Second-year student Jill Stalpes found herself lost on Thursday.
During her first day back in the University’s tunnel system, she couldn’t remember the route she used last winter.
“I’m just trying to get to Folwell,” she said.
Stalpes said she is frustrated with the lack of signs and doesn’t know many other students who use the system.
“I don’t know if people just don’t know about it or if it’s quicker to go outside,” she said.
For example, many are not aware of a tunnel route that connects Centennial Hall with Coffman Memorial Union. But by next fall, campus voyagers might have an easier time navigating the indoor walkways of the University.
A new pilot program implemented last month is promoting increased use of the sometimes confusing indoor campus travel system. The program will run until the second week of February, when Parking and Transportation officials will evaluate feedback from students, staff and faculty members.
About 90 maps and directional signs posted along indoor walkways on the East Bank and St. Paul campuses encourage taking the newly named “Gopher Way” to classes and meetings. A phone number and e-mail address are printed at the bottom of each sign to elicit responses.
“We’re looking for input from the campus users to make this a better system,” said Michael Ramolae, assistant facilities director for Parking and Transportation Services.
If a significant interest level is discovered, officials hope a permanent sign program can be in place by fall. And by spring quarter, students, faculty and staff members will have access to fold-out map brochures to guide their way.
Steve Sanders, a project manager for parking and transportation, is designing the maps on his computer.
Because the University never intentionally planned a tunnel system, the routes don’t always connect at the most convenient points. On the East Bank for instance, there are several north-south connections along both sides of Northrop Mall. However, no east-west connections exist between buildings across Church or Union streets.
However, skyways and above-ground indoor walkways give pedestrians other options in select places.
“Sometimes they were planned, sometimes they weren’t. So it’s really kind of haphazard now,” Sanders said. “But if you look at the overall connections between buildings, a few strategic connections would tie what’s there together very well. You could make a system out of it.”
Other problem areas include the lack of common operating hours. Although most tunnels are open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., some are open later. Access is restricted in lab areas, such as the veterinary teaching hospital.
Furthermore, many tunnels are not consistent with the building hours that they connect. And although some might use the tunnels to escape from the winter cold, many of the tunnels are not heated.
In identifying the routes, one significant issue has been disability access. A member of the parking and transportation staff who has a disability traveled the entire tunnel system, identifying accessible routes and problem areas; among them are a lack of ramps or elevators at tunnel ends.