With Swarthmore pushing for continued physical expansion over the next decade or more, the college is planning for inevitable strain on its parking and transportation systems. As part of the college’s strategy to mitigate this strain, they have retained CHANCE Management Advisors Inc., which Wednesday unveiled the Parking and Transportation Master Plan (PTMP) to a packed Scheuer Room.
The plan includes new and modified parking spaces and a revamp of the parking permit system, as well as increased enforcement and a push towards alternative modes of transportation. Many of these policies will go into effect starting as early as next semester.
A cornerstone of the plan is dividing parking spaces into functional categories. According to one of the policy statements in the PTMP’s PowerPoint, “In order to effectively and responsibly use the college’s parking resources, vehicles parking on campus will be assigned to a specific type of lot.”
The most problematic group that uses the college’s parking facilities is campus visitors, who are unaware of parking regulations. To address this, CHANCE proposed designating certain parking spaces to visitors, mostly in the northern part of campus and Benjamin West. If they do not adhere to regulations, rather than being penalized, visitors will get information flyers about the new system.
This is not the first Parking and Transportation proposal that the college has seen. Indeed a campus Master Plan has been in the works for several years, a draft of which was presented to the public in March. That draft included outlines for shifting several parking spaces to alternative locations. The problem with this, according to Executive Assistant for Facilities and Services Paula A. Dale, is that there is simply not enough space to accommodate those parking spots.
“We can’t fit enough parking spaces to replace all the ones that are likely to be taken away by new buildings,” Dale said. Paving more green space, she added, is not a tenable solution because of a “general push towards sustainability.”
The original draft tentatively proposed that the college build a parking garage, but the proposal was rejected for aesthetic and cost reasons. The cost per parking space would be over ten times larger than that of normal parking spaces.
“We decided we needed to step back and have a committee of Swarthmore people and parking and transportation consultants look at the campus and say, ‘Okay, how many parking spaces do we really need to build?’” Dale said.
With this in mind, the college hired CHANCE Management Advisors Inc., a boutique firm with expertise in college parking, to help it perform a comprehensive evaluation of Swarthmore’s needs and possible areas of improvement. The unveiling of the PTMP this past Wednesday was the culmination of the firm’s campus-wide investigation, which spanned several months.
CHANCE emphasized that, “The overall good of the college needs to take precedence over individual issues. Sometimes the college will need to do something because it fits in with the Master Plan. […] People will sometimes need to cope with [this fact],” said Dr. Barbara Chance, Ph.D., CEO of CHANCE Management Advisors, Inc.
Another notable change is a push towards more enforcement, which is currently hampered by insufficient resources and an imperfect permit system.
“It’s been more sporadic than consistent,” Dale said in reference to parking enforcement.
CHANCE recommended the college begin charging regular drivers to park by selling electric hangtags at $30 a year. Thus, permits will no longer be attached to specific vehicles. The electric hangtags will also make it easier to keep track of vehicles and usage, since the current system has led to a state where the amount and validity of parking permits is not entirely clear.
The flip side of such enforcement is that it would require fundamental upgrades in infrastructure. Parking lots would be equipped with gates and hangtag detectors.
The introduction of gates has caused discomfort in a sizable portion of the Swarthmore community. Media Services Specialist David Neal made his disapproval apparent during the presentation’s Q&A portion.
“Gates are very unwelcoming. My vision of Swarthmore does not include gates,” he said.
Such sentiments are not new to Vice President for Facilities and Services C. Stuart Hain.“This is not the first time we have heard it. We said access control, and gates are the simplest forms of access control. Whether we get there or not, we don’t know yet,” he said.
Another point that the PTMP stressed was an increased push towards alternative modes of transportation for students. The Master Plan directly states that “students are strongly discouraged from bringing motor vehicles to campus,” partially through “higher parking fees as disincentives to driving.”
Proposed ways to encourage alternative methods of transportation are subsidies for SEPTA or cabs, as well as carpooling.
The push towards alternative transportation, however, is not accompanied by a specific plan to improve the student shuttle system, which the Master Plan calls “informal and decentralized.”
“I think it is time for a shift. I think every couple of years it’s time to update things,” said Van Coordinator Stephanie C. Styles ’14.
Styles, who is in charge of a large part of the student shuttle system, also echoed the Master Plan’s description of the shuttle system as “informal and decentralized.” As the van coordinator, she isn’t sure why the Philly shuttle was canceled, and is looking for more transparency from the college. The Student Council initiative to provide fully-subsidized SEPTA tokens coincided with the axing of that shuttle.
“I’m not entirely sure of who’s controlling what, but I think […] any future decision regarding off-campus transportation and shuttles will need to involve StuCo, SBC, and I guess myself,” Styles said.
The plan proposes the College start implementing its recommended strategies in Spring 2014. The initial implementation will include at least rudimentary versions of all the main recommendations, such as the creation of a new permit system and increased enforcement.
Parking enforcement will also be divorced from Public Safety. “There is a kind of hierarchy of things [Public Safety needs] to do during the day,” Hain said. “Enforcement wound up being at the lower end.”
Considering the wide array of suggestions made, one might think that the college’s parking system is seriously flawed. However, Hain said this is not the case.
“This plan grew out of our need to focus on the whole campus as part of the Master Plan. It didn’t come because there was a problem with parking. It came because we needed to think about the future of parking,” he said.
The Master Plan is not yet finalized, and open to suggestions or concerns until Wednesday, September 18. Send these to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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