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LJWorld.com weblogs Heard on the Hill

The future of KU parking: fewer spaces that cost more

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"I want you to feel my pain."

That's what Donna Hultine told an audience Monday to explain why she was showing them photo after photo of cracked and potholed concrete.

For Hultine, the director of KU Parking and Transit, campus parking lots crumbling visibly on her watch is painful. So is the cost of fixing them. The university recently examined 85 parking lots around campus and estimated it would take $15 million to repair them all. And that might be on the low side.

Which is why the department is looking to raise revenues through parking rate increases. Few people at an open KU forum Monday questioned the proposed prices, which could jump 10 to almost 40 percent next year, depending on the permit type.

Most people brought to the forum the sort of highly localized and specific, but sometimes emotional, concerns and questions that only an issue as embedded in everyday life as parking can.

Several students and staff asked about parking on Daisy Hill, where more than 500 parking spaces were recently lost to a construction project. Those spaces were scheduled to disappear, but not until after graduation. Diana Robertson, director of KU Student Housing, said the contractor working on the future Daisy Hill dorms that will replace McCollum Hall asked for the space sooner than scheduled to make up for a longer-than-projected construction time.

That sent hundreds of students looking for somewhere else to park. While the parking department has offered prorated refunds and wrangled spaces from around the area, some at the forum voiced safety concerns about students having to walk to the dorms from spaces as far away from main campus as the Lied Center.

While the Daisy HIll spaces represent a short term hiccup in the lives of KU drivers, the future of parking on the campus is likely to hold fewer, not more spaces.

The university's 10-year master plan outlines a host of new building projects, some pending, some further out on the horizon, some only an idea. Many new buildings, including those that will be built in the near future, will take up parking spaces.

Parking usually is built on good, flat land. In the next 2 years, KU could lose another 200 spaces to construction.

But losing those spaces from the current parking system likely won't be as disruptive as the system itself, which the department calls "unsustainable."

Most campus drivers buy permits for a vast swath of lots and go "hunting" for a space wherever they can find one. That makes parking a kind of lottery contest on any given day. It might also, as parking commission chair Steve Schrock points out, increase the total traffic on campus as people drive from lot to lot looking for a space.

The department and KU's master planners have suggested replacing the current system with one where drivers would get an assigned lot based on a list of their preferences. That could be a reality as early as fall 2015.

In its master plan KU has also looked at beefing up the campus transit system, introducing market-based prices for parking permits, and starting a carpooling program that might give preferred spaces for carpoolers to share.

In any case, campus drivers should probably expect their parking prices to increase. The department expects that "remote" spaces — a new designation under the proposed parking system — would cost $273 by fall 2018. Today's Yellow permit, which usually confines parkers to the most remote lots, costs $204. That's a price increase of about a third. And the prices only go up from there.

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