April 6, 2006

Faculty Protest Parking Cuts Outside Bailey Hall

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On the surface, the proposal for a new pedestrian plaza in front of newly remodeled Bailey Hall will bring a beautiful new area to campus and a much needed walkway. Yet, changing anything in such a highly integral area of campus is not going to be easy. Plans to start construction were already pushed back until the summer of 2007 to address a number of concerns from faculty and staff.

Under the current plan, faculty and staff will face losing the last convenient parking spots on campus, delivery trucks may be further hindered from backing up, and the vibration-sensitive labs underneath Clark Hall could be compromised. With the new plaza being one of several construction projects proposed in the area, faculty and staff are calling for a comprehensive construction plan from the university that will take into greater account the issue of parking and circulation.

The area for the new Bailey pedestrian plaza is currently a parking lot in front of Bailey Hall that, according to John Lemley, administrator of Human Resources for CALS, has been there since post-World War II. During the day, the parking lot is a mess of pedestrians, cars, and trucks. In general, everyone agrees the area is an eyesore and potential danger for pedestrians.

The plans for the new plaza announced last January call for an area paved in bluestone that will provide paths between all the buildings surrounding the plaza. Benches will be placed among ornamental evergreens, kentucky coffee trees, red-twigged dogwoods and even a large rock outcrop with water trickling down. The design is expected to turn the parking lot into the next lovable spot on campus. Yet, such aesthetic beauty comes at the price of functionality.

When the plans for building the new plaza were first announced, they included a tentative date to break ground this June in order to be finished with the renovation of Bailey Hall, expected to be completed in August 2006. These plans have been unofficially pushed back to spring 2007. Provost Biddy Martin stated that final approval of the new plaza is anticipated by May 2006. Currently, some work will be done on the roadways in anticipation of the construction. Related planning and ordering of the stone for the plaza will begin in the fall for the spring 2007 construction season.

The most prevalent complaint is the loss of the convenient parking spaces for the faculty and staff who have offices in the area. Lemley, who works in Roberts Hall, expressed that the loss of the Bailey parking lot is in line with the progressive elimination of parking from central campus. Lemley first came to campus in the late 1960s as a student and later worked for the University starting in the early 1970s. In that time, he has seen the campus expand in both buildings and population, yet never fully address the issue of parking and circulation.

As almost every student and faculty who drives on campus will acknowledge parking is inconvenient, expensive, and limited. Like students, Lemley said that faculty pay $630 a year to park on campus and often in spots very far from their offices. He expressed that the transportation infrastructure of Ithaca is not adequate to serve people conveniently like in major cities and therefore, those who can afford to do so will chose to drive to work.

“Parking and circulation always, as it seems to me, gets the short shrift,” Lemley said.

According to an email from Martin, the new parking level being added to Hoy Garage is supposed to supplement the parking situation and temporary parking will be made available until its completion. Lemley expressed the spaces are not even close to as convenient as the current Bailey parking lot is.

Prof. Joel Brock, applied engineering and physics, who holds an office in Clark Hall overlooking the parking lot, was unconcerned about the loss of parking.

“Parking spaces come and go … as long as there’s reasonable parking I can live with that,” Brock said.

Lemley expressed support for creating an alternative plan that makes the area more aesthetic and pedestrian friendly while still incorporating some parking spots.

“If there were less [parking spots] there would still be some and that would be better then the plan they have now,” Lemley said.

Another concern expressed by Lemley is that the plaza will further cut off the already inadequate space needed for trucks to make deliveries and turn around. During the interview, Lemley pointed outside his office window where tire tracks bordered the sidewalk. These ruts were caused by trucks driving onto the Agriculture Quad to make deliveries to Roberts Hall. Lemley expressed concern that if adequate space is not given to trucks when the new plaza is built, they will run over the curbs slowly destroying the plaza and costing the University more money

Brock was also concerned about the need of semi-trailers to get in and out of the area around Clark Hall. He says between 10 to 12 trucks come a day to make deliveries. Brock was also concerned about the new plaza limiting the ability of fire trucks to reach Clark Hall. The fire department regularly visits two to three times a year for fire drills, but real accidents have occurred over the past several years and Brock wants to know for sure that a fire truck can reach the building.

Victor Younger, the general manager of retail services of Cornell Dining, said that the loading dock is currently sufficient for all of Trillium Dining needs and that the trucks currently have no problem getting in and out of the loading dock. Younger expects that the new plaza will not encroach upon the space of the current loading dock, and since none of the Trillium employees park in the plaza, he does not believe the new plaza would present problems.

Brock was also concerned about the possibility that the new construction would compromise the use of the vibration-sensitive labs beneath Clark Hall. According to Brock, before Duffield Hall, these laboratories were the best vibration dull labs on-campus and some of the best in the country. Currently with the road located around 15 feet away from basement, the highly sensitive instruments can tell when a car drives by. Brock said that the current plans are unclear as to exactly where the road will be located and therefore, is worried that a road moved a few feet closer to the building will severely hamper the functionality of the labs.

The upper administration of Cornell University has made an effort to address these concerns. A community open forum was held by the project director, Francille Firebaugh, several weeks ago. Further, Provost Bailey and Firebaugh have met with faculty groups and discussed parking, circulation, and sequencing of other projects. Brock complimented the upper administration of Cornell University and the architects involved with the plaza on their professionalism towards hearing and addressing the concerns over the plans for the new plaza.

The issues surrounding the Bailey plaza express an overall lack of a comprehensive construction plan from the University. Massive construction is happening all over campus. Simply around the plaza, construction is happening on Bailey Hall, Mann Library, and the new life science building. Brock wants to see a long-term plan that incorporates a vision of what the University wants the campus to look like in 25 years. Without one, Brock said, somebody’s garbage dump will end up right in front of someone else’s front door.

Along the same lines, Lemley wants to see a comprehensive parking and circulation plan. He noted that the Redbud Woods parking lot and the new level to Hoy Garage have been some of the first instances in 50 years of the university serious addressing parking, but that overall, parking and circulation needs to be put at a higher priority and not an after thought when considering new construction plans.

Archived article by Casey Holmes
Sun Staff Writer