March 23, 2023

KEMPFF | The Unspoken War for Campus Parking 

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It should be the newest varsity sport at Cornell: racking up parking tickets. You’ll hear stories about how many these “athletes” have this semester: 10, 11. Like true sportsmen, these drivers trade stories about the spots to use and avoid. The Gates Hall bus stop lets you hide in plain sight. I’ve never seen a ticket in front of Bartels Hall. Never park at Sage Hall — that’s a guaranteed ticket.

Some collect them on their windshield, like a badge of honor. The boldest parkers might have five or six tucked under their windshield wipers. This strategy might also be a deterrent, as hopefully the parking attendant has some pity for you. 

These parkers can’t be stopped, no matter the threatening emails from Cornell calling you a “Chronic Parking Violator.” When asked, these ticket vigilantes have a famous saying: “It’s still cheaper than getting a parking pass.” 

These drivers represent a bigger issue: the lack of campus parking. You see it every single day, as the bumper to bumper build-up happens across campus. There’s far too many cars for the available spots. It’s time for Cornell to look at new solutions to fight this problem, from more ParkMobile spaces to carpool incentives.

Parking options on campus are as follows: A student or Cornell Employee can purchase a parking pass, which gives access to a handful of designated lots. This option seems to work well for staff, but I don’t know any students who own one. The other (legal) option is ParkMobile, a pay by hour app that allows you to park in zones around campus.

Unfortunately, there are few ParkMobile spots near the center of campus. The most convenient solution would be to create more ParkMobile spots there. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of space to work with. And a new parking garage in the middle of campus may not be appealing (unless a generous alumni reading this column wants to fund an underground garage). 

The best bet would be to discourage students from bringing their car to campus. One way to do this may be to make TCAT service more practical. As a freshman, I found myself using TCAT consistently. However, being required to pay for a pass, confusion about routes, and no convenient stop near Eddy Street means that I haven’t stepped on one in three years. 

At first, a few occasional cars started to park at the Gates Hall loading zone. Then, they started staying longer, the line going bumper to bumper. Tickets seemed to prove no deterrent to the cars occupying the spot. You watched as the bus driver could no longer pull into their spot. They were forced to unload and load in the middle of Campus Road, blocking traffic.

Then it changed. A recent sign at the bus stop reads “Starting Monday 1/30/23 this route 31 timepoint will be moved to Sage Hall due to safety concerns.”

I spoke with Dameon Allen, an operations manager at TCAT, to understand why they made the change. He put it simply: too many parked vehicles. A whole host of people felt uncomfortable with this situation, and the TCAT was forced to change their route. 

One solution could be to offer free “carpool” parking. This could be done by converting some prime campus parking into free space. The catch, however, would be that cars entering would have to hit a minimum number of occupants. Cornell already has a version of this program for employees, and expanding it with students may be effective.

The university has invested in many alternative solutions. But keeping up with demand has proved challenging.

I’m not sure that parkers reclaiming the bus stop is the right course of action. But it shows the serious parking problem that exists on campus. There are many potential solutions, few of them easy. But it’s time for Cornell to take a fresh look and expand options to reduce the parking load. 

The bright side: That loading zone now works with ParkMobile. The competitive parkers will now have to find a new secret spot.

Brendan Kempff is a senior in the Hotel School. He can be reached at [email protected]. Slope Side runs every other Thursday this semester.