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Student proposes carpool parking


The demand for parking exceeds the number of space available on campus. Photos by Bridget Stagnitto.

Student leaders are brainstorming ways to create and manage carpool parking spaces on campus, an innovation that would meet commuter students’ needs while also moving toward transportation sustainability.

Kyla Kelley, Commuter Community Assistant, brought the idea to the Associate Students of Mills College (ASMC) at its Nov. 10 meeting.

“Carpool parking spaces would incentivize carpooling, possibly reduce the number of cars that come to campus and be great for the environment. And it would help build commuter community,” she said.

Kelley got the idea from De Anza College in Cupertino, where she went to school before transferring to Mills. De Anza offers reserved carpool parking spaces for students, faculty and staff.

“The best spots were carpool spots,” Kelley said. “De Anza is a little different because nobody lives on campus there. So this is about trying to figure out how carpool parking would fit on Mills’ campus.”

Carpool parking programs at De Anza and the other colleges Kelley researched require participants to meet certain criteria: two people or more count as a carpool, carpooling must be done at least three times per week and 50 percent of the time spent driving in a commute needs to have two or more people in the car.

“So you couldn’t pick up someone who lives two blocks away and consider that a carpool,” Kelley told ASMC. She also asked how student leaders would like Mills’ own carpool parking program to look.

ASMC Vice President Rebecca Freeman had encouraged Kelley to present her idea at the meeting.

“From sustainability to student ease,” Freeman wrote in an email, “I think this idea is splendid and will open new doors for inclusivity of the commuter student community. I’m intrigued to see how this idea will develop over the next few semesters.”

Kelley is pushing for more commuter parking because part of her job is advocating for the needs and concerns of commuter students.

“I think (parking) tends to be a problem,” Kelley said, “especially if there are events on campus. Visitors will take commuter spaces, whereas residents have exclusive use of their spaces, and often commuters must park off campus, or in Richard’s Lot, which starts to make it feel as though commuters are second-class students.”

Business economics major Jessica Hernandez said she walks far from wherever she manages to park her car.

“I end up parking on one side of campus and my class is on the other side,” she said. “It’s a bit of a hassle. I know people live on campus, but it could be a little bit more equitable.”

Parking has long been a hot topic at Mills, primarily because the demand for parking has outpaced the campus’ ability to meet it.

The Campanil previously reported that, in 2000, Mills offered a near one-to-one ratio between parking spots and students. In 2005, about 1,500 parking permits were to be issued, but Mills only had 1,029 parking spaces.

So far this year, according to Public Safety Administrative Assistant Krista Coreris, the Mills community holds 1,446 parking permits, but only 1,076 spaces are available.

A few years ago Mills considered relieving the parking problem by building a new parking structure or creating more spaces, but Public Safety Director Michael Lopez told The Campanil in 2010 that the idea was quickly abandoned due to its costliness. Each new parking space came with a $40,000 price tag.

ASMC talked about placing carpool parking spaces in existing commuter lots.

Since then, efforts have been made to reduce the number of vehicles that come to campus and, in effect, lessen the environmental impact on the community.

Recycling Manager Britta Bullard told The Campanil in August that 24 percent of Mills’ greenhouse gas emissions come from commuters.

The Mills College Carpool Network began in 2005, allowing Mills community members from the same zip code or nearby to compare schedules and organize carpools with one another. In 2009, Mills changed its shuttle service route and upgraded from an 18-seat van to a 32-seat vehicle with standing room for 12 people. And last year, U-Haul Car Share put two of its vehicles on campus (one on the Oval and one by the Gaia House), offering community members a chance to reserve the vehicles for 30-minute increments.

Now Kelley is moving the campus forward in the transportation sustainability effort while keeping in mind the needs of commuter students. According to Housing Management and Dining Services, there are about 1,000 undergraduate and graduate commuters.

“I’m for more commuter spaces,” Kelley said, “especially since more students are commuting. But I don’t want to take away greenery for parking spaces. So what about getting less cars on campus? How do we do that?”

ASMC tossed around a few ideas, like starting off with three carpool parking spaces.

Sustainability Senator Meg Nicholas-Harper suggested that the carpool parking spaces be placed in prime commuter parking spots: one by the Vera Long building, another along Richard’s Road and one in the Oval.

Class of 2012 Historian Meaghan Leferink said it might be better to begin with a larger number of carpool parking spaces.

“Three for everyone who might be interested in this program might not be effective,” she said. “These people might be discouraged if the carpool parking spots are always taken by the time they get to school.”

ASMC Accountant Kate Smith asked how Mills would regulate the carpool parking spaces.

Freeman suggested that Mills might want to use hang tag parking permits that are displayed from the rear-view mirror.

“When you get to the front gate, Public Safety would see that you have three people in the car. They check the little clipboard in their office and get a hang tag to put on the mirror,” Freeman said. “It makes their job easier, too, so they don’t have to always check the license plate as they’re making the rounds; they can just check for the hang tag. And you would have to turn the hang tag in at the gate on your way out anyway.”

Kelley said she likes the idea of the parking permit hang tag because Public Safety would only grant them to drivers who are actually carpooling.

“My concern though is how does Public Safety get the hang tags back when carpooling drivers leave? Students have to have some sort of responsibility to hand those back,” Kelley said.

Smith suggested increasing the carpool minimum requirement from two people to three. The idea is to encourage more carpooling and not necessarily reward those who already drive to campus with one other person.

“Two people in the car could be you and your roommate or you and your girlfriend. It’s not exactly carpooling just because you’re driving from the same place,” Smith said. “The point is that one vehicle gets people from different locations. It’s not, ‘We all live in the same place. Let’s all go back to the same place.'”

The carpool parking space proposal is still in the brainstorming stage, and the conversation will continue at the ASMC Student Services Committee meetings. Kelley invites the Mills community to email feedback about carpool parking spaces to