UCI Needs to Address its Parking Crisis

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I have been late to class three times in the past two weeks. The first time, after driving to campus just before the start of my 11 a.m. class, I circled the packed Student Center Parking Structure in vain, moved on to the also-full Mesa Parking Lot across the street, and found myself out of parking options within my zone.

After explaining the situation to a parking attendant, I was told that the top three floors of the Student Center Parking Lot had been booked for a private event, so parking was scarce. My options were either to pay $10 for a daily pass at a different parking structure, park across campus at an overflow lot in Arroyo Vista, or risk being ticketed or towed at UTC. Frustrated and unwilling to pay more for parking than I already do, I opted to park in the tiny Arroyo Vista lot and spent the next 40 minutes walking back across campus to my class, which was already nearly over.

The first time this happened, I thought I was just unlucky. The second time was an infuriating coincidence. The third time made me realize that the lack of parking on campus is more than just another inconvenient truth of student life — it’s an unacceptable oversight on the part of UCI administration, and poses a direct threat to students’ education.
UCI’s parking lots are not keeping up with the massive expansion of campus infrastructure and influx of thousands of new students. Instead, on-campus parking lots are continually closing and being reserved for private events, calling into question UCI’s dedication to students and their ability to get to class.

UCI is primarily a commuter school, with over half of its undergraduate student population currently commuting from off campus, according to UCI Housing. Because there is no viable parking alternative near the university beyond on-campus lots, parking here is monopolized by UCI Transportation. Thousands of commuter students have no choice but to pay hundreds of dollars each year for parking and suffer whatever conditions UCI imposes. This year, due to an expanding student population, frequent private events at UCI during school hours and massive on-campus construction projects, these conditions are worsening at an alarming pace.

Over the past year, with increasing frequency, entire floors of the Student Center Parking Structure have been closed for private events during weekdays when students have class. When the Student Center Parking Structure fills up — accommodating less than half of its usual capacity — Zone 6 permit holders are forced to park across the street at Mesa. However, this lot fills up quickly, and Zone 6 students on their way to class are left with nowhere to park, despite having paid for a permit.

This issue isn’t unique to a single parking zone. Parking lot closures have impacted permit-holders across campus. Parking Lot 7, a popular lot near the School of Humanities, will remain partially closed through 2018, as it is currently being used as a staging area for the construction of a new classroom building in Founder’s Court. UCI’s Transportation and Distribution Services advises students and faculty with permits for this lot that “alternate parking may be found in Mesa Parking Lot,” which is already over-impacted due to overflow from other lots.
Instead of working to build more parking lots to alleviate the problem, UCI administration is planning to close even more lots. Parking Lot 2, adjacent to the flagpoles, could soon be closed and replaced with a Student Health and Wellness Building if undergraduates vote this spring to levy student fees to pay for construction. Dan Dooros, Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, Auxiliary Services, Resource Planning and Housing, said in a recent ASUCI Senate meeting that Lot 2’s closure “will create some reduction in parking,” but argued that the lot “is not very useful.” On the contrary, shutting down or temporarily closing three very useful parking lots close to the Student Center is shortsighted and neglectful of the fact that more students than ever need convenient places to park.

UCI received a record-breaking 104,672 applications for the 2017-18 academic year. In November 2015, the UC system committed to increasing admission of in-state students by 10,000 before the 2018-19 academic year. This doesn’t even take into account increased admission of out-of-state, international or graduate students. UCI’s student population is rapidly increasing, and administration has made some infrastructural changes in an effort to keep up; Mesa Towers, the Anteatery and the new Interactive Classroom Facilities have alleviated the burden of UCI’s exponential population growth. However, it simply makes no sense to increase the number of buildings, facilities, events and students on campus while neglecting the fact that none of these new students have anywhere to park.

By far, the most outrageous part of UCI’s parking issue is how astronomically expensive it is to park here in the first place. At $101 per month, UCI has the second-highest parking permit costs in the UC system, and the annual cost of parking here is nearly 15 times higher than at neighboring Irvine Valley College. Despite the exorbitant price tag, the quality and availability of parking at UCI is abysmal. It’s unfair to ask students who pay top-dollar for permits to waste time circling overcrowded lots or pay extra for a guaranteed spot in a less-crowded structure. Students who pay up to $1,200 per year for a permit deserve a guaranteed place to park — if they are repeatedly unable to find parking spaces, UCI is denying a necessary service to paying consumers. However, instead of offering students a refund on days when parking is impacted, UCI Transportation expects its already-paying customers to shell out $10 more for the privilege of parking in an emptier zone. When all the lots are full, students are paralyzed into doing so because they have no other choice.

I would almost be willing to write this off as just an inconvenience if I had any evidence that UCI administration was working to solve the issue. What makes UCI’s parking issue outrageous, rather than simply frustrating, is the fact that administration is not only ignoring the problem, they seem to be worsening it. Blocking off entire floors of the Student Center Parking Structure on weekdays when students have class, closing parking lots to construct more buildings on campus with no viable parking alternative, and planning to build another structure which would permanently close another popular lot with no plans for expansion are not actions that keep students in mind.

With a projected 40,000 students by 2030, UCI administration needs to treat the campus’s parking issue like the major infrastructure crisis that it is. UCI cannot be a commuter university — or a functional university at all — if hosting events and building UCI’s reputation continues to come before students’ basic ability to get to class.

Megan Cole is a third-year literary journalism and English double major. She can be reached at coleme@uci.edu.

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