Parking: A Lot to Look At

Parking: A Lot to Look At

A parking lot or garage doesn't have to be an eyesore. On some campuses, these spaces are aesthetic places.
 

As anyone who has desperately scoured a campus in search of a spot to park knows, road rage is not an emotion exclusive to highway traffic jams. In her work at colleges, Beth Buffington, a studio principal at LITTLE Diversified Architectural Consulting, can't help but notice how "people will compete outrageously for spots in the right place." Students will work out endlessly on a treadmill, but "they won't walk a half mile to their cars."

Students as well as staff at Bryant University (R.I.) found themselves playing musical chairs in their cars after the new George E. Bello Center for Information and Technology, which also houses the library, claimed an existing 160-space parking lot. "We became parking space stalkers and thought twice about running errands at lunchtime," recalls Janet Proulx, associate director of public relations.

Other lots on the 420-acre campus were expanded, but there never seemed to be enough spots.

The 2005 opening of a new 250-space lot did more than ease the shortage. While Proulx's walk from her car to her office is now a full five minutes (compared to a few seconds), it's the kind of jaunt that can bring some peace to an already-harried day. "We really did create a beautiful enclave of brick walkways, grass, and trees," says Brian Britton, assistant vice president of Campus Management. Two paths-referred to as "president's walk" and "alumni walk"-lead to the heart of campus.

Even pleasing parking areas like that one will never quite shine as the brightest campus jewel. But attention to aesthetics helps ensure that these functional areas don't detract from the campus landscape.

 

Preserving the campus landscape is exactly the point these days, as the idea of pushing parking away from the campus core grows on planners at institutions of higher ed. "The desire or need to shift from the 'auto-centric' campus to a 'pedestrian' campus" is the primary trend seen by Jon Efroymson of Indianapolis-based Walker Parking Consultants, which has worked with more than 200 IHEs.

Along with the campus master-planning process comes a realization that many interior parking lot spaces would better serve as land for new facilities or open space. Then there's the obvious benefit of eliminating spots where pedestrian and vehicular traffic cross. Buffington says of students, "I swear they'll jump right out in front of cars." They've got the right of way-but that would be a moot point to argue post-collision.

Officials at Wright State University (Ohio) have also made strides in becoming more pedestrian-friendly. Despite having allowed parking to spring up with each new building for decades, they adopted "a more thoughtful approach" to planning in the mid-90s, explains Vicky Davidson, associate vice president for Facilities Planning and Development. All lots now lie on the edges of a campus perimeter road, with treed islands, sidewalks separated by landscaped aisles, and raised pedestrian crosswalks connecting the major campus gateways. Their previous locations were converted to recreational space or natural prairie.

Lewis & Clark College (Ore.), too, has converted parking spaces to green spaces. A spot known as "The Glade" is a notable example. Between 1998 and 2000, what used to be a few dozen parking spaces was transformed into a landscaped area. "It's now a great pedestrian plaza," says Campus Planner Michael Sestric. Other efforts have included converting some parking spots surrounding resident halls to open space. "In spite of some of the complaints we had while it was all going on, I can't imagine that anyone here on campus would willingly give up these green spaces," he says.

Still, perimeter parking isn't coveted. At Hood College (Md.), evening students' choice parking spots are the same ones used by daytime staff, who leave after night classes start. A side effect: Parked cars fill the surrounding neighborhood streets. Buffington at LITTLE has worked out possible solutions with administrators-namely the need to "push people away from using the hotly contested parking areas on a daily basis," she says. While parking mainly exists on the campus edges already, a new lot will help ease tensions.

As for the practicalities of getting to class or work from outside lots, IHEs are adding shuttle systems as they push parking out to the campus perimeter. At the University of New Mexico, for example, a bus heads from a far lot to the heart of campus every six minutes.

 

As lots get pushed out, institutions can rethink their aesthetics. For Lewis & Clark and Bryant, a concentration on lot design resulted in something that's both easy on the eyes and on the environment. Sestric describes the new lot in the vicinity of L&C's graduate school conference center as a loop where "the parking snakes through the area to avoid taking out the largest trees." Porous pavers were used to capture stormwater so that it soaks to the ground below.

Sasaki Associates worked with Bryant officials on its new lot, which has a bio-infiltration system to control stormwater runoff. Making the case to focus resources on aesthetics was not difficult, since a new campus green had set a standard for the campus's look, Britton says. "This was simply an extension of the same theme." And it was a smart move; prospective students often park in the lot.

Jim Coffey, manager of landscaping services at Wake Forest University (N.C.), also takes prospectives' perspectives into account when planning parking areas. "You have to consider parking as part of how the campus looks," he says. "When a campus is well maintained, parents will say, 'Look at this place. It's well cared for, so obviously my child is going to be well cared for.' "

Wake Forest's master plan backs up Coffey's view, with a traffic and parking planning assumption that states: "Future, large-scale parking areas shall conform to the standards of the university and complement adjacent facilities and the natural landscape of the area." Putting that plan into practice, newer lots are nicely paved with lawn areas, trees, bike racks, and trash cans to prevent litter.

If Buffington had her way, parking lots would look more like parking orchards, with trees planted at each line rather than just along the edges. Yet "on the whole, people don't put as much money into making their parking facilities as attractive as they should." After all, more trees-while providing a vantage point and shade, and reducing the "heat island" effect-mean less spots.

