Students aired their grievances on the recent parking and transportation issues to administrators at the University of Connecticut Wednesday night.
Associate Vice President of Facilities and Operations Michael Jednak said to the two dozen students attending that he hoped to “form an action plan” to address these issues.
“Campus is going to continue to evolve,” Jednak said. “We didn’t change the parking and transportation plans to make things worse. We were trying to make things better… my plan is to make (students) part of the communications and the changes as we continue to evolve campus.”
The forum, arranged by UConn Student Government Public Relations Officer Omar Taweh, was formed so that Jednak, along with Parking Services Manger Dwight Atherton, could hear about the issues students were having with the changes.
“These issues are preventing students from studying and working,” Taweh said. “Students are paying to acquire an education. They can’t do that if the university doesn’t want to make the compromises (in parking and transportation) the students want.”
Students who attended the forum cited long bus waiting times, circling around parking lots for a spot and missing classes due to a lack of parking or late buses.
“I come at 8:30 in the morning to find parking,” said Sara Alishare, a graduate student studying anthropology. “I teach in the Jones building (on Horsebarn Hill)… and students are late because of parking. We can’t do our jobs supporting student success if (they) can’t come to class.
Bus transfers in particular proved to be a concern, as only one bus, Orange line, currently stops on Fairfield Way, limiting the number of direct lines from one stop to the next.
“I live in Charter Oak, and I take the Blue Line,” another student said. “All of my classes are in Monteith, and to get there is a hassle (because I have to transfer).”
Jednak said that part of the issue is the amount of traffic on Hillside Road, which is now limited to buses in order to increase flow and student safety.
“Conflict between students (and vehicles)… is very dangerous,” Jednak said. “Like any transit system, you may have to transfer.”
One student suggested a stoplight at the corner of Jim Calhoun Road and Hillside, which Jednak said he would consider, as well as limiting Hillside to buses only.
Jednak said that part of the issues was a lack of communication to students and, moving forward, he wants to consult students before making alterations to the current campus setup.
“[We’re] not going to make any new changes without your input,” Jednak said.
Part of the solution to alleviating some of the congestion and bus waiting times is by data tracking, Jednak said, including real-time GPS tracking and rider counting technology, which he hopes to implement by Spring 2019.
While rider counts are being kept by hand and called in by drivers, Jednak said that he has not yet seen the data.
One student cited concerns about the Willimantic Region Transit District (WRTD) lines increasing service for those living in Willimantic and Windham; Jednak replied that he has been “in conversation” with the authority to boost frequency.
Others claimed that parking, coupled with the bus issues, was worse than before for both graduate students, who were given the ability to buy Area 2 passes over the summer, and commuters.
Fine Arts students said that the elimination of commuter parking in B Lot and its conversion to 24 Hour parking limited their ability to make it to their classes in the Fine Arts Complex.
“I speak on the behalf of all Fine Arts students when I say… we have nowhere to park,” one student said.
Atherton said this was due to construction on the Fine Arts Complex temporarily closing off some spaces, thus increasing the need for more Area 2 spaces.
When asked why it was converted to 24 Hour, Atherton said it was in order to “ensure the lots are clear,” as Oaks residents had been parking there overnight and blocking out faculty spaces.
Many students pointed out that Area 2 Lots were often emptier than commuter lots in the morning. Jednak replied that though Parking Services had estimated a need for about 1500 new spaces, they may have miscalculated.
“The reality is we haven’t sold 1500 spaces,” Jednak said. “That’s why there are some parking spaces that are empty.”
Even with the empty spaces, GAs and TAs in attendance said that parking was still a problem for many graduate students, and that the enforced areas only contribute to the problem.
“When (the graduate student union) had to negotiate (Area 2 passes) to access parking, then it means the system isn’t working for everyone,” said Ashley Robinson, a Ph.D. student and teaching assistant with the Neag School of Education. “It reinforces hierarchies on campus. I feel as if we’re pitted against each other.”
Jednak said that more proximal parking for professors and administrators is “just the way it is.”
Atherton encouraged students having trouble finding parking to park in further lots.
“There is parking on C Lot,” Atherton said. “I know people don’t want to park there for a variety of reasons, but there’s a couple of hundred spaces there. We’ll actively make sure the shuttle is running on time… but there is parking there.”
Though Jednak said he plans to arrange more meetings with students and work with a USG-based Transportation and Parking committee, he said there isn’t a single solution that will satisfy the entire campus.
“We can’t make everyone happy,” Jednak said. “But we can at least make the masses happier than they currently are.”
Taweh said that though the meeting was “a great step” in decreasing the communication gap between students and administration, he some students were off put by some of Jednak and Atherton’s lackluster responses to student complaints.
“Many [students] felt as if their concerns were legitimized by the frequent ‘once we have more data’ responses,” Taweh said.
Taweh encouraged students to sign up for the USG committee and submit comments, complaints and suggestions to him, as they continue to advocate for student voice in administrative positions.
“This is a constituency [administrators] are serving,” Taweh said. “This is their job, serving students.”
Marlese Lessing is the news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. She tweets @marlese_lessing.