Campus freedom has a price
The idea of using public transportation doesn't sit well with Felicia Gray.
"I don't take the bus," the University of Illinois freshman said with a look of disgust at the mere thought. "I don't like it, and I never had to take it."
She said even though driving and maintaining her 1999 red Dodge Neon is a more expensive way to get around, it is still the best and, really, the only option in her mind.
Every year, students at the UI decide whether to bring their cars to campus or leave them behind. The advantages of a car on campus are simple. A student doesn't have to depend on a bus, which may or may not come on time, and doesn't have to stand at a bus stop in harsh weather such as rain, snow or wind.
But having a car was made less convenient in fall 2001 when the city of Champaign changed several streets from unmetered on-street parking to 809 permit parking spaces.
Areas that changed to permit parking were bounded by Green Street on the north, Armory Avenue on the south, Oak Street on the west and First Street on the east. Away from the permit-only streets, finding change for one of the 2,200 UI parking meters continues to be a pain. In the campus area, meter spots went from 50 cents to 75 cents an hour the same year permit parking began.
On top of that, gas prices have been on the rise until recently. Just this year, regular unleaded gasoline in Illinois went from a $1.38 per gallon average in January to $1.74 so far in September, according to IllinoisGasPrices.com, a Web site offering daily prices. But despite all those factors and a good bus system that students already pay for, some continue to view a car on campus as a must.
Gray lives near East St. Louis, about 2 hours southwest of campus.
She doesn't go home weekly, but likes having that option without planning her life around an Amtrak or bus schedule.
Tom Skaggs, coordinator of campus parking, said the flexibility to move about without restriction outweighs circling the block for a parking spot in the minds of many students.
"We have quite a lot of shopping areas that are off campus and students like to commute to those places," he said. "They like the freedom to go home and go back and forth."
In the seven years he has worked at the parking division, Skaggs has seen a progression of more student cars on campus.
"There is more of a culture where car ownership with young people is more common than it used to be," said Skaggs, who recalled the policy years ago where freshmen were not allowed to bring their cars to campus. "It's becoming more culturally acceptable for parents to buy their kids cars. Our society loves cars."
Other students, like Jennifer Halvorson, saw their class schedules as dictating the need for a car.
The art major takes a sculpting class at 2122 S. Griffith Drive, about a mile south of campus in Champaign. She borrowed her mother's car this year to get to class.
A new parking deck on the north side of campus will alleviate some parking issues, but it's no cure-all.
There will be spaces available for students when construction wraps up in April, Skaggs said, but the majority will be for faculty. The deck will hold 1,560 cars.
Currently, for those not parking at their apartments or on the street, two lots cater to students. West of Assembly Hall is E 14, which has 2,700 spaces, while F 23, near Florida and Pennsylvania residence halls, has about 720 spaces, Skaggs said.
Freshman Derek Lin believes it's impractical for him to have a car since he's from Oregon and wouldn't drive the 30-plus hours home every weekend. But the engineering major is already tired of taking the bus. He said many times they are either late or packed with students.
Not everyone feels they need a car, even those who once did.
Senior Leo Bitoy brought his Ford Taurus to campus in 2002, but decided against it for his last year at the university. He said it was actually more convenient to leave it behind.
"All the parking spaces in campus are permits so I kept my car at home," said Bitoy, who now gets around mostly by bike. "If I need to go to the store, I'll take the bus."
Bitoy added he's better off this year without his car and wouldn't recommend that others bring theirs.
"When I graduate I want a car," he added. "But it's fine while I am down here."
You can reach Ernst Lamothe Jr. at (217) 351-5223 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.