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Drivers to be surveyed for comprehensive parking plan

STANFORD -- For most people who drive onto the Stanford University campus, the process can easily be taken for granted - it's as simple as getting to the place, finding a space and going about one's business.

No questions asked.

However, starting the week of March 8, questions will be asked. Lots of them. A survey, conducted by an outside consulting firm, will query about 1,200 people - a scientifically designed random sampling of faculty, staff, students, visitors and the like.

When drivers arrive at many parking areas on campus, they will be handed a copy of the survey and asked to fill it out that day, if possible. Attendants will be in the same lots at the end of the day to collect the forms.

If people prefer, they can fill out the form later, then mail it to the Planning Office. The survey will be conducted through March 29.

Most of the questions in the first section of the survey are simple and factual, such as, "In what city or community do you live?" and "What is your role or occupation at Stanford?" A second section asks drivers to indicate which criteria are important, and how important, when they make their transportation decisions.

The final two parts of the survey seek to collect opinions about Stanford's parking and transportation goals, and which group(s) should receive highest priority for close-in parking.

And drivers will have the chance to help determine the right mix of alternative transportation programs, as the form includes space to add comments and questions about transportation options or parking fees.

The survey is one of three major components in the development of a long-range parking and transportation plan that university officials hope to present to the Board of Trustees at its June meeting.

The survey was preceded by a series of "focus group" meetings conducted in January and February during which members of various groups (faculty; staff; students - both commuters and residents; Medical Center employees; users of alternative transportation; people representing special events; visitors; donors; and academic administrators) identified their parking needs and priorities. The survey will be followed by interviews with smaller groups or individuals, said Judy Chan of the Planning Office.

Chan is being assisted by Julia Fremon, manager of the office of Transportation Programs, to develop the plan along with other members of an ad hoc Parking Advisory Group. The other members are James Larimore, assistant dean of students; David O'Brien, director of planning for the Medical School; Lou Saksen of the Stanford Hospital; and Tom Rieger of Packard Children's Hospital.

Why now?

With the average daytime campus population of about 30,000 remaining relatively stable in recent years, and with the recent completion of a third parking structure on campus, some might ask, "Why all the activity?"

Chan responds, "We just can't continue to provide parking like we have in the past. We have moved from a period when parking was inexpensive to build and readily available to an era when each new program initiative creates additional strain on a parking system that some feel does not meet their needs."

Because of that, she said, the university "must now develop a strategy that addresses regional and state requirements, in addition to Stanford's need to reduce traffic congestion and parking demand."

The university in 1990 developed a comprehensive parking plan around four planning scenarios, Fremon said. However, affordability has slowed implementation of that plan, she said.

"There's not enough money now to put into place even the cheapest of those four scenarios," Fremon said.

The new Parking Plan Analysis, both Chan and Fremon said, will result in a profile of parking user needs and viable alternative transportation modes, and a set of recommendations for transportation improvements including transportation alternatives, supportive policies and procedures, and parking allocation criteria.

Alternatives under consideration

Some of the alternatives that were discussed by the focus groups and that may find their way into the final proposal include:

  • Providing a "motor pool" from which employees who leave their cars at home could "check out" vehicles for business use during the day, thereby reducing intracampus traffic and duplicate parking spaces on the east or west sides of campus.
  • Improving services for alternative commuters, such as adding lockers and shower facilities for bicyclists, expanding the popular "guaranteed ride home" program for vanpool and carpool commuters, and doing more to promote alternatives to the single-driver commute.
  • Obtaining firm institutional support for such concepts as "flex time," which makes commuting easier and more effective (both economically and environmentally) for some workers, and for the concept of "telecommuting," where staff in certain positions may not necessarily have to be on campus every day to perform their jobs well.

"The whole concept of work needs to be given a close look," Chan said. "This package [of proposals and ideas] can give us the opportunity, as an employer, to come to a new understanding of our cultural behavior, of how it is that we do our work."

Chan said one idea being tossed around was for the university to invest, say, $5,000 in a "telecommuting kit" for some workers that could include a modem, a small notebook computer and perhaps even a fax machine.

"For the university to invest $5,000 to not have to pay about $10,000 to $15,000 for a new parking space might make good sense," she said. "Those are the kinds of things we're looking at."

The estimated cost per parking space is in multi-level parking structures; spaces built on open ground are much less expensive, but "there is nowhere else to build those types of lots in the main campus without completely paving it over and losing more open space," Chan said.

In addition, several trustees have indicated they would prefer to see less, not more, surface parking in the central campus in the future, and to increase the amount of open, or "green," space at Stanford. Between that desire and the spaces lost to new buildings in the future, Chan and Fremon said, and factoring in the prohibitively high cost of additional structures, the time is ripe for a long-range proposal.

In some areas, parkers and people who love parks may both be pleased. For example, the large surface lot between Tresidder Memorial Union and Florence Moore Hall is one of the most widely used by all kinds of people on campus - it has a mix of metered and permit-controlled spaces.

If the money could be found to construct a multi-level parking structure on that site, there would be an increase in the number of spaces, as well as room to develop a wide, green open mall linking the student union and the dormitory complex.

In the statement drawn up to explain the need for a parking plan, the working group states, "We need to decide on a strategy that addresses the regional need, as well as a university need, to reduce traffic congestion and parking demand. In order to address the challenge of getting people out of the 'one-car, one-person' mode and into alternative forms of transportation, we need to understand the parking needs of individuals and departments, the viability of the transportation alternatives and the economic tradeoffs involved."

Whatever the plan will contain when written up and presented to the board, the group said it will be "premised on the assumption that all large general use parking areas will be removed from the central areas of the core campus" sometime in the future.



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