State of the University: Parking Problems

Locked Up Bikes Near Nursing School

The State of the University Series will examine a different issue or group of people every week throughout the fall semester. Though some of these topics stem from national or worldwide issues, they all impact the Florida State University community in one way or another. The lack of available student parking is a common complaint amongst the FSU student population. Is there a solution on the horizon? 

This past year, Florida State University received the most amount of university funding, capital and donations in school history. Around campus, there are new student housing options, multi-million dollar renovation and athletics spending has increased 65 percent, from $55.2 million to $91.1 million, since 2013.

Still, an important question continues to be raised by both students and staff alike: What about parking?

Despite a relatively stagnant measure of physical campus size (roughly 1400 acres), Florida State University—with a current student population of over 41,000, an academic staff of over 5,500 and an administrative staff of over 6,000—is not getting any smaller.

There are six parking garages on campus with 5,647 student spaces in total: Call Street (786), Pensacola Street (1118), Saint Augustine Street (834), Spirit Way (1186), Traditions Way (795) and Woodward Avenue (928). Smaller student parking lots also dot the campus, while faculty and staff use gated lots that open to students at 4:30 p.m. each day.

Yet, the number of total student parking spaces does not come close to the number of students who live off campus and/or who have a car:

19 percent of Florida State University students live in college-owned, -operated or –affiliated housing, which means 81 percent of the student population live off-campus and/or commute. Of the 41,000 students who attend Florida State each semester, over 33,000 do not reside on campus and must travel to campus for classes.

While some Florida State students live on a bus route or close enough to campus to walk or bike, many students face a dilemma when trying to find a parking spot during a school day.

“Florida State students are in dire need of a new parking garage—parking is frustrating,” says first-year student Hannah Curlew, who owns a car in Tallahassee.

In addition to the limited spots, parts of some garages are closed for special events throughout the week that take place at the Civic Center, the stadium or other venues on or near campus.

“I have spoken to a number of students who schedule 8 AMs just to avoid the chaos of circling the parking garage for hours,” wrote Florida State student Vanessa Coppola on Alive Campus. “Time is the last thing college students need to waste with the amount of work and obligations they have committed to, especially just to park their car.”

The main reasons against building another parking garage on campus, according to university officials, are limited space and limited funds.

“To build a garage is about $16,000 per space, and a lot of our budget right now is dedicated to debt service,” says Matthew Inman, the director of Transportation and Parking Services at FSU. “So we have the financial impact of building parking, but then there’s always the space impact of it as well, and we’re a relatively small campus for the size of our student body.”

One initiative from Florida State to help students better deal with busy parking garages is called the FSU Trans app, which gives students a rough estimate for how many parking spots are left in each garage. Another app, Trans Loc, allows students to see each Florida State bus in real time.

“We always try to look at how to make this place better,” says President John Thrasher. “(We) look at what can we do to elevate the reputation of Florida State and the opportunities that our students have here.”

Florida State University, its staff and its student population are still in the process of brainstorming other possible solutions to help appease students who do not believe there are enough spots on campus to appropriately accommodate each student.

Limited parking has become a standard issue not only at Florida State, but also at most colleges and universities that allow students to drive on campus.

At the University of Florida, for example, there are approximately 28,000 parking spots for a student population of over 48,000 and a faculty population of around 4,000.

Based on these numbers, the amount of parking at UF does not guarantee each and every student with a car will land a parking spot either. The remedy to this situation—according to the University of Florida Transportation and Parking Services—is encouraging students to carpool, ride a bike or take an RTS (Regional Transit System) bus, free to students with a university ID.

Another solution to limited parking in Gainesville is to charge students to park on campus.

In fact, most college campuses—such as the University of South Florida and the University of Central Florida—require students to pay for parking permits, which may lower the incentive to park your own car on campus. Proponents of paid student parking in Tallahassee believe it could have the same effect at Florida State.

According to The Gainesville Sun, however, over 87,400 parking tickets were distributed across the University of Florida’s campus and the UF Shands Hospital between July 2004 and June 2005.

Eliminating free student parking at Florida State, according FSU sophomore Thomas Bretz, may facilitate these same types of issues, as well as other means of student dissatisfaction.

Even as a school with free student parking, Florida State itself issued over 20,000 parking tickets throughout the 2014-2015 school year. While paid parking could be a viable option for reducing on-campus traffic at Florida State University in the future, Bretz explains how a transition to paid-parking may be met with heavy opposition from students, particularly at a time when many believe there is not enough free parking currently available.

A different idea that has sparked similar contention within Florida State University and the department for Transportation and Parking services comes from the idea of prohibiting freshman who live on campus from having a car.

At Appalachian State University, there is a single, designated parking garage for freshmen to cut down overcrowded garages.

While these potential solutions may have their respective benefits and repercussions, Florida State University has not announced any plans to alter the current parking situation for students on or off campus.

Some campus organizations—such as the reCycle Bike Program—are, however, already providing outlets for students who are struggling to find a smooth and successful means of transportation to and from campus.

The FSU reCycle Bike Program does not focus on cars or parking garages, but rather promotes a healthy, environmentally friendly lifestyle by offering students a low-cost, rental bike program for one or two semesters (Fall $60; Fall & Spring $100).

The initiative, spearheaded by FSU Sustainable Campus and the Florida State University Police Department, provides a low-cost, sustainable transportation alternative for FSU students.

“People who bike are helping the environment, helping themselves and helping the community,” says FSU reCycle Bike Program coordinator Beth Burford.

Burford explains how seeing more bikes on campus may increase on-campus safety and reduce problems like traffic and congestion inside parking garages.

“It can definitely be looked at as community building,” says Burford. “We are trying to connect our campus, make it safer, and make cycling and bike safety a collective initiative at FSU.”

Other organizations focused on campus safety, community building and environmental sustainability include GotchaRide—a Charleston-based company that provides free rides via electric vehicles to students, faculty and parents at colleges like Clemson, Auburn and Texas Tech.

Florida State alum and founder of GotchaRide Sean Flood explains how improving transportation is, and should be, at the top of most universities’ priority list: “They are looking for solutions that are economical.”

As well as economical, many students— such as Florida State junior and biomedical engineering major Megan Donnelly—want the university to focus on sustainable and long-term transportation solutions.

“I think there are alternatives to building a new parking garage—like a transit system with electric buses would be great idea for both the university and the environment,” says Donnelly. “I also think that tuition incentives for students living off-campus who do not have a vehicle registered with FSU could be a good way to open up more spots.”

“No matter how we choose to fix the parking situation,” Donnelly says, “I think it’s important that we keep in mind not only the future of Florida State, but the future of the earth.”