Aggravated by construction, parking shortage strains medical staff

by Sean Madigan

When Ward Ortmann drives to work in the morning, he has several parking options. The laboratory researcher can hope to find a spot in the Huron Boulevard lot, pay up to $24 per day for ramp parking or plug a couple of quarters into a meter and come back every two hours.
Most mornings Ortmann ends up cruising the river flats in search of a meter spot, only to be back a couple hours later to feed the meter.
Like hundreds of other staff members at the University’s medical complex, Ortmann has no reserved parking space. Medical complex employees are finding themselves crunched for time, space and money.
Some staff members say the current parking situation is making the University a less desirable place to work.
“It’s very attractive to look at other laboratories where it is possible to park across the street and park for free,” said Kathy Shark, a scientist in the rheumatology lab.
The medical complex’s parking situation worsened when the University began demolition on the East River Road parking structure.
For the University campus, the Fairview-University Medical Center holds more than 1,100 parking contracts. But once administrators decided to tear down the East River Road structure, the ramp’s contract holders were displaced.
“Losing East River Road was a major blow,” said Joellen Johnson, parking supervisor for Fairview-University Medical Center. When the East River Road ramp closed, many of the contract spots were dispersed to the Oak Street ramp, lowering the number of daily parking spots.
The parking squeeze is especially hard on part-time employees due to their irregular hours, Johnson said. With fewer daily spots, medical complex employees have to scramble for space. The Oak Street ramp usually fills up by 7 a.m., and by 10 a.m. available parking is scarce. Part-time employees who work in the afternoon are left driving in circles.
Contract space is expensive and hard to come by, especially for part-time employees Johnson said.
Before the East River Road structure was torn down, parking officials told Shark the waiting list for a contract spot was more than 15 years.
When Shark started work for the University two-and-a-half years ago, she put her name on a waiting list for the Oak Street ramp. She hopes her name will come up next year.
Parking problems are not limited to the University campus. The parking contracts for employees on the Fairview-University Riverside campus will be adjusted Feb. 25. Ramp contracts will be raised $25.60 per month.
Parking officials say this is the first time since 1991 that parking rates increased, and they remain lower than similarly-sized downtown hospitals.
Johnson said there is little the parking services can do until the new Coffman Union ramp is built. She suggests people ride a bus to work if they can.