Students Overcome Parking Challenges

Felicia Whatley

About 14 thousand students attend UMass Boston and half drive to school. It seems the parking issue continues to get worse with larger enrollment; but so far all the lots are not completely full.

Money is being raised for building new structures on campus if they are deemed necessary, but so far this year we have yet to run out of spaces. Though some students have complained about a parking problem, there have been at least 150 spaces left vacant every day so far this semester.

But if new construction takes precedence in the Master Plan and a new academic building is set to be built where the North lot is currently, how soon will students see relief when the majority of lots filled to the max as early at 9am? It could be a couple of years.

“The Timing is still up in the air with building the parking structures. We will have to see how loosing the North Lot by the new Sciences building will affect us. Subcommittees and Parking and Transportation are looking for ways to make campus parking friendly,” said Steve Martinson, Director of Parking and Transportation.

The Parking and Transportation surveys show that in 2004, 58 percent of UMass Boston students came by car, while 42 percent took the T. In 2006, it was down to 52% of students driving to campus, compared to 48 percent arriving via the T, said Martinson. Tuesdays are UMass Boston’s heaviest enrollment days and by 10am, there are as many as 2,580 students in class, half of whom get here by driving and use the parking lots. With only 2,600 spaces to park, that is running a bit tight. Parking and Transportation is keeping close tabs on when lots close and the only lot that is still open after 9am is Lot D.

“A lot of people are trying to fit into lots at once. This year we have not filled up all the spaces in one day. In the past, the JFK Library and the Bayside Expo Center have handled overfill, especially early in the school year. That has not happened this year, which is good news,” said Martinson.

The parking issue is important to administrators and part of the Master Plan includes the construction of two new, big parking structures expected to hold 1200 spaces each. Students can hope to see the first building in five to six years and the second in ten. Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance Ellen O’Connor expressed a desire to include the student body on the conversation of parking and how it affects them.

“It is cheaper to drive and park than take public transportation, which is environmentally awkward. We are trying to encourage people to get out of their cars or perhaps use off-site parking at T stations,” said O’Connor.

The issue is that parking garages on campus are not self-sufficient. The funds to build, update and man the lots come from fees. $2.9 million has been spent on the new lots. So far this year $4.2 million has been spent on parking, police and the bus service. The funds are not subsidized or state funded. And despite rumors, the parking fees have not increased since 2004.

The parking lots under the academic buildings were condemned and closed July 2006. There are no plans to repair and reopen the lots, as the estimate to do so was quoted at5 $160 million. Instead, $25 million was invested to fortify the substructure and keep the buildings running, but it will still force the lots to be permanently closed.

“The three things people want in parking spaces are for them to be plentiful, cheap, and convenient. Typically it can’t be all three. Parking here is not cheap, but reasonable. Convenience is the biggest challenge, ” said Martinson.

All that underground parking space students once parked in and conveniently took the elevators to class is completely lost. Yes, it was decided to lay columns and concrete to fortify the structures, but close the parking lots likely, forever.

For some students who arrive after 9am and are on campus for work, night school grad school, to go to the gym, to study on campus, and eat on campus, it will likely be late in the evening before they make the trek out to their cars, especially during cram weeks before finals and pending projects and papers. How safe is it to be walking to one of the remote lots like Lot D after 8pm?

“UMass Boston is the safest 100 acres in Boston with lights, cameras, and blue phones; safety is a top priority,” said O’Connor. Taking public transportation sounds like an easy fix but one can easily tack on an extra hour or more each way to commute. And during peak hours, there are so many people packed into each shuttle bus and train car, many find it can be very uncomfortable; so many students drive instead and struggle to find somewhere closer to campus to park.

The fact is, the furthest lot, Lot D, is only 0.5 miles to campus. Again, only a half a mile walk. Though that doesn’t sound like a lot of fun in the rain, snow, or cold, it’s not too far. And if all the lots, including Lot D, do fill up, a shuttle will bring students in from the Bayside Expo Center parking.

The parking issue is important to administrators on campus. “It is our number one prioriy to figure out how to get students on and off campus. It is critical to our success,” said O’Connor.

The Master Plan calls for the eventual construction of dorms, but as O’Connor points out, this will not be a parking panacea. “Even with 2,000 beds, we will still be a commuter campus with 80-90 percent of students commuting.”

A good tip for students: If you arrive after 9 a.m. plan on parking in D Lot. Skip the main entrance to UMass Boston, and take a right on Mount Vernon instead, to shortcut into D Lot.