For anyone who regularly drives to campus, this scene is a familiar one: it’s a weekday morning, class is about to start and the parking lot is packed. You scour the rows of Sparks, then Mill Street and then Sparks again. The clock is ticking, and you finally resign yourself to failure. Begrudgingly, you feed a meter and park on a city street.
What feels like a scarcity of parking spots on campus can be attributed to too many people buying the same kind of parking permit. Willamette offers several types of permits, the most common of which are standard permits.
Erica Noble (‘19) works for Campus Safety as a Service Support Specialist. After noticing the real number of parking spots on campus did not match with the data Campus Safety had, Noble and a coworker decided to conduct an audit. Last November, they manually counted the number and types of spots on campus. At the time of the audit, Campus Safety had sold 1,190 standard permits, despite there only being 851 standard parking spots on campus. For the 339 remaining drivers with standard permits, finding a parking spot can be an impossible feat.
Standard permits are sold to “anyone who is eligible to buy a parking permit, which is only students and employees,” said Ross Stout, the Director of Campus Safety. There is no cap on the number of standard permits that are sold and, as a result, they are often oversold. In theory, there would be enough turnover of cars throughout the day that not every driver with a standard permit would be vying for a spot at the same time. However, students argue that is usually not the case.
As Noble said, “The standard parking lots are often overcrowded between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.” Tatiana Amrein (‘20) agreed, saying, “You do not leave campus in the morning, unless you’re not planning on coming back in the evening.”
This problem was aggravated last semester when the city of Salem put up parking meters on Winter St., which runs between the College of Liberal Arts and the law and business schools. Previously, that street had around 30 spaces available for standard parking.
The lack of parking is most prevalent in areas of campus with the highest concentrations of cars, such as Sparks and Matthews lots. Stout suggests that students look to other areas of campus for parking if they are unable to find a spot in the main lots.
“There are always, always, spaces available in the softball parking lot behind Kaneko Commons,” said Stout. The walk from the lot to the main part of campus only takes about seven minutes, he said, and may be the solution to some drivers’ parking frustrations.
Jake Kagel (‘21) has a parking permit for the softball lot, which is $30 cheaper than a standard pass and only gives holders parking access to the softball lot. He agrees that the lot is always empty, but for good reason. Being so isolated from the rest of campus, Kagel believes the softball lot is an easier target for criminal activity, and even the safety measures put in place do not fully protect the lot. Kagel said the swipe card-activated gate for cars does not provide total security. “I went back from a friend’s house the other night around midnight and it was just open. That’s not the first time I’ve shown up and it’s been open,” he said.
If drivers want a parking place guaranteed for them, they can purchase a reserved permit. At $450 dollars per academic year, one reserved permit costs over three times more than a standard permit, but assures the holder a spot at all times. There are 482 reserved parking spots on campus, or about a third of all spots. Because of higher the price, few students buy reserved permits, and the University has resorted to selling these spots to off-campus people who work in Salem. Noble said about 100 people from Salem take advantage of this parking availability. Permits are sold to those folks at a monthly rate, so if a student or faculty member wanted a reserved permit, a non-community member would have to give up theirs.
However, given the scarcity of standard spots on campus, some students wonder why parking spaces are being given to people outside of Willamette. “We should not be providing parking to off-campus people,” said Noble, “because those are nearly 100 spaces that could be utilized by staff and students.”
The sale of parking permits provides revenue for the University. Noble said, during the 2017-18 academic year, Willamette made $300,000 from the sale of all types of permits, and the cost of permits is only projected to rise in the next year. Stout said permits sold to off-campus people provide “additional revenue for the University, which defrays the cost of lots of other things.” Stout said these costs would otherwise come out of students’ tuition.
There are some solutions the University and its students can consider to mitigate parking stresses. People can limit the number of cars on campus by carpooling or walking and biking to campus.
There are changes the University can make, too. Noble said decreasing the number of reserved spots would be a good starting place. Shepherd lot, on the corner of Bellevue and Winter Streets, is now only available to cars with reserved, carpool or guest parking permits. If that lot were to be partially open to standard parking, it would offer about 48 new standard parking places, Noble said.
Willamette faces no easy solution. Surrounding campus is an urban environment where there is high demand for parking, and many students and community members have no other option but to drive to campus. Until a compromise can be reached, be prepared for more exasperated mornings of driving in circles, painfully searching for a parking place.