Champaign will consider lower parking lot requirement for University buildings

By Jessie Webster

Tweet: Champaign is considering a move to eliminate parking requirements on campus. 

Kimberly Casey, senior in ACES, said bringing a car to campus was convenient for her because there are no buses to take her home from the University; however, a city of Champaign motion to decrease required parking could make it more difficult for students like Casey to keep their cars on campus.

“Sometimes I feel like (city planners) don’t think about that when they decide to reduce parking,” Casey said. “There are a lot of us who have to bring our cars to campus because there’s no other way for us to get home.”

A decline in students’ use of campus parking led the city of Champaign to consider reversing its requirement that all University buildings must include parking.

City-owned parking spaces are about 70 percent full, said Ben Leroy, associate planner for the city of Champaign, despite dropping parking fees to maintain their occupancy.

“We have kind of come to the realization that we’re requiring much too much parking for what students actually want on campus,” Leroy said.

He said this decline in parking further supports Champaign’s Planning and Development Department’s consideration to no longer require buildings on campus to include parking lots.

According to Leroy, a collaboration between the cities of Champaign and Urbana, the Mass Transit District and several other agencies in 1999 produced the Campus Area Transportation Study, which laid out a vision and set of goals for an ideal system of transportation at the University.

The study led to several projects, such the reduction of Green Street from a four-lane to a two-lane street, which is much more conducive to biking and foot traffic, LeRoy said.

“U of I Parking currently has approximately 16,000 parking spaces — 2,150 of these parking spaces are meters, 370 are reserved spaces,” said Michelle Wahl, University director of parking.

Wahl said 9,930 faculty and student parking spaces have been purchased or renewed thus far, however that does not reflect how many cars are brought to campus daily.

Catering to vehicles has been the norm in almost every American city for decades, Leroy said, and Champaign has been requiring parking at buildings for decades. However, these practices are becoming increasingly dated.

“What we have started to realize as a community and kind of a broader planning discipline is that requiring parking can often run counter to making a place livable and accessible for walkers and bikers,” said Leroy.

According to Leroy, these beliefs are supported by several landlords and developers on campus, who have reported to the department that some apartment buildings have parking vacancy rates between 20 and 40 percent.

Jacquelyn Negrete, junior in Business, said she brought a car to campus last year but chose not to this year.

“I just feel like they could probably lower the prices a little bit more and it wouldn’t make a huge difference,” Negrete said. “It’s already hard to find affordable parking as it is, and no longer requiring a set amount of (parking spaces) could make it worse.”

According to Leroy, asking landlords to lower the price of parking doesn’t benefit students in the long run because landlords will reduce parking fees to attract students, but will make up for the cost in the rent.

Ultimately, Leroy said, the planning and development department believes eliminating the parking requirement on campus is the best solution for everyone involved because it allows students to have a say in where they live, and gives developers the opportunity to create an environment for specific market niches.

“We trust our developers and landlords, and our students, to make the right choices for themselves,” Leroy said. “The University often advises new students that it is not necessary to bring a car to campus, which is now becoming more significant than ever.”

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