Searching for space: Students struggle to find spots amid lot closures, illegal parking
Photo by Frankie Huang
Student drivers are voicing concerns about parking, saying they have difficulty finding open spots this semester despite paying hundreds of dollars for parking permits.
With the construction of the Rice University Music and Performing Arts Center, a significant portion of West Lot has been closed off this semester, according to Parking Manager Mike Morgan.
Dani Shewmake, a Jones College senior, said she is upset about how parking availability has decreased over the years.
“It’s reached a point where a lot of my friends have decided to not register their cars and would rather pay the fine for tickets than pay for inaccessible parking,” Shewmake said.
According to Morgan, due to the closure of West Lot 1 that had 355 spots, West Lot 2 was converted to a similar mixed-use lot for visitors and employees, resulting in fewer spots for commuter and resident parkers.
Burke Garza, a Jones College junior, said he is frustrated about the lack of easily obtainable parking in West Lot this year.
“Students pay hundreds of dollars for a spot in arguably one of the worst parking lots on campus and still can’t even get what they paid for,” Garza said. “I’ve pulled into West Lot multiple times and not been able to find a single spot open.”
Student Association president Justin Onwenu said he spoke to Morgan on Tuesday regarding the parking issues and possible solutions. Morgan said Parking will allow students to switch their permit from West Lot to Greenbriar Lot for a refund, according to Onwenu.
In Onwenu’s initial proposal posted on Facebook, he suggested a $100 refund for students who switched their parking permits to Greenbriar from West Lot. However, the actual refund will be less as students have already spent a portion of the year parking in West Lot, Onwenu said.
Twenty employee spaces were converted into college lot spaces and the price was lowered for South Stadium Lot permits, where Morgan said there is ample space.
“We still have parking for everyone who has registered to park,” Morgan said. “It just may be a little farther out west than before.”
Rohan Palanki, a Jones College junior and Student Association academics committee co-chair, said he met recently with Morgan, as well as Parking Enforcement Director Jessica Solomon to relay student concerns.
Palanki said he proposed a few of his ideas to Morgan and Solomon, including a numbering system for spots in smaller lots and low-income accessibility in the fines and appeal process.
“As of now, they said they are working on things, so let’s be patient and see if things improve in the next month or so,” Palanki said.
About 500 employees will be able to start parking in the new Entrance 3 Garage and Cambridge Office Building once it is completed and open at a date still unknown. Students with permits will also be able to park in the garage from 5:30 p.m. until 7:30 a.m. on weekdays and anytime on the weekends, according to Morgan.
Onwenu said he originally thought the problem would be resolved once the new parking garage opened, but realized it would only open up 60 additional spots.
“So even after the parking garage opens, the problem’s still going to be there,” Onwenu, Sid Richardson senior, said. “We just figured that we can’t create parking spots out of thin air, but we can at least refund people who are having them park in Greenbriar every single day because there’s like no parking spots.”
Morgan said that a major problem, especially in college lots, is caused by students illegally parking without a permit or outside of their designated lots.
“The resident lots by our numbers are very tight to capacity, so we need every space we have for those permits only,” Morgan said. “[Rice University Police Department] Parking Enforcement is addressing the vehicles parking without the proper permit (or no permit at all) and taking the spaces for those that are trying to park correctly with their permit.”
McMurtry College junior Eunice Chen said she only purchased more expensive parking near the North Colleges assuming there would always be parking for her.
“Sometimes it’s sad to think that after investing so much money for North College Lot parking in order to be as close as I can to my classes and McMurtry College, there’s just not enough parking spots for that to happen,” Chen said.
Brown College Associate Justice Andrew Porisch, a junior, sent an email to all Brown students on Sept. 17 after hearing about repeated parking violations in the North Colleges Residents Lot from Brown senior and Chief Justice Elizabeth Goodnight.
“If your responsibility to others isn’t enough to deter you from taking the parking spaces that others have paid for, hopefully the threat of a hefty fine is,” Porisch wrote in his email.
Bailey Tulloch, a Jones College senior, said she has frequently been unable to park in the North Colleges Residents Lot, which forced her to try to find parking in West lot.
“I don’t think this is as much an administrative issue as it is a problem with Rice students disregarding the fact that by parking in [North Colleges Residents Lot] without having paid for it,” Tulloch said. “They are essentially stealing from their peers who have.”
Andrew Ligeralde, a Jones senior, said he was fined for parking outside of his designated parking area in the North Colleges Residents Lot, which was full.
“I also paid a lot of money for the [North Colleges Residents Lot], so it’s frustrating that there are times I can’t park there to begin with,” Ligeralde said. “The appeal process is a hassle. You have to submit a $10 check or money order. I don’t even have checks.”
Morgan said that Rice’s shuttle system makes all parking areas easily accessible.
“We are fortunate to have an outstanding shuttle system with stops surrounding the parking areas to ease the difference in distance,” Morgan said.
However, Will Rice College junior Charley Fu, who has had to park his car in South Stadium Lot and Greenbriar Lot due to lack of parking in West Lot, said the shuttle system does not offer a viable solution.
“As an architecture student who lives off campus, I have to work in studio until really late at night and none of the shuttles would be running by then,” Fu said. “That means I have to move my car while the shuttles are still running. I really hope the school could come up with a better solution to help us make our life outside academics at ease.”
Emma Every, a Wiess College sophomore, said she often returned back to campus late in the night and felt unsafe walking from the Greenbriar Lot back to her residential college.
“I called the night escort a few times and was told to wait in my car for 30 minutes because there was only one shuttle and it was picking up people on the inner loop,” Every said. “If parking lots are going to be far away, we need adequate resources to make sure that the parking is safe and accessible.”
Morgan said that the parking department is available to answer questions and do whatever it can to help.
“This does not mean we can get you a parking space by the front door, but we listen to the concern and provide the best advice to address the issue,” Morgan said.
More from The Rice Thresher
The 2021 spring semester will potentially start one to two weeks late due to an extended winter break, according to Speaker of the Faculty Senate Christopher Johns-Krull. Johns-Krull said at the Student Association Senate meeting on Sep. 21 that there will also likely not be a weeklong spring break during the semester, but a potential for intermittent holidays spread out either during the weekdays or through three-day weekends.
Rice’s Crisis Management Team plans to add a fourth and more rapid COVID-19 testing option on the Rice campus. Currently there are three sites that provide daily testing for asymptomatic students, staff and faculty who spend time on campus.
Filled with elaborate dance routines, emotional poetry and comedy skits that elicit roars of laughter, Africayé never ceases to catch the eye of students across campus. At the helm of the organization behind this lively cultural event this year is Eden Desta, current president of the Rice African Student Association.