Rice will never have enough parking. This is the reality we must accept.
As the Thresher noted last week, Rice’s parking lots have reached capacity, and there is no longer enough space to accommodate everybody with a permit. While this is certainly a frustrating problem, the solution is not to simply build more parking. Like adding lanes to highways to “solve” traffic congestion, we cannot build our way out of this parking quagmire.
There is no space left for an additional surface parking lot at Rice, unless we further compromise our school’s aesthetic character by reclaiming green spaces for more acres of asphalt. Building more structured parking, like the new garage next to the Allen Center, would also be a poor choice. Above-ground garages cost, on average, $18,600 per space to construct. It would be unwise for the administration to sink millions of dollars, which could be used for far more valuable things like improving our residential facilities, into gigantic concrete boxes which would only slightly increase our parking supply.
Parking garages, like the lots they replace, are dead spaces which hold our cars for the 95 percent of their lifetimes they sit unused. Constructing additional garages would not only be expensive and environmentally wasteful, it would force Rice to incorporate enormous, uninhabitable buildings into our human-scaled campus. The efforts to disguise the new Allen Center garage are admirable, but it is still quite obvious that it is an eight-story concrete tower which sticks out like a sore thumb next to our campus’s more tasteful (and useful) buildings. Imagine that being reproduced all across campus — it would be a catastrophic amount of ugliness.
The only solution to our current parking crunch is to rethink the role that automobiles should play in our daily lives. Not everybody who currently parks a car on campus needs to do so. For many of us who live at our residential colleges and do not have an off-campus job, having a parking permit is a luxury that enables us to go to distant places like Chinatown with little hassle. It’s not a necessity. Currently, Rice sells parking permits to whoever will shell out the $450+ necessary to get one, without considering how much they need one. Our permit system should be reformed to prioritize those who actually need to commute to and from campus on a daily basis. Commuters should receive permits first, and whatever is left over should be made available to everyone else.
Even for those who live off campus, driving should not always be necessary. Rice should help students moving off find housing that is within walking or biking distance of campus, or near a direct bus or light rail line. We should also encourage faculty and staff to use these modes if they can, possibly by subsidizing transit fares or the cost of a bike. We are fortunate to have some of the best transit accessibility in the entire Houston area, and the neighborhoods around Rice are very walkable. Extending the Rice shuttle system to areas with a high density of students, like the cluster of apartments on Brompton Road, should also be considered.
Before Rice Stadium and its environs were constructed 60 years ago, a creek called Harris Gully meandered across the western third of campus. When Rice was founded, it was one of the only places on campus with native trees. Building West Lot required obliterating that entire ecosystem and placing the creek into a massive pair of underground concrete culverts, which still exist to this day. The stadium lots now consume 30 acres, a full 10 percent of our campus. Destroying what could have been productive, beautiful, natural spaces so tons of metal can bake in the sun for hours a day is the high price we pay for automobile dependence. If Rice is truly unconventional, we should avoid the impulse to build more parking and instead strive for a future where driving is optional — even in Houston.