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Parking Cri de Coeur

The College’s parking situation continues to be beyond stupid. Four years into the Hanlon presidency, there is talk of a new parking plan — something that I chatted about with Phil, too, when I met him several months after he arrived in Hanover. I told him that the faculty would eat out of his hand for two years if he could solve the productivity-crippling problem. Nothing doing. But why would Phil listen to me? He doesn’t listen to anyone else.

Even today faculty and staff can still all park in the center of the campus; for example, many janitors and administrative assistants who arrive early in the day park behind Dartmouth Hall, and late-arriving faculty must take the 15-minute shuttle in from the satellite lots.

The plan in the works still involves a hefty charge. I guess that Phil does not want to give up the annual revenue — probably on the order of $400,000-$500,000. But why would you invoice people whom you already pay? There is no incentive at work here; it’s not as if some professors would walk to their offices in order to save the fee. Almost everyone lives too far from campus to walk or bike.

As I have said over and over, members of the faculty should have the exclusive right to park in the center of campus so that they can come and go to their offices quickly when they are teaching, doing research or meeting with students.

Professor Jeffrey Ruoff of the Film Studies department wrote a strong letter to all of his faculty colleagues about the problem on Thursday. He outlines how life at the College suffers from an administration that just can’t see what is important:

Ruoff Parking.jpg

Ruoff also points out that the parking system in place deprives people visiting Hanover of parking.

Addendum: Faculty veterans recall when there was plenty of parking on campus for everyone. But when the administration started getting fat about twenty years ago, administrative assistants and their ilk began to take spots that had once been the preserve of professors.

Addendum: Professor Ruoff received an outpouring of commentary (in the extended) to his faculty-wide e-mail, and he responded to it as follows:

Despite this wave of commentary, my fundamental question has not been answered:

Given my circumstances - living in the woods six miles from campus and committed to driving to work - should I buy a Green parking permit (as I have for 16 years, spending 8-5pm on campus M-F, after hunting down a parking spot, or more recently, defaulting to a parking meter) or should I use Town of Hanover parking meters and spend the absolute minimum amount of time on campus, as many do? (“A penny saved is a penny earned,” after all.)

Clearly the question involves values, as well as the cost/benefits behavioral analysis for which the Tuck school and Dartmouth is, I believe, famous. In the past, I have chosen community over distance, but lately have found myself chatting increasingly with custodians and staff in the empty spaces of Wilson Hall and now the BFVAC. And with an occasional colleague, some of whom arrive before 7am, to be assured of a Green parking spot near the building. (Others, of course, work in the BFVAC at night, different rhythms for different folks.)

Of course, professors in Philadelphia, DC, Chicago, Los Angeles, etc. - where a not insignificant percentage of Dartmouth faculty and staff might rather live, for reasons too complex to evoke here - have more substantial commutes to work and/or more public transport options, along the urban/rural divide. But it is curious that the little college on the hill has consistently edged in their direction over the brief 16 years I’ve been here.

It may be too much multi-tasking to raise an additional issue, but here it is. I apologize in advance for mentioning our colleague Brendan Nyhan, but his brilliant column in the NYTimes often addresses such issues as this:

How many (wo)man hours are lost to the Dartmouth by faculty and staff driving around Hanover aimlessly looking for a permit place to park? Presumably thousands of work hours per year - I don’t know how many faculty and staff there are at the college, perhaps 2000? - making us all significantly less productive than we might otherwise be.

Today, I spent 20 minutes driving around campus looking for a place to park and then walking to my office, a typical average. If I worked 48 weeks in 2016, that’s 4,800 minutes or, I believe, 3.3 extra days that I spent searching for a parking space and walking to my office.

I’m not saying life isn’t good. Vive la vie.

–––––

The immediacy and extent of replies to my email to the general faculty and staff about parking far outweigh those to my emails about the AAUP’s stance on freedom of expression and the controversy surrounding Professor Duthu’s nomination to Dean of the Faculty. DOF Duthu would probably have received far more complaints from the faculty about parking than he would ever have about his association with BDS.

Of the replies to my parking query - all sent within the past fifteen hours - I share with you a sampling, quoted anonymously, of course (except for the NSA part).

Please note that I have no opinion about the parking situation per se, nor am I endorsing any of the positions below. I’m simply trying to make a rational economic decision, based on cost-benefits analysis and other factors.

