The quest to solve congested parking on East Campus has hit a speed bump without a solution in sight.
Many residents in the area have difficulty parking in front of or near their house, and commuters are at the root of the issue. MU students and employees often park and walk to campus, leaving their cars on residential streets and blocking already narrow roads. Residents have proposed some solutions, such as parking permits tied to license plate numbers or metered spaces, but after two brainstorming meetings at City Hall, residents and the city are still having a difficult time agreeing on an answer.
Defining the problem
Longtime East Campus resident Anne Halferty said the problem is one involving students who do not live on East Campus but who park there and walk to class.
“East Campus isn’t a parking lot for people who aren’t willing to pay to park in one of the commuter lots or pay to live on East Campus,” Halferty said.
Halferty lives next to students. If there’s a parking issue, she can knock on their door and get them to move their car. If it’s a commuter, she can’t ask them to move their vehicle when they’ve blocked her in.
“There are enough parking spaces for students on this campus,” East Campus resident and MU professor Clyde Bentley said. “The problem is they’re a long way away. Students don’t want to make the hike or take the shuttle.”
Richard Stone, the city of Columbia traffic engineer spearheading the project, said the call for permit parking was initiated by residents in contact with their councilwoman, Barbara Hoppe. Residents asked that the city take a look at its parking problem, and City Council asked the Public Works Department to evaluate the issue.
“For the most part, my perspective is that there’s not much of a problem,” East Campus landlord Wendy Warnken said. “People who commute and park there on the streets have been doing that for as long as I can remember.”
Warnken said her parents have owned property on East Campus for years. She lived on Anthony Street during her college years and used to see the same commuters park in front of her house daily.
Warnken said she thinks the city is unaware that it is working to help homeowners outside the problem area. She said the city is not recognizing the area is mostly populated by students.
“We’re participating in this because I’m pretty sure this will be a done deal if we don’t all speak up now, and I’d love to see student voices in the mix,” Warnken said. “That could change everything. I’d rather be participating so that our residents are able to park freely because this is the neighborhood they live in.”
Junior Sam Dicke said it doesn’t bother him to have students parking in front of his house on East Campus.
“Normally, if you have a house on East Campus, you have a parking lot or place to park. I don’t see it as a problem,” Dicke said. “It’s a student area, close to campus and a public street.”
Potential problem solvers
To the frustration of many residents, potential parking solutions are as numerous as the problems they intend to solve.
Solutions suggested by residents included limiting permit parking to working hours, tying permits to tag numbers so they cannot be sold to nonresidents or installing meters across the neighborhood.
“I kind of do agree that maybe we want to look at an (resident-permit parking-only system) that spans the entire area, but I want to do that with knowledge going into it,” Stone said.
Residents said they worry commuters and illegal parkers will continue to move further back into the neighborhood. Many were also concerned about the aesthetics of potential meters.
Stone said one benefit of meters is that they allow those without parking permits, mainly guests and friends, to park in the area temporarily. According to numbers presented at the Nov. 20 interested parties meeting, there is room for an estimated 372 to 380 metered spaces in the area.
“It isn’t that I want to be a parking meter salesman, but meters can provide a way to answer some of those questions. I think they could still be a component,” Stone said.
But residents still are not convinced.
Halferty said meters don’t solve the issue. If students know there are meters in the area, they will still speed through the neighborhood to find a place to park, despite having to pay.
“If there were a meter on my street, it would be a nightmare because there would be that many more cars coming through,” Halferty said.
She said there were times when her grandmother, who lived on Ross Street, needed emergency care, but an ambulance couldn’t get to her because cars were parked too far over, blocking the street. The family had to carry Halferty’s grandmother down to the end of the street to the ambulance.
“East Campus needs a solution that benefits all residents, both homeowners and the students who pay to live there,” Halferty said. “A parking permit, perhaps combined with some strategically placed parking meters, will help protect students who pay to live in the East Campus area as well as protect the homeowners who raise and care for their families in the same neighborhood.”
Bentley said he thinks the meters will play a role in the solution, but they are not completely the answer to the problem.
“The (solution) that will end up making sense will be the resident-paid hang tag and a small number of parking meters in areas close to campus,” Bentley said.
Steps to a solution
Even though progress has been made, Stone said there is still work to be done.
“We intend to have one more meeting where we take that feedback from the interested parties meetings and put all of it into a thought process to try to come up with a program that is as close to census as we can get,” Stone said.
Stone said many ideas were generated at the meetings, and city staff has been able to decipher some things that could be done in a sustainable manner.
“We’re going to have to do something, as you get more student apartments far out,” Bentley said. “We’re going to have to find a way to accommodate those cars or trade the cars for something else.”
A final meeting is scheduled for 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. March 19 in City Hall. After that meeting, staff could present information to City Council for review. There is potential for City Council to send the plan back for revision.
If the council approves a measure, the possible course of action involves passing an ordinance in the spring, preparation in the summer and implementation in fall 2014.