UNL officials foresee parking crunch

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The 17th and R parking garage houses about 1,700 parking spaces. UNL’s impending parking crunch means Parking & Transit Services will have to create 2,500 new parking spots in the next five years.

Story, Photo and Graphics by Bob Al-Greene, NewsNetNebraska

When Michael Trogdon purchased a pass for the parking garage on 14th and Avery streets, he was guaranteed a space to store his car. Trogdon, a senior mechanical engineering and math major, commutes to campus in the mornings and said he usually finds a spot. But if he arrives on campus at midday or looks for parking elsewhere, finding a spot can be frustrating.

“I’m pretty sure that’s how it is for everyone,” Trogdon said.

Soon, finding a parking spot at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln could be a bigger frustration.

UNL may need 2,500 new parking spots

Chancellor Harvey Perlman’s Sept. 1 State of the University pledge to raise enrollment to 30,000 by 2017 puts new pressure on Parking & Transit Services. Enrollment currently sits at 24,593; meeting Perlman’s goal means adding 1,000 extra students per year for the next five years, plus staff and faculty. UNL’s formula is to add one parking place for every two students. That means the campus needs 500 new spaces per year to keep up, said Dan Carpenter, director of Parking & Transit Services.

“We’re looking at 2,400 to 2,500 new spots [needed],” he said.

Because university officials expect most of the new students to come from outside Nebraska, a lot of those fresh faces will bring cars with them, Carpenter said.

Other parking challenges

Another challenge? UNL will lose about 585 of its 16,274 parking spots this fall, mainly due to construction at 18th and R streets. Carpenter said these kind of parking fluctuations are inconvenient but normal during construction projects.

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“You build, you lose, you build, you lose,” he said. “We have to expect some parking displacement.”

Perlman’s announcement is still recent, so it’s too early to know what will be done to accommodate future students, Carpenter said. But officials are already thinking ahead in terms of construction and parking alternatives. Consultants have been brought in to look at potential building sites and evaluate the parking situation, as has been done in the past.

Because every parking lot is a potential building site, Carpenter said, any project that displaces parking must pay $15,000 for each new spot.

“The best use for the land is some sort of building, not storing cars,” Carpenter said.

“It always is a tough juggle,” said Jennifer Dam, assistant director of Campus Planning and Space Management.

Dam noted the influx of new students affects more than parking – there will be a need for new classrooms, residential halls, athletic and recreational facilities as well.

“It’s a delicate balancing act,” she said.

Parking alternatives

Dam said alternatives to the traditional parking system could reduce the stress of extra cars on campus. The ongoing strategy has been to move parking to satellite locations on the perimeter of campus. But Carpenter said satellite parking – providing time-consuming transportation to city campus by bus or van – has had limited success.

“The transit system is going to be essential [as 2017 approaches],” Carpenter said.

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Dam said she also perceived a “culture shift” to alternative transportation, such as bicycles, and she is looking for ways to facilitate and encourage more biking. The current challenge of parking, she said, may already be enough to encourage some students and faculty to take to two wheels.

David Bunker, a freshman biological systems major, has access to a car, but usually gets around on a bicycle.

“I haven’t driven since I’ve been here [at UNL],” Bunker said. “It’s way easier to bike.”

The impending parking crunch will likely frustrate students, but Carpenter said he looks forward to finding solutions to the problem.

“This is just all new,” he said. “I had been asking for years, ‘Where’s the campus population going to be?’ so I could plan. And now it’s announced.”

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