What parking structures lack in landscape options, they make up for in space. One parking garage plan at Lehigh University (Pa.) arose in part from the former president calling the three parking lots separating the campus from the city of Bethlehem a "giant asphalt moat." In planning a 340-stall garage on the site, Tony Corallo, associate vice president of Facilities Service and Campus Planning, recalls, "We didn't want it to loom ominously over the neighborhood."

The project, called Campus Square, is far from ominous. Townhouse-style student apartments were built in front of the garage, so city residents can't see it. Campus Square also has the bookstore, a coffeeshop, an ice- cream shop, and a sitting area welcoming both students and community members.

Designers of Lehigh's second garage had to contend with its adjacency to the gothic-style Alumni Memorial Building, built in the 1920s and identifiable by its stone tower. The 317-space garage is contemporary, "with a nod toward gothic architecture" and the same stone incorporated, he says. Tucked into a hillside, the six-story structure has top and bottom entrances. As visitors walk down the stairs, they can't miss outdoor Arrival Court and 40-foot high mature red maple trees, planted when the garage was built.

Kudos for the design have been heard by admissions officers, who are based in Alumni Memorial. "Prospective students and their parents don't have all the angst of trying to find a parking space and getting there on time," Corallo has been told. And once, when someone was late, he blamed not being able to find the parking garage. When the structure was pointed out to him, he said, "That was the parking garage?"

With many parking structures being raised near campus buildings, architectural and topographical conformity are important, says Walker Parking's Efroymson. At Texas Tech University, a 791-space, four-story parking garage was designed by Walker to blend in with the institution's predominantly Spanish Renaissance-style architecture. Using the Texas Tech blend of brick and cast stone was a given. To provide uniqueness while further settling the building into campus, artists competed to design an ornamental screen for the window openings. The winning screen-wrought-iron with stainless steel and brass accents-tells the story of the West Texas seasons. The screens give art a public display as well as control access to the garage, which opened in 2002.

Creighton University, which borders downtown Omaha and residential city streets, opened two new garages in early 2006 that incorporate campus exterior building guidelines. The team went through several iterations of custom panel samples featuring Creighton's characteristic red brick and mortar and stone accents until they were satisfied, says Daniel E. Burkey, vice president for Administration and Finance. "Bare walls could have saved some funds, but we weren't willing to accept the negative impact on campus aesthetics."

The team from the university and locally based Holland Basham Architects apparently got it right. "As we run into people at community events, they say, 'We drove by campus and those are really nice looking garages!' We would have been happy with, 'Those garages don't look too bad,' " Burkey says.

When a campus building has both a garage and other uses, an eye on design is especially important. That's why UNM's new five-story parking structure, which houses the campus visitor's center in one corner, has edges that match the school's Pueblo Revival style of architecture, explains Campus Planner Steve Borbas.

And at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology (Pa.), which opened in 2005, nine floors of parking will be sandwiched in a 16-story, $74 million Academic Center being built now. Those parking floors will be hidden from view so that the building has more of a presence in the downtown area. Both university and city officials recognized "that this needs to be a signature building in the city," notes Eric Darr, the school's executive vice president.

Screening on the garage edges will match the rest of the building's precast concrete panels and be angled so that "from the ground it will look the same." Darr adds, "We would have completely ruined the building to have open-air concrete slabs."

 

Another way to make room for-and hide-a parking structure is to bury it.

Subterranean garages, while costly, can work for landlocked institutions or those located in areas of valuable real estate. Take Cambridge, Mass., for instance. In 1999, Harvard officials decided to put all its parking underground, according to John W. Nolan, director of Transportation Services. The benefit: Buildings can be located on top. A fourth underground garage is under construction now.

Focus groups revealed apprehension about descending more than a few levels for parking. So safety issues have driven design. "We have tried to integrate the below-ground garage into the above-grade buildings to create a feeling that the garage is part of the building," Nolan says. Bright lighting, minimal use of columns, off-white walls, directional signage, and emergency phones have helped provide a level of comfort.

Officials at Biola University in Southern California are comforted that the $6.5 million invested in their subterranean parking garage has enhanced city relations and provided a "wow" factor at the same time. As enrollment at the university has doubled to about 5,900 in the past 12 years, it's been challenging keeping up with a city-imposed parking rule of two-thirds of a parking space for every full-time student. A master plan called for paving over a soccer field and jogging track.

When the time came, athletic department leaders begged for an alternative solution. That's when Ken Bascom's team in Facilities Planning and Construction got an idea. Why not build an underground garage with a new field and track on top?

It would solve multiple problems. For one, the current field was a muddy mess, unusable for weeks at a time during the rainy season. And the staff at City Hall, which directly overlooks the field, didn't have much of a view to brag about.

Despite a flood control system, Biola officials knew only a single underground parking layer would be feasible for the site. Still, by 2004, the space contained 550 parking spots, 520 of them underground. With the parallel city street more than 10 feet above the field, the structure isn't visible, so fancy it's not. It also can't be seen upon directly leaving the gym next door. But when visitors do spot what's underneath the field, their jaws drop, Bascom says.

Athletes get more use of the area, since the field can now be lit until 10 p.m. The school can even lend it to athletic conference peers when their own fields have flooded.

As for City Hall, the building "looks down on this really beautiful, sharp-looking synthetic turf field and track," he adds. "They can point to it and tell our neighbors, 'Biola is trying to be a good neighbor.'"

That impression will come in handy, since Biola will have to obtain approval to build another parking structure within two years. "It sets the groundwork for being able to say, the next one we build [will] look good, too."


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