A modest proposal to improve campus parking

Posted on September 26, 2010 in Letter From The Editor
By Dan MacLeod

I had a revelation last Wednesday in the parking garage on the Portland campus: USM doesn’t have enough parking spots.

I know, I know. This is hardly news.

As editor of this newspaper, I spend half my time spinning around in my big leather chair and the other half walking around campus, annoying students with frivolous questions like,“what don’t we know?” and “what should we be covering?”

I expected them to gripe about not being able to work a full-time job and take five classes concurrently, or the cost of textbooks, or the fact that tuition increases consistently outpace inflation.

But it all comes back to parking.

‘There isn’t enough of it’ or ‘students shouldn’t get parking tickets’ or sometimes, ‘the flow of traffic is labyrinthine and causes unnecessary traffic jams’.

But it wasn’t until last Wednesday, when my car broke down, that I realized what they were talking about.

The thought occurred to me while I was leaning against my car — which had just died an unexpected and untimely death in the middle of the lane on the first floor of the parking garage. I struggled to push the car myself as other cars raced past me; their preoccupied drivers impatiently eyeing my misfortune as a roadblock around which they were forced to navigate. The building shook under the insistent force of dozens of vehicles whizzing up and down the ramps in search of spots.

At first I was angry. Nobody, it seemed, noticed the emergency blinkers, or the fact I was parked in the middle of the road, and needed a push.

Then it hit me.

‘Gosh,’ I thought. ‘These poor people can’t even find a parking spot, and here I am blocking half the lane with a dead car and no one willing to stop and help me push it. Who am I to complain?’

The parking garage, built in 2003 at a cost of $14.4 million and paid for with state bond money and transportation fees, was a good step, but it doesn’t go far enough. It may have 1,150 spaces, but — as Maine’s premier commuter school — USM needs to have the parking situation nailed.

That said, there are too many academic buildings on campus.

What we need is a way to incorporate the convenience of drive-through food technology with the esteem of a state university diploma.

In this busy age where students can barely find the time to park their cars, the university needs to bring education to the car doors of its students. This is my vision:

  • Tear down Payson Smith and Luther Bonney and pave over the entire area — including the grassy quad that lies between the two aging academic buildings.
  • Install speaker ports to connect to the windows of cars.
  • Erect a dozen or so giant projection screens.
  • Give Aramark employees roller skates to shuttle food to cars.

The result: a drive-in university.

Students can roll right up, catch a brief showing of Intro to Communications, and jet back to work.

Since we’re not going to expand the campus or build another garage, I say the only choice is to rip it all down and pave it. Give the students what they want.

That would really be forward-thinking.