December 2, 2005

Students, Panel Discuss Parking at Open Forum

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While this spring’s Redbud Woods incidents may no longer be making headline news, the issues of parking and transportation on Cornell’s campus are far from resolved. In fact, the construction of the West Campus parking lot only skims the surface of the larger problem of sustainable parking at Cornell.

As part of last July’s Redbud Agreement, the University Assembly was charged with holding six forums to get feedback from the Cornell and Ithaca communities about transportation, parking, and sustainability issues. Yesterday afternoon, approximately 25 faculty members, staff, graduates and undergraduates convened for the second open forum in Kaufman Auditorium.

“The forums are being used as a method of communication between the Cornell community and the senior administration,” explained Julie Singer ’07, University Assembly member. She added that detailed notes are submitted to the administration after each forum.

Four panelists, including Mina Amundsen, University Planner, department of planning, design and construction, Prof. and Department Chair Kathy Gleason, landscape architecture, Prof. Ken Mudge, horticulture, and Bill Wendt, Director of Transportation and Mail Services, offered opinions and suggestions, after which the floor was opened up for questions and comments.

Prof. Gleason, who also chairs the Ad Hoc Committee on Sustainable Transportation, noted that “the issues in parking are really related to the larger issue of sustainability on campus.”

She also acknowledged that the main problem with sustainability lies in the parking needs of the faculty and staff, not students. However, she added that “student support is necessary in creating a vibrant color of sustainability at Cornell.”

The ad hoc committee has come up with a number of creative ideas to combat the growing number of vehicles on campus, including an “ideas competition,” “Give Up Your Permit” month, and a design and planning studio to look at potential campus changes for sustainable transportation.

Mudge explained that while sustainability is a global issue, it is essential to take steps locally, and now. “We have to be cognizant of local issues such as the loss of green space and the quality of campus life, he said. “Otherwise, it will be too late, too soon.”

He added that people falsely assume that they have the rights to commute and to use as much energy as they can afford. In order to change these beliefs, “The campus needs a paradigm shift in how we look at sustainability options,” he said.

Mudge also offered some potential solutions, including smaller parking spaces, making central campus “pedestrians only” to deter commuters from driving, and a “pay as you go” system as an alternative to pre-paid parking passes.

Ms. Amundsen cited one particularly compelling, while rather far-fetched, parking solution which dates back to the Cornell planning board of the ’30s-a giant underground parking lot beneath central campus.

Although the ideas of the department of planning, design and construction are still in their earliest stages, Amundsen explained that the University is growing, and changes need to be affected soon. “We should think about how we live and work in different ways in order to see how we have an impact on the environment,” she said.

Bill Wendt, who is also the chair of the board of directors of TCAT, explained several sustainability initiatives already in place, as well as those he hopes to implement in the future.

Among the existing initiatives are “transportation demand management,” which seeks to eliminate single-occupancy vehicles, the TCAT bus transit system, which runs 44 buses daily throughout Tompkins County, and a community buy-in plan. He is also looking into changes in parking permit and bus pass prices.

Wendt acknowledged that to serve the wide range of needs which exist in the Cornell community, it is essential to create “a balanced program which can meet individual levels of convenience.”

Both panelists and audience members made it clear that Cornell needs to make significant changes to its current transportation and parking policies, and that changes must be implemented in an environmentally conscientious manner.

Sean Boutin grad, a member of the University Assembly, who owns a car and parks on campus daily, said that he would gladly give up his spot if offered a viable alternative. Unfortunately, as of now, one does not seem to exist.

“You need to have an incentive for a shift where people are willing to give up their right to something,” he said.

Although slightly disappointed by the turnout, Singer was pleased with the audience participation and enthusiasm, and she believes that the forums will impact the administration’s future decisions. “We hope that the senior administration will give us some kind of response. We just want to keep giving people an outlet to talk about their frustrations and suggestions on transportation and sustainability issues on campus.”

Archived article by Julie Zeveloff
Sun Staff Writer