Excerpted faculty replies to the parking situation at Dartmouth:

1) “For fifteen years at [redacted, prestigious liberal arts] College, at [redacted, top fifteen private university], at [redacted, flagship state university], I worked on campus. Then I moved to Dartmouth, and gradually, over the course of my first term, it became clear that I wouldn’t find a spot on most days. I learned to work at home, and found it surprisingly accommodating. I tend now to come to campus on an as-needed basis. Which is fine. But it’s odd that Dartmouth, in contrast to every other university I know of, has made the campus relatively inaccessible to faculty.”

2) “The obvious answer is to get a motorcycle. With a motorcycle, you pay only $5 total for the whole year and have your choice parking spot reserved - a full size vehicle spot and the closest parking spot to the building - at least in the Cummings lot.” This sounds like a practical situation in a region where winter last six months long.

3) “Taxing behavior we want to encourage is probably not the best move …”

4) “We have long known—from several studies—that the best solution would be a combination of an inexpensive permit and reasonably priced metered college parking [~ $0.25 an hour / up 8 hours]. The hourly rate should create a non-burdensome incentive to move out asap (not park over-night, etc.).”

5) “My cost of parking is zero dollars a year, because I ride the Advance Transit bus to campus, free to riders because subsidized by the College.” Depending on how much time you spend driving around looking for a place to permit park, Advance Transit may or may not add time to your overall commute. Since I live in the woods of Norwich, VT - six miles from Hanover - I could probably extend a 15-minute drive (not counting the time it takes to find parking) to a 90-minute commute. I do occasionally take Advance Transit from downtown Hanover to DHMC, in part so as not to lose a cherished Green parking spot.

6) “The faculty parking situation at Dartmouth reflects laughable incompetence (think Faulty Towers). Hunting permit is right—I wonder if one could win a claim in small claims court, charging that the College sells Green Permit tags fraudulently… knowing full well that it is selling vastly more permits than it has spaces.”

7) “Yellow stickers are free. I only found that out last year when I decided to ‘downgrade’ and signed up for a tan sticker and they sent me a green one instead. When I went in to change it, they said what about a yellow sticker? I said, ‘What’s that?’ They explained. I asked why I didn’t know about yellow stickers after being here >30 years. They said it was on the back of the registration card. So, this year (today, actually) I looked. No info anywhere on a free yellow sticker that I could see.”

8) “The ‘senior leadership team’ has a bank of individually reserved spaces immediately adjacent to Parkhurst (the team is too essential to the vital interests of the College for its members to live by the same rules as faculty). Try parking in one of their spaces. It would be kind of fun to see the authorities boot a professor’s car whilst it was parked in the Provost’s reserved spot.”

9) “On nice days I ride a bike or walk — I live about 1.5 miles north of campus.” I, too, enjoy biking, but I haven’t biked to school since I attended junior high. Again, living six miles from campus, I admire the brave bicyclists of Beaver Meadow Road, who make the 60-minute commute to Hanover. They are certainly better stewards of the environment than I. Commute by bike to your health’s delight, in all seasons.

10) “In discussions about the parking problem with college administrators, I get responses that range from ‘it is not a problem’ to ‘there is nothing we can do about it.’ The reality is that, as you point out, the intellectual intensity on campus is being diminished significantly because we are ignoring the impact. This is undermining our core mission.”

11) “FWIW, I feed meters and get the occasional tickets. It’s much cheaper than buying a pass and I can park closer, usually.”

12) A Green permit holder recently told me, in person, that the lot behind Four Currier Place (see photo below), which always has available spaces, is controlled by the Real Estate Office, not Parking Operations. The Real Estate Office reportedly sells permits for this lot for three times as much as a Green permit. If true, this leads me to:

“A Modest Proposal”

Dartmouth should sell parking spots in a way that will further enrich the institution:

  • $10,000 for a named, guaranteed parking spot
  • $5,000 for a permit to a lot that holds 100 cars for which only 150 permits are sold
  • $2,500 for a permit to a lot that holds 100 cars for which only 300 permits are sold

And, so on, down the line. With this in mind, cash-poor assistant professors can simply park in Lebanon (or wherever), take free Advance Transit, hitchhike, bike, walk from Grantham, Springfield, Thetford, Hartford, White River Junction, Norwich, wherever.

Addendum: A faculty member writes in:

Having experienced parking for over forty years, I can report that this situation worsened exponentially since about 2000.

More than any single factor, the problem directly impacts and reduces the quality of both teaching and research at Dartmouth.

Many faculty are led to reduce time in their office because getting in and out is so onerous.

Alternatively, in order to secure a parking space, faculty must sometimes spend more time in the office trying to get work done, when they would like to be quietly home reading or finishing an article.

Neither problem would exist if faculty could “pop in” at will to teach a class, conduct office hours, or meet with a student in urgent need of counsel.

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