The first day of spring semester Thursday found University of Utah students using some new parking options, but a final solution to perennial parking shortages are still down the road.
"Things worked out very well today. I was pleasantly surprised at how many slots we had available at peak time. Several thousand students came
on light rail," said Alma Allred, director of transportation and parking services. The mid-December opening of a TRAX line to the U., along with increased bus use, is seen as one solution to the parking
But parking continues to be the most frequent matter addressed in letters to the opinion columns of the Daily Utah Chronicle, the campus newspaper, said editor Matt Canham. A lawsuit recently filed against the U. by Steven L. Rinehart, a second-year law student, has spawned a spate of letters congratulating him for taking that step, Canham said. Rinehart filed suit in 3rd District Court last week, claiming the university sells more spaces than are really available for students.
The U. will fight the suit, which also claims that money generated by parking fees also has not been spent for improving parking services, as students were led to believe it would be.
Allred pointed out that the university does not expect every student to be on campus at any given time and that the demand in various parking sites around the campus fluctuates considerably during the day. "To compare the number of spaces with the number of permits is always fallacious."
The parking problem has been exacerbated by Olympic activity on and near the U. campus. Games athletes will reside in student housing on the old Fort Douglas site, and opening and closing ceremonies will be in the Rice-Eccles Stadium. Some lots already have been closed to accommodate preparations. Another 700 slots will be temporarily lost to students on Wednesday, Jan. 9, when most of the Annex parking lot is put off limits to them until the Olympics are over, Allred said.
"It isn't any walk in the park," he acknowledged. Students have made use of some alternative angle parking on certain campus roads, but some spots went begging during the semester's first day, he said. They may fill up as the crush becomes more pronounced. Allred said he expects an increase in frustrations Monday when the first full week of classes begins.
A more permanent solution to the ongoing question of where to park on campus is being formulated by a committee assigned to that task, said Ben Lowe, president of the Associated Students of the University of Utah. He co-chairs that committee, which was formed after a student survey to measure the depth of the discontent. The survey elicited some 5,000 complaints. The committee represents students, administration, faculty and other campus groups interested in the issue.
"We met once before (the holiday ) break and will meet again next week," he said.
Lowe thinks the majority of students are accepting the situation generated by the Olympics, and he said he disagreed with Rinehart's lawsuit as "a bad idea." The most vocal complaints come from a minority of the students, although all of those who study or work on the campus share the same frustration, he said.
His expectation is that the committee will be able to come up with long-term solutions that will go far beyond the Olympics.