By: Kaitlyn Summer Cherry
“Hail Mary, full of grace, help me find a parking space.” While I’m uncertain about the effectiveness of such a heavenly appeal, it sometimes feels like divine intervention is necessary to find a space on campus. Parking Services will tell you that there are plenty of parking spots, and for the most part, that’s true. So why then, is parking on campus so hellish?
The real culprit is not the number of parking spots, but their location. Commuter students are permitted to park in white-lined spaces in the law school lot, levels 3-5 of the Mission Parking Structure, the West Parking Structure and West Lot on the opposite end of campus, and a few random spaces here and there. You don’t need me to tell you that finding a spot near the law school or in the Mission Structure after 9 a.m. is practically impossible. The option of parking in the distant West Structure is impractical if you’re in any hurry since walking or riding the unpredictable and often over-crowded trams can take anywhere from 10-35 minutes.
Ideally, we’d like to park in the law school lot or the Mission Structure, but these areas fill quickly, leaving students frustrated and frantic. Why? We share these spaces with overflow from yellow-lined staff parking, campus visitors, special event guests, and valet parking when they exceed their two reserved spots. Also, absurdly, the first two levels of the Mission Structure are reserved for residents; this leaves an abundance of empty spaces in this area for students who don’t even need convenient parking to make it to class on time.
If you ask Parking Services what you should do when you can’t find parking, they’ll direct you to the West Structure and advise you to ride the tram. This option is not practical if you already wasted time looking for closer parking and even with forethought is onerously time-consuming. On most days you will find a spot, but the trams don’t run on a fixed schedule and are erratic at best. Two or even three trams might arrive at once, and then it could be as long as 30 minutes until the next one. Or they will quickly fill to capacity during certain rush hours. When it’s busy, students rush on as soon as the door opens. If you can’t wait for the next tram, you better come prepared to throw an elbow so you won’t be left behind. You can always trek up the hill on foot, but with 20 pounds worth of casebooks and your laptop on your back, you probably won’t like that option any better, assuming you have the twenty minutes it would take. So it may be true that there are plenty of spaces available in the West Structure, but this is not a realistic solution for law students with busy schedules.
What could really be done to improve parking at USD? We could relocate all Mission Structure resident parking to the West Structure. Resident students don’t typically use their cars on a daily basis and this change could be implemented immediately. If this “park and ride” option is really as convenient as Parking Services believes, this shouldn’t excessively burden residents when they need access to their vehicles. Better yet, USD could make a large-scale change and open up several hundred spaces by limiting or disallowing on-campus parking for many of the 1,100 freshmen. This is a common approach at many universities that encourages younger students to integrate more fully into the campus community by making it less convenient to leave university grounds.
Another easily enforceable solution would be to require campus visitors and special event guests to use the West Structure instead of allowing them to indiscriminately park in any white-lined space. Visitors are not rushing to class like commuter students, and trams can be reserved for special events to provide convenient transportation for visiting groups. Of course we do not want to discourage visitors from coming to USD, but we cannot place their convenience over the real needs of our paying students. The valet parking that encroaches on our commuter spaces was an alumni demand and makes our school look classier than a country club, but again, we cannot put visitor convenience over student needs.
Commuter students are expected to take whatever spots are left after priority is given to residents, staff, and guests of various kinds. Until the needs of commuter students are considered, I, for one, will go back to praying that the student I’m stalking through the parking lot is actually leaving.