Plan puts cars in neutral

by Bei Hu

The image of the University as a commuter school will soon change if Clinton Hewitt, associate vice president for master planning, has his way.
Hewitt and his staff recently won the Board of Regents’ approval for guidelines to change the architecture and landscaping of the Twin Cities, Duluth, Morris and Crookston campuses over the next 15 years.
A key component of Hewitt’s vision for the Twin Cities campuses is transportation restructuring.
“I guess the general philosophy is to reverse the emphasis from moving vehicles to moving people,” Hewitt said. “The master plan would suggest that on the long-term basis, we would begin to maybe de-emphasize the use of cars.”
Measures proposed in the plan include reopening some certain pedestrian streets for automobiles, building new bike paths and racks, slowing down traffic on Washington Avenue and major building changes that would give people a better view of the Mississippi River.
Hewitt said he wants to create a balance between different modes of transportation.
“With an emphasis on moving people, I want to underscore I’m not saying getting rid of cars,” said Hewitt, “(But) we would not continue the pattern of trying to accommodate more and more (cars).”
But that may not be an easy task.
The Office of Student Development and Athletics surveyed a randomly selected sample of 800 Twin Cities campus undergraduate and graduate students during winter quarter 1996. About 75 percent of those surveyed returned the mail-in questionnaire. Only 14 percent of the students said they lived on campus. Another 17 percent said they lived less than a mile from campus.
The same survey stated about 43 percent of students surveyed drove to school. That is a 10 percent increase from 1986, when the office did a similar survey.
The University currently has a total of 19,736 parking spaces in five underground garages, six ramps, and 124 surface lots. That figure also includes 549 parking meters. Still, finding a parking spot can be a challenge.
Bob Baker, director of Parking and Transportation Services, said it is difficult to estimate how many more parking spaces are needed to meet the demand.
“I don’t think we will ever be in a position where we will provide enough parking spaces to meet the total demand for spaces,” he added.
Planners have prescribed an unconventional remedy for parking shortage on campus.
In fact, two parking facilities will be among the first to fall when the master plan’s guidelines are put into effect.
The East River Road parking ramp will be demolished in spring 1998, partly to make way for a new building that would better embrace the scenic value of the Mississippi River, according to Hewitt.
The parking ramp was built in the 1960s and can hold 1,700 cars. It accommodates a wide variety of users, including faculty, staff, students and visitors.
Baker said the East River Road ramp has reached the end of its usable life. To repair it would cost an estimated $10 million or $11 million dollars.
“Given the age of the facility,” Baker said, “it’s simply not worth that kind of investment.”
A new, most likely underground, parking facility will be built at the same location. Baker expects the new facility to have a similar capacity to the old one. But he said the exact number can not be given before a blueprint is worked out. Parking and Transportation Services officials hope to begin construction of the new facility immediately after the old ramp’s demolition.
This spring, the 1,000-space surface lot that sits on the site of the old Memorial Auditorium will be turned into a new Gateway/Alumni Center. The center will serve as the headquarters of the University Alumni Association, the University Foundation and the Minnesota Medical Foundation.
At the same time, construction will be underway on the new Buckeye Parking Lot. The lot will be located between Lyons Lab and the Waste Management Facility on Fifth Street, and will have about 700 parking spaces.
Planners have proposed more on-street parking to help ease the parking shortage. But, Hewitt said, the problem can be better solved by construction of more housing units on campus. With more students living on campus and in neighborhoods, planners hope the number of people who drive to school will be reduced.
The plan also includes reopening Church Street to automobiles and extending Pleasant Street down to Washington Avenue.
“On the one hand, we want to move toward a long-term objective of maybe reducing the use of cars,” Hewitt said. “On the other hand, you also want to have a system, a network of streets that also works for vehicles, too. Because this is a very important part of a user-friendly campus.”