Smile Politely

Let the kids park

This week, among what must have been a very busy Champaign City Council meeting, the most publicized vote came surrounding the Clinton Landfill lawsuit settlement, which was an agreement to protect the Mahomet Aquifer, and thus, Champaign’s drinking water. Another aspect of the meeting, however, was a vote concerning — of all things — parking spaces.

At first glance, this doesn’t seem like a contentious issue at all. Parking spaces are awesome. I’m not sure anyone would argue with that, and if you’ve ever slowed your car to a crawl while driving down First Street, peeking down side streets looking for a spot, you know just how trying it can be to find a parking spot on campus when all the students are back. Up until Tuesday, new apartment buildings on campus were required to provide parking to residents – albeit in a limited capacity – but now, with the passing of this new motion, developers will no longer be required to include parking spaces in their living arrangements.

The stance of the Champaign City Council on this issue was met with criticism from University of Illinois officials, who took issue with the increase in property value of developable land close to Campus as well as the the increased pressure this new measure will place on University parking lots, which will inevitably attract many more students who have cars but don’t have places to park them.

While I find the University’s reasons for opposing this new parking space legislation to be self-serving, the new parking law enacted by the council is shortsighted at best and archaic at its worst. Though the goal of the City Council to curb the amount of cars on campus is an admirable one, punishing students for bringing cars to campus is not the way to go about it. It’s a cop out for problems that should be fixed in other ways.

I graduated from the University of Illinois less than 4 months ago, and I can tell you: it doesn’t matter if students have parking or not – they will still bring cars to campus. Believe it or not, students have jobs in other parts of town, just like the rest of Champaign-Urbana. Students go to the grocery store and try to carry a million bags into their apartment at once, just like the rest of Champaign-Urbana. Students drive home to visit their parents, who, believe it or not, probably don’t live on an MTD bus line.

If the Champaign City Council were really concerned with curbing the amount of drivers on campus, why wouldn’t they improve infrastructure to influence that change instead of crippling those who are inevitably going to bring a car to campus anyway? We could start with the obvious, like including more and better-established/maintained bike-paths that connect campus to the rest of Champaign-Urbana, and then perhaps we could move to the more radical, like making Green Street a pedestrian-only street in Campustown proper. There are many ways to go about this without harshly targeting campus residents.

Additionally – cars are utilized by campus residents in large-part due to the weather, not because every student is a gasoline-monger who hates the environment. Maybe if we lived in California, this plan would work wonders. But we don’t. We live in central Illinois, perhaps one of the nastiest climates in America. Our summers are drowned by crippling heat and humidity (I mean come on — it’s September and it still feels like a sauna whenever I walk outside) and our winters have the potential to be bone-chillingly cold with, at the very least, a non-negligible amount of snow.

I’m not advocating for driving to class if you live on campus — I’ve walked from Urbana to the quad too many times in all varieties of weather and I’m still alive. But what I am advocating for is campus residents’ need for cars, regardless of if they live in a densely populated area of town or not.

I must confess, I’m not an urban planner and I don’t purport to be one. Maybe I’m making too big of a deal out of parking spots, but it just seems as if the Champaign City Council is going about this all the wrong way. Let the kids park. As much as I wish we didn’t automobiles, campus residents need cars just like you or I do, and taking away mandatory parking spaces will only exacerbate the problems that Champaign has with infrastructure and interconnectivity, not make them better. I guess only time will tell.

(Photo of proposed Green St. Pedestrian Way by Carefree Green St.)

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