Campus architect Chris Cocallas dropped a bombshell during the recent discussion of the Mines Master Plan and parking. In response to student criticism about the deteriorating parking situation, Cocallas asked if parking is a right. This would be a fair question if Mines were an urban campus in a city with excellent public transportation. However, as a realistic examination of the alternatives available reveals, this question is tantamount to asking if students have a right to attend their classes and faculty have the right to get to work.
In order for Mines to function, students, staff, and faculty must be able to get to campus. There is no way to get around this logistics problem. These people must be here for campus to function. The question then becomes one of means. What can students, staff, and faculty reasonable expect to do besides drive to campus?
Some students can live on campus. But, to reduce parking use, this requires them to forgo the independence of having a vehicle on campus. For many, this is a serious downgrade in independence and standard of living. Having a vehicle at one’s disposal is a necessary prerequisite to many activities. Want to go skiing, hunting, or even to a decent store on your own schedule? Good luck finding a bus that will get you there when you want to go. Further sacrifices of independence come from living in campus housing and having an RA. This is simply unacceptable for many of our more mature students.
Walking or running is a great alternative for those who live next to campus. The drawback is that you must be in good health and close to campus. Biking will extend the range of human powered transportation. However, Golden is not a bike friendly city and winter conditions can make biking dangerous. There are some students who live close enough to use human powered transportation, but this is still not a viable option for more distant students. It is even worse for staff and faculty who usually live further from campus and the high real estate prices of Golden.
Public transportation will work for some. However, one size doesn’t fit all. For people who have an office on campus, a regular schedule, and a house near a public transportation route, it is great. They can catch a predictable ride each way. However, many students and faculty have less routine schedules or do not live where public transportation is even an option. No amount of effort on the school’s part will make public transportation work for everyone.
Finally, a disgruntled commuter could park off campus. However, this activity has already aggravated Golden residents to the point where they implemented a parking permit system. Forcing more students with no good alternative to park off campus will not win us any friends in the community.
What we have at Mines are alternatives that will work for some people. In our experience, people who can reasonably take these alternatives usually do. A significant portion of our students and faculty will need drive to campus. Parking is a necessary part of their education and a service that Mines must provide.
While it is true that the expansion of Mines is restricted in some directions, we are not an urban campus. Our three story buildings with large lawns are dwarfed by a truly urban campus like George Washington University or Georgetown. Instead, we are a space-restricted campus that many of our students and faculty must commute to and park on. This is a factor that capital planning must take into consideration when planning our new construction. Rather than recognize this simple reality, they are throwing down buildings on parking lots and wondering why we cannot fit everyone in. What we have is a planning problem, not a space problem.
To add insult to injury, the parking lots slated to be replaced with buildings have all been significantly improved despite the long term plan of putting a building there. When one of these parking lots gets built on, such as the lot next to Weaver, the cost of replacing it falls on parking services. In the most recent case, parking services took out a loan from the school’s general budget and then had to hike the parking fees to cover the costs. The new dorms and dining hall going in next to Weaver are responsible for a significant proportion of parking permits costs doubling for students, faculty, and staff.
Yet, despite our fascination with paving over future construction sites, the only significant remaining dirt lot (the old freshman lot) that is not a planned construction site has not been paved. Instead, all of the lots that the school intends to build on at a later date have been paved or repaved. This makes no financial sense.
Essentially, our parking plan of paving over every proposed construction site and then using parking fees to replace the lots amounts to a fee increase for students and a pay cut for faculty and staff. Considering that a Mines education now costs upwards of $100,000 in state and most of our staff are in the fourth year of a pay freeze, doubling the parking fee hurts. This is why USG and GSA passed a motion condemning the increase and student outrage continues unabated.