How these changes affect campus residents and commuters
t love smith, Contributor
When returning to the Portland campus this fall—be ready for some changes, not only to housing and dining, but especially take note of the new parking system. The Portland parking garage has done away with its gate system. By now, there has been an email sent out to students, faculty and staff with a link in it to an application that all must register with in order to use the new gateless system. People should be aware that they will need to register online before using the garage to avoid unwanted fees. The link is on the Parking Services website. It’s super easy to register and only takes a couple minutes if you have your license plate number, and USM id handy.
Moving away from the gate system has many benefits. Most importantly, it allows people to get in and out of the garage faster, safer, ultimately easing traffic flow and reducing idle exhaust pollution. According to Aaron Witham, Director of Sustainability at the Sustainability Office, “there have been issues in the past with the hang tag not quite making the gate open, or the paper passes not registering or someone running into the gate and having to wait on a part to fix it. It’s just been an impediment to enter and exit campus.” Having a gateless system makes it easier for folks working behind the scenes on registrations and parking passes. It makes it easier for enforcement and smoother for commuters.
The biggest change to the parking system is how the flow of traffic will move in and out of the garage. It will be an entirely different flow than what we have ever seen on the Portland campus. “Think of the old garage and the new garage as one big garage where people flow in through the old garage and flow out the new garage. That’s kind of how it’s set up,” says Witham. The flow element of the new system was required by the City of Portland in order to meet their traffic flow needs, now with the addition of the new residence hall which will house around 580 upper class students, graduate students and law school students. The new flow pattern of traffic will especially support the flow of exit traffic when bigger USM events let out.
To use the new parking system, enter the old garage the same way we’re used to entering; down Surrenden Street. For new folks, a good landmark to watch for is the building on the corner of Surrenden and Bedford with the big Pride flag out front, also known as the WMPG and Free Press building, shortly before or after the Abromson Center skyway over Bedford Street. When you swing left down Surrenden street hill, you will notice two lights above the entrance to the garage. One of them will always be green to allow constant access into the garage. The other may be green also, in which case you can choose to use that lane to enter. However, depending on the time of day, one lane may turn to red, changing from an entrance lane to an exit lane. This is important to take note of in order to avoid an accident. Just remember to only enter lanes that have a green light and you should be all set.
Don’t have a car or need a parking spot? Residents who live in Portland Commons, the new residence hall on the Portland campus, will have a couple options to choose from if they don’t want to bring a vehicle to campus this semester.
An alternative to having a parking pass, is the “Buyout Program” where Portland Commons residents can opt to get $100 worth of discounts toward sustainable transportation services, for example, money towards the bike share program on campus or money towards the bus, depending on their personal needs. Another amazing perk is first dibs on an indoor bike parking spot if they want to bring their own bike to campus. Alternatively, they could still have a parking pass but it would be for the Gorham campus only.
Aaron Witham, as part of his work with the Sustainability Committee, also wore the hat of Transportation Demand Management Coordinator, which meant he was the one “pushing efforts to use more bikes, electric vehicle charging, to get more people to carpool, to get more people to take the bus,” for the new parking project. He quoted a transportation study done by the University that found 25-30% of commuters are not driving single occupancy vehicles to campus which means they are taking the bus, riding their bikes, carpooling or some other means of commuting. Witham claims this number is really high compared to most parts of the U.S..
The new parking manager, Trystan Henry, who came onboard in January, has been working together with Aaron Witham to meet the needs of student transportation demands. They have helped create these new initiatives for students to be able to have more sustainable transportation options. Their hope is, “that mix of perks will make (students) feel like they don’t have to have a vehicle on the Portland campus this semester therefore they will be using the bus more often, they’ll be carpooling with their friends more often, they will be riding their bicycle more often, so that’s the idea behind that program,” said Witham.
Under Henry’s new leadership, Parking Services facilitated several meetings that were open-to-the-public to hear parking concerns. Some worries included the sun glare at noon coming out of the garage being an issue, especially for drivers turning left on Bedford as it may make it hard to see oncoming traffic. Witham said solutions are being discussed for this and for an issue in Gorham concerning locals retaining access to hiking trails. Certainly as more concerns come up, they should be brought to Parking Services.
Through the collaborative work that has been done between the Sustainability Committee and Parking Services, USM stands out as a leader in sustainable commuting options and initiatives for just about anyone who is within the USM community. It really sounds like they tried their best to think of each type of commuter.
For instance, let’s talk about perks for long-distance commuters. Carpooling is your best solution as it gets you some of the most conveniently-located parking spots on campus. There are 50 carpool parking spots throughout the Portland campus. They are clearly marked. Most of them are in the old parking garage but there’s some in the parking lots of the Law School Building, Payson Smith, Luther Bonney, Masterton and Human Resources.
To get a carpool hang tag, go to parking services to apply for a Carpool parking permit.
There’s also a non-driver parking pass. All carpoolers, both driver and rider, need to have a pass. Both passes need to be displayed in the vehicle. It’s really easy to sign up. There’s a great resource that can be used to find a carpool buddy. Just go to the GoMaine website which is a powerful online database where you can be matched with other people offering or needing rides at USM or in the Greater Portland area. There’s reporting systems for any concerns.
What’s in the new parking garage? It’s pretty exciting news for sustainable commuters. There are 280 indoor bike parking spaces, increasing the total number of bike parking spaces on campus to over 600. This is a major benefit to students, staff and faculty as well as any visitors to campus. Additionally, there will be 58 electric vehicle charging stations, perhaps more than anywhere else in the state, and they are working on getting more in Gorham as well. For anyone commuting this way, Witham says, “They’ll wanna scoot on over to the new garage to charge their vehicles.”
Whatever mode of transportation you use to get to class, the goal is that these renovations and upgrades to the parking systems will make your campus access far more efficient, safe and environmentally friendly. The incentives don’t hurt either.