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Letter to the Editor: A letter to Hofstra concerning commuter parking

By Jacob Fleming Dear President Stuart Rabinowitz and Director of Commuting Student Services and Community Outreach Anita Ellis,

I write to you today to address the truly ramshackle situation of commuter parking at our university. The following is a detailed analysis of the current situation, it’s implications and a feasible solution. While I understand your time is valuable, I implore you to read thoroughly.

By a small margin, commuters represent the majority of Hofstra’s students, at 54 percent of the student body. Of the 11,240 total students who attend (undergraduate, graduate, medical and law), roughly 6,000 students are commuters. While the on-campus housing holds nearly 3,800 students, there are by my count approximately 800 parking spaces available to commuters, excluding the very remote easternmost lot intended for Shuart Stadium attendees. However, said lot is often the only option available. Today, I arrived at campus 20 minutes early, anticipating as I always do the feverish fight for parking spaces in the lots relevantly close to the academic buildings. But today I was not among those lucky few. At 12:53, now late for class and still without a spot after nearly 25 minutes of fruitless circling, I was faced with a choice: park in the Shuart lot, a good 10 or more-minute walk away from my class in Breslin, making me 15 or more-minutes late, or at the risk of a $50 ticket park on adjacent Butler Place under signs reading “NO PARKING 10AM-2PM M-F.” I chose Butler Place, and, having arrived on campus 20 minutes early, sat down to class about 7 minutes late. I wish I could say that this was an out-of-the ordinary Monday for me, but it’s not, and nor was it for the handful of other students emerging from their cars glancing warily at the “NO PARKING” signs as they, like me, hurried to class.

Why is this the case? How did we end up in such a scenario? A look at the numbers clears up the problem quickly. A quick search of the course catalog under Look up Courses to Add in the student portal reveals that university-wide, at 12:50-2:15 on Monday, and Wednesday for that matter, there are roughly 2,650 students in class. As I am an undergraduate, the catalog may not even show me results for graduate classes; the number could be higher. At any rate, if roughly 54 percent of those 2,650 students are commuters, as is the average, then there are 1,431 commuters in class, 631 more students than parking spots. Now, a couple hundred of those students likely live within walking distance, in nearby house shares. The rest however, are relegated to those remote lots, or nearby street parking at their own risk. The university has a responsibility to provide the necessary facilities students need. Simply getting to class shouldn’t be such a struggle, such a stress, such a time-consuming uncertainty. While half of the students need never wonder if their dorm room will be there when they need it, the other half knows at all times that they may not have a reasonable place to park. Minor lateness is rampant among commuters, who would love to have the certainty of finding a spot in time, to not have to cause a distraction sliding in late as the professor is just getting started.

And while Hofstra has a responsibility to its students, we all have a responsibility to the environment. Hold your skepticism that this issue could possibly be of any major environmental significance and let’s break down the numbers. By my observations, as well as discussions I’ve had with others, it takes on average 15 minutes to find a spot. The average automobile idling produces 1,035 grams of CO2. They in fact produce significantly more driving around at even low speed, but we’ll use the idling figure to establish a bare minimum for CO2 emissions. If 50 students are wandering and circling for a spot, at each of the four busiest class end/start points in the day, on average 15 minutes each, they produce about 207 kg, or 456 lbs of CO2 each day. That’s around 32,000 lbs of CO2 per semester, 64,000 lbs a year.

 

That’s 64 thousand pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, all spent looking for a parking spot, often in vain.

 

And let’s not forget that that number is in reality low, as it’s based on idling, not driving at low speed. The average car produces 10,500 lbs of CO2 in a year, thus if we could get the parking time down to five minutes, reducing about 42,600 lbs of CO2, we would accomplish the net effect of taking four cars off the road entirely, every year, or in another measurement, erase the effects of 40,000 miles worth of driving from the atmosphere annually. It’s not earth shattering, but it’s no small potatoes. Given the ridiculousness of the situation causing all this pollution, it’s just downright wasteful.

So what, you may ask, is the solution? I propose we construct a one-story parking garage adjacent to Breslin Hall. I’m confident the idea of a parking garage has been discussed before, but I believe I have an extraordinarily feasible and practical approach. Below is a sort of schematic for my proposed single-level parking structure.

In this photo is the suggested garage. The existing parking lot remains as a ground level and one elevated level is constructed above the existing lot. The red rectangle shows the footprint of the structure. The new upper level will use the same parking space layout as the existing lot, so spaces within the red rectangle represent their position on the new upper level. In addition, additional green lines represent additional spaces that will fit on the upper level. Spaces marked by an orange line are on the ground level and will be lost. The purple rectangle represents an area that will not have spaces on the upper level, but will on the lower level. The yellow rectangle represents a stairwell. The blue lines represent a two-lane ~160-degree ramp.

Traffic flows one-way counterclockwise on the upper level. The design and position ensure that all existing roads and paths through on the ground can retain their current position. The new upper level will provide 103 spaces, the net gain is 93 spaces. This should be enough to substantially alleviate the parking strain and overload at peak hours of the day.

The average cost to build a parking structure is roughly $15,000 per space, and while the goal would be a bare-bones, simple and functional parking deck, we’ll use that figure to err on the safe side. By that figure the parking structure will cost roughly $1.5 million to build.

Parking garages in the U.S. usually last 10-15 years before showing signs of deterioration, so what I propose is that all commuters be charged a $30 a year parking improvement fee, through their Hofstra bill – similar to the technology use fee. At an average of 6,000 undergraduate and graduate commuter students each year, this fee will generate $1.8 million in 10 years: enough to offset the cost of construction, and contribute $300,000 towards maintenance costs. Should the structure last into the 15-year range, the fee will generate above and beyond the original cost, and help toward future renovations or reconstruction. The fee is relatively small, and in my opinion a very fair price per year, given that many of us risk a $50 fine, multiple times a month even, to park off campus when we shouldn’t. Furthermore, due to the alleviated parking strain, even if one never parks on the structure, they’ll enjoy the benefits from the improved conditions on the ground, with 93 more spots available in general.

The structure should take four to six months to build, meaning that if it were begun around finals in May, it could be completed by the fall semester, or at most cause 30-45 days of inconvenience as it wraps up. A pittance really, for a 10-15-year solution.

To summarize, the project I’m suggesting the university undertake will fulfill Hofstra’s responsibility to its students by reducing parking stress, reducing lateness, reducing time spend searching for parking, reducing risky off-campus parking temptation, reduce Hofstra’s CO2 pollution by an incredible 64,000+ lbs annually and cost the university absolutely nothing in the long-run.

While the upfront cost is not small, it’s truly not staggering compared to other recent projects the university has undertaken, and the simple fee structure guarantees the cost of construction and maintenance will be paid off in full.

I encourage you to take seriously the issue I’ve presented, and to enthusiastically begin the process of seeking estimates, construction plans and as swiftly as proper proceedings allow, to begin building the parking structure we so desperately need.

Edit: Following the receipt of this letter, administration met with Mr. Fleming to discuss this plan, as well as receive his input on other parking plans in progress.

The views and opinions expressed in the Editorial section are those of the authors of the articles. They are not an endorsement of the views of The Chronicle or its staff. The Chronicle does not discriminate based on the opinions of the authors.

 

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