113018_dr_parking_1a

A UW-Eau Claire student crosses the parking lot on Thursday behind Davies Center. A proposed restructuring to the university’s current parking system has sparked controversy on campus. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com.

When Branden Yates thinks back on his years attending college at UW-Eau Claire, the place where his greatest learning has occurred is within the Davies Center.

But as parking concerns at the university have continued to mount over the years, Yates said he and other students have had increasing problems parking in that lot. And that issue doesn’t appear to be improving any time soon, as a recently proposed plan for university parking and transportation calls for an increase in the cost of a parking permit for that lot to $499 for an academic year.

That’s more than double the $207 a student would currently pay for a permit that could allow them to park in that lot.

“I feel like this is a backdoor way to get students out of this lot. And that’s frustrating from my standpoint because when we talk about high-impact experiences at UW-Eau Claire, that all happens here on campus in the Davies Center for a lot of people,” Yates, student body president, said. “It’s called ‘Davies Student Center’ for a reason.”

That price increase is just one component of the proposed new plan, which is the result of nearly a year of surveys and listening sessions regarding transportation and parking conducted by UW-Eau Claire’s Parking and Transportation Services department, university parking supervisor Allyson Wisniewski said.

“This is our attempt to compile the feedback we received in a way that may make sense for the university,” Wisniewski said. “This is a holistic approach looking at parking, our transit within the city, the shuttle from here to The Priory and more.”

With the overall campus plan shifting to a more pedestrian-friendly design as seen in the newly completed Garfield Avenue project, part of the proposed plan is to continue previous efforts like installing more bike racks and increasing the number of buses coming to and from campus, said Nikki Andrews, director of Blugold Central Student Services.

“We’re a bit landlocked, but we’re finding ways to expand our transportation capacity in other ways,” Andrews said, adding there are no current plans to add more parking spaces. The university has just over 3,000 parking spaces.

The three major changes proposed to the parking system are: transitioning to lot-based parking; using license plates as parking permits rather than utilizing stickers or paper passes; and replacing aging parking meters on campus with multistall pay stations for short-term parking.

With lot-based parking, permits for lots that are located closer to central campus and are in higher demand will be priced higher than the lots further away.

For example, a “gold level” permit for a space in one of the lots outside of Phillips Science Hall, the Nursing Building and Davies Center will cost $499 for an academic year, while a “silver” permit for the parking lot outside of Hibbard Humanities Hall would cost $299, and a “bronze” permit for the Water Street, Olson, McPhee and Murray lots would cost $199.

In some cases permit prices will increase while others will decrease, Wisniewski said, noting the proposed plan will be revenue neutral and will not generate more money for the university or parking services, which sustains itself and uses its revenue to pay its staff, maintain campus roads and fund other capital projects.

Resident parking for spots outside the dorms will remain the same cost at $239 per academic year, while Wisniewski said the new “gold level” parking price will be a decrease from the current price for “G” parking permits. Those permits currently guarantee a spot in campus lots like Phillips, Hibbard, Nursing and Olson for $562 per academic year.

But Yates said it’s not a decrease for all, as the lots between Phillips Science Hall and Davies Center also currently contain “F” and “S” stalls for faculty and commuter students who pay $207.

But what Yates also suspects is that many students, who likely don’t have the income to keep up with a price hike of that nature, will be forced to buy parking passes for lots that are further out and less convenient. Other students may opt not to buy a permit at all, Yates said, which would worsen the current problem of parking in the nearby Third Ward and Randall Park neighborhoods.

“Even if parking is just a part of student experience and engagement, I think that needs to be looked at critically,” Yates said. “I know staff typically live further out, but students should be a priority too.”

Andrews said the goal of the new plan would not be to favor faculty and staff or students or vice versa, as the ratio of parking permits available to both groups will remain at the same ratio it is currently.

Instead, Andrews said she hopes that by requiring permit-seekers to choose one lot to park in will more likely guarantee someone a spot and decrease the number of cars circling lots over and over again while waiting for a spot to open up.

Andrews said the circling has become a safety concern, as it has increased distracted driving on campus.

“This is the heart of what we’re trying to do,” Andrews said. “It is one of our fears that someone is going to be hit in one of these parking lots. ... Safety is the crux of this whole plan, I would say.”

While Yates said he understands concerns for safety, he said the circling could be prevented by installing speed bumps or signs stating whether a lot is full or not.

Contact: 715-833-9206, samantha.west@ecpc.com, @SamanthaWest196 on Twitter