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Let's pass on the surface lots

Illustration by Arnie Bermudez
By Daniel Scarpinato
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, September 9, 2003

A political cartoon that ran in the Arizona Daily Wildcat 60 years ago pinpointed one of the hottest issues on campus at the time: the lack of parking. That was in the 1940s, when the population of the UA was only a fraction of what it is now.

Still, students list parking as one of their top concerns on every year's so-called Campus Climate Survey conducted by the Dean of Student's Office.

Administrators laugh the problem off. "What can be done?" they say. After all, if parking has been a problem since the 1940's, why would it suddenly get better now?

Well, if better means big surface parking lots in the middle of campus, it won't. People saw that over the last few weeks as students, faculty and staff with high-priced permits circled campus searching for a spot, their efforts fruitless.

But if Parking and Transportation Services follows through on its commitment to building more parking garages, virtually wiping out surface parking in the inner spots of campus, parkers, commuters and area residents will be better off in the long run.

See, Zone 1 spots, which thousands of students, staff and faculty rely on, are slowly becoming extinct. Sure, PTS is working to open some new lots north of campus, but the situation is far different than it was just a few years ago, when Zone 1 lots were in a relative abundance.

The fact of the matter is that Zone 1 spots are passˇ. The UA is an urban campus and space is tight.

The market ÷ being campus ÷ has spoken: "Give us garages. We will pay."

People are ready and willing to buy high-priced permits and, luckily, PTS is responding to that call.

It's smarter for the university to close surface lots and build up, rather than extending campus any further outside its borders, grazing over entire neighborhoods of historic homes in the process.

The result of the UA growing in a horizontal manner rather than vertical is bad for Tucson and bad for the UA. If the campus were to continue to inflate, you might find a parking spot in the middle of campus but still have to walk a mile to a class on one of its edges.

In addition, the UA is surrounded by some of the oldest, most charming communities in town. It would be a shame to see more of them decimated.

The UA is committed to building, and should be. Bricks and mortar sure as hell are important, particularly to a major research institution.

The smart thing to do is to expand campus within its historic boundaries, surrounding its edges with large, sprawling garages.

Some homes might be sacrificed to make that happen, but in the long run, the university area will be more pleasant and drivers' parking needs will be better accommodated.

Most of this is in line with the UA's Comprehensive Campus Plan, which was approved by the Board of Regents but holds no real authority. Though the plan is merely an outline for growth, it includes the addition of several major garages.

Garage spaces are nearly twice the price of a typical surface spot, and for those who can afford them, garages are far more convenient and efficient than surface permits.

And PTS claims to be selling them virtually at cost.

For those who can't afford a permit or don't want one, the SunTran bus system is a nice option. Sure, it might not be glamorous to ride the bus to school, but that's life in the big city.

So, as the UA expands, it has a valuable opportunity to make or break local transportation policy, encourage responsible growth and better serve paying parking customers. With tens of thousands of people commuting back and forth from campus everyday, the university has a major responsibility to the local community.

UA Provost George Davis once described Speedway Blvd. as "U of A Way," hoping that the words might help to link the main campus with the Health Sciences Center to the north.

Davis' wish to make campus more cohesive will happen if the voids that separate campus ÷ parking lots ÷ are filled with buildings, accommodating the growing need for parking with garages.

That's what the campus wants and needs.

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