. Making car ownership less appealing “is perfectly consistent with Brown’s environmental initiatives,” he added. “I think it’s terrific.”

“Practice what you preach,” Zienowicz said. “Get on a bus. Ride your bike.”

Sophia Berger ’10 disagrees. “Not everyone needs a car, and it’s better if you can share a car,” she said. “But realistically, Providence does not have particularly good public transportation – it’s hard to get around. There are a lot of basic services that are not walkable distance, especially when it’s really cold and icy out. And it’s not really feasible to get everywhere by either walking or biking.”

Berger shares a friend’s car – and the cost of its parking space – with four other students, who use it mainly for grocery shopping and other errands. They pay $100 per month for a spot near Hope and Williams streets and were planning to enter the parking lottery next year. Now, they’re reconsidering.

“I think we’d be more likely to find a private spot off-campus (if it was) closer than the Brown parking,” she said. “It kind of eliminates the purpose of having a car if you have to go downtown to get it.”

The elimination of the Erickson lot, which is frequently used by sporting event attendees, could compound the parking problems that Bruno fans already face.

“I’m not sure the University really has any solutions that are as good as what we currently have,” said Tom Bold, associate athletic director for facilities. “As a part of our job we get people to come to events, and it’ll certainly be difficult to attract people – especially during inclement weather – when we don’t have parking readily available right out in front of the complex.”

“We’ve talked about some satellite areas, some shuttles – all things that are viable solutions, but I’m not sure it’s the kind of thing someone … coming to an athletic event is real happy about having to do,” he said.

Lt. John Ryan, commanding officer of the PPD District 9 substation, said the University is working with local stakeholders to change College Hill’s street parking system, which currently permits only two-hour parking in most places, and to come up with new solutions that could help students and visitors.

In the meantime, city workers in the area will continue to run a brisk business issuing tickets, which start at $20 for overtime parking. And if Brown cuts on-campus spaces, Ryan said, “I think it’ll increase intensity for everyone trying to get parking. It’s tough now. Add more cars and it’s only going to get worse.”

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