October 29, 2008

Mix-Use Developments? Make Sure that Comes with Parking!

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This August, I joined in the tradition that so many Cornell undergraduates are fortunate enough to enjoy: living in Collegetown. Walking back and forth from my College Ave. apartment to my car moving all my things, I felt in many ways the same as I felt moving into Donlon Hall on North Campus my freshman year. Excitement for this new sense of freedom, some anxiety about the unknown and a little bit of awkwardness as I looked around and got the feeling that everyone could see I was an amateur in this atmosphere that was clearly “so college”.

These feelings went away much faster than they did on North Campus. I quickly learned to avoid CTB at certain hours and to never walk home from the library between 1 and 1:30 a.m. — Club Sidewalk and Club Uris have very different dress codes. I’ve also memorized what places do and don’t accept CityBucks, and of course, I now understand where and when to park my car.

This last issue is of incredible importance to me and I think a great number of Collegetown residents — students and non-students alike. There is a huge shortage of parking space available in Collegetown. Searching for a parking spot this fall, I realized how far students are willing to go for a good space. Some spots go for over $1,500 a year! I also realized how important parking is to non-student Collegetown residents through a note on my windshield wiper during Orientation week. The note was typed on a half sheet of paper and read like this:

Date: 29/AUG/08

License plate: XXX-XXXX

Your car is parked on Orchard Place. This street is private property and unauthorized parking is a trespass.

Please remove your car or it will be ticketed and towed at your expense.

If your car is parked here again it will be ticketed and towed immediately.

-Orchard Place Association.

Orchard Place is a little side-block off of Blair Street in Collegetown and has maybe five or six houses on it. After reading this notice I saw that on the entrance to Orchard Place there was a “No Parking, Residents Only” sign, so, my most sincere apologies to any resident whose parking spot I took. Maybe it’s because I’m a government major or because I worked for community organizers this summer, but I find it fascinating that on a street with so few people, an association is formed to address the issue of parking.

My guess is that the inhabitants of Orchard Place deal with students parking cars in front of their driveways all the time, and I can only imagine how much more tension is built with each “trespassing” vehicle. But as I re-read my notice now, I’m a bit wary. This fall, the Collegetown Vision Committee approved the Collegetown Master Plan, prepared by Consultants Goody Clancy. The plan has goals of creating “mixed-use developments” and improving “pedestrian circulation” that in theory would create a harmonious atmosphere between permanent residents and students alike.

I agree that the sidewalks should be wider, and that less vehicle traffic would be ideal. I see benefits in having more integration between student and non-student residents — long-time residents have more to invest in their neighborhood and could be a positive pressure on city politicians to make improvements in the Collegetown area. However, from the prices of parking in Collegetown, I don’t think students are eager to park downtown or get rid of any parking — ideas proposed by city planners and politicians to deal with cars. And, from the tone of the note on my car, I don’t think Orchard Place residents are eager to move into the “mixed-use developments” that seem to be so eagerly embraced by the Collegetown Vision Committee. Collegetown is a small area with a lot packed into it, and neither group seems eager to yield space to the other, even if it’s just a parking spot.

The issue of space, and how it is utilized is the main component of the Collegetown Master Plan. But as people work to improve the fabric of the neighborhood, neither permanent residents, Cornell students or city planners will get anywhere without a mutual respect and understanding for the other’s interests.