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Special events take over commuter lots

Lisa Bergquist

Like most graduate students, Marianne Krajewski commutes to school, and along with the rest of the College’s commuter population, knows how difficult it can be to find a parking space on a given day. But, she says, there are days when the normally chaotic parking situation becomes just short of a nightmare.

“My heart sinks when I drive through the gate and see signs for a special event,” she said in an e-mail.

“Inevitably I find myself driving around and around looking for a parking spot.”

Krajewski’s concern is not unfounded. During largely attended campus events, commuters must share the limited number of spaces available to them with event guests, sometimes finding themselves banned from entire lots. On some occasions, students have been unable to find a single available parking space.

“So far this semester there have been two days when all the commuter parking was taken up because of events on campus,” said junior Nikolette Sphar. “Both of these days I.had to park off campus in the neighborhoods surrounding the school.”

She added, “I don’t feel like my car was safe there, and I felt uncomfortable and kind of paranoid walking to my car after dark.”

Interim Associate Vice President for Campus Planning Barb Haber said that she doesn’t think finding a parking space on campus should be an issue, even when an event is going on, as there are over 1,100 spaces on campus.

“I don’t think we’ve reached a point on campus where there’s no parking available,” Haber said.

“I think it’s not always as convenient as people would like.”

Haber explained that during some of the largest Mills events of the year, such as Convocation and Commencement, the President’s Meadow is used as extra parking space.

More often, an entire lot will be reserved for guests only, but Haber said that even this only happens about once every two months. Usually, she said, guest parking is interspersed with regular commuter parking.

Many commuter students think this method of handling guest parking does not work well, as they have often found themselves risking a ticket in order to make it to class on time.

“I have, on occasion, parked in residential parking, because I had a midterm where I would lose time to complete it if I was late,” Krajewski said. “[And] I am not someone who arrives at the last minute. I generally am on campus about 20 minutes prior to my class beginning.”

Krajewski also noted that when construction of the Graduate School of Business is completed, commuter traffic will increase as the number of graduate students coming and going from Mills on a daily basis rises. Haber said additional parking spaces will be constructed in conjunction with the building’s completion, including more commuter spots, several spaces for alternative fuel vehicles, and two additional ADA-accessible spots.

While event days are often the biggest source of commuter traffic overflow, they are not the only times when a lack of parking spaces has posed a problem for students.

“I have found that not only is it tough to find parking during events, but even when I go to the library on the weekends it is hard to find parking near the library,” EdD candidate Rue Avant said in an e-mail.

“There are so many people who are playing tennis, using the swimming pool and soccer fields.”

Another concern is that parking tickets have been given in error because the distinction between different types of parking spaces is not always clearly marked, or signs have been wrongly removed.

Senior Shelby Phillips recalled an instance in which she parked in her “usual” commuter spot across from some residential parking spaces, despite the fact that the signs distinguishing them had been removed.

“I parked there anyway, and when I returned to my car later in the day, I had a ticket,” Phillips said in an e-mail. “I resolved it with Public Safety and all, but it turned out that someone had taken down the commuter signs – for the fun of it? As a souvenir? – and Public Safety had just assumed that the entire lot was residential.”

One proposed solution to these types of issues was to build a parking structure on campus, but Haber said that the structures are incredibly expensive, and would be even more costly to Mills because the College sits near a major fault line.

The idea to build an underground parking structure was also turned down because the costs were too high, according to President Janet Holmgren.

While discussions about on-campus parking are nothing new, commuting students said they are continuing to struggle and solutions need to be found.

“While none of us want to see Mills turned into a giant parking lot, we have to face the fact that Mills has a growing commuter population,” Krajewski said.