Another UNC squeeze

If you had to decide between parking on a side street for free or paying $450 for a spot nearer the office, which would you choose?

I know what my decision would be. And I believe it’s the same as a bunch of UNC workers who seem to have chosen to park on the streets of Colonial Heights along Williams Circle and Bradley Road.

Mike Collins, a Colonial Heights resident, petitioned the Town Council on Monday night to have the town Traffic Engineering Department work with residents to see about regulating parking in the neighborhood. A residential parking permit program was put in place in a neighborhood right across the street from where Collins lives, but that only forced parkers to migrate to his streets.

Collins believes UNC workers are lining the streets with their cars in order to walk to their jobs at nearby university facilities. And that’s not surprising. The cost of a parking permit for a UNC worker is based on how much that worker earns, but it can be hefty — $457 a year for someone making between $25,000 and $50,000 a year. Make even more, and your parking permit can cost as much as $575 a year. In a tight economy, that might inspire some workers to park on a side street in order to make ends meet.

Collins told the council the parking narrows the street so much that a regular city bus at times has to squeeze through. The parked cars can obstruct a motorist’s view of oncoming traffic and, more importantly, pedestrians. There are no sidewalks in the neighborhood, so walking in the street is the rule. That is a danger that could end badly.

Collins worries that the problem will worsen as work on nearby Carolina North progresses.

More likely is that parking permits will push the problem down to unregulated streets in the Elkins Hills neighborhood. Because if I’m looking at saving $450 a year by strolling an extra block or two, I know I’d be getting out my walking shoes.

Then again, why doesn’t the town encourage the university to stop gouging its employees. I know, I know — it’s just part of a strategy by the university to encourage its workers to stop driving to work. But all that seems to be doing is dumping UNC’s parking problems on the town and making some neighborhoods more dangerous.
–Don Evans

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  1. Terri Buckner

     /  March 12, 2010

    The problem isn’t the university’s parking fees–it’s the cost of housing in Chapel Hill. If university employees could live in town, they wouldn’t be so dependent on cars. The university has been consistently moving parking off campus since the 1970s. The towns have a bus system as part of the strategy to make campus less of a parking lot. But in the absence of affordable (and not just affordable for low income workers!) housing, the towns aren’t doing their part toward achieving this ‘sustainability’ goal.

  2. The problem isn’t the cost of houseing: most people who live in town still want to drive to UNC rather than walk.

    I think that the park-and-ride system is a rational attempt to get people out of their cars. Parking fees should be high and the busses free.

  3. Mark Marcoplos

     /  March 12, 2010

    The Park and Ride lot on Eubanks has more available spaces. Maybe the shuttle bus could stop at the UNC Airport Rd. facilities.

  4. WJ

     /  March 12, 2010

    The buses are not FREE. Do you think that the bus driver is a volunteer and does not get paid? Is the gas (or diesel) donated? What about the buses, does the magic bus fairy deliver them at no cost in front of Chapel Hill city hall?

    Those “FREE” buses are paid mostly by local property taxes. Chapel Hill as a community have voted in council members that have deemed it a good thing for the cost of the bus system not to be borne by the riders, but by the property owners.

    I don’t agree with that decision, but that is democracy. But in no way are those buses free.

  5. Terri Buckner

     /  March 12, 2010

    We’ll have to disagree on this George. I know too many people here who would really like to live in town but simply can’t afford to. While there are bus options between Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill those options require a fairly steep time commitment, something that many people do not have after working all day.

    Mark–the NS bus route serves Eubanks Road as well as the Giles Horney complex on MLK.

  6. Bob

     /  March 12, 2010

    Don, Compared with comparable universities (many of whom the university competes with for talent), parking fees here are quite high. For professional school faculty, the annual fee is over $1000. This isn’t for a parking space, this is for a hunting permit. The university gouges its employees on parking. This is part of a larger problem: it has been clear for many, many years that UNC benefits are terrible in general compared with comparable universities. You might hear some administrators paying lip service to walking, taking the bus, blah-blah-blah, but the truth is simpler: the state doesn’t think it has any obligation to provide a place to park for university employees. The whole parking system apparently has to be self-funding.

    Having said that, I am sympathetic with neighborhoods that have people parking there. What I don’t see is any evidence that the neighborhood is less safe because of this. If we don’t have more accidents, then it really isn’t an issue. Could be a problem isn’t necessarily a problem. Society can ill afford to address what might turn out to be a problem (with some small probability) when we are faced with immediate and expensive problems.

    Finally, I’d like to have five acres of land around my house, but I cannot afford it. If someone can’t afford to live in town, well that’s too bad. It isn’t an obvious public policy problem. If we insist that it is and that the fundamental issue is that housing is too expensive, tell the town council to get over its insistence on housing that only meets its criterion. The price of housing here reflects two basic things: town is a nice place to live, and the supply is being restricted by the town council. The first isn’t likely to change any time soon and the town council (with the exception of one member) continues to amaze with its inability to understand and act on basic economic/financial thinking. It also isn’t obviously in the interests of current residents to vote for more building, since this would retard the appreciation in the value of their own property in town. I look for no change on housing policy that leads to more reasonably-priced housing, and nothing but higher prices for parking on campus. The interesting question concerns UNC’s success in competing for talent….both of these factors are probably side shows for the time being.

  7. Townie

     /  March 12, 2010

    WJ, the University pays for the free bus system, too.
    The burden is not just on the local taxpayer.

  8. Linda Convissor

     /  March 13, 2010

    I don’t have the current figures at my fingertips, but UNC has consistently been the major funder of the fare-free system, minus state and federal grants. Students also pay an annual transit fee.

  9. WJ

     /  March 15, 2010

    To Townie and L Convissor, re local buses:

    Thank you for pointing out my inaccurate information on the funding for the buses in a previous post above.
    From the CH town budget of 09/10, the source of the $16.6M in spending on “free” buses is:
    UNC ~ 35% (Since UNC receives State money, one could argue that this is NC taxpayer money as well)
    CH ~ 20%
    Tax payers from the State of NC – 17%
    Taxpayers from the rest of the country – 17%
    Carrboro and fees ~ 10%

    My main point was that the buses are not free and that somebody is paying for them. Just because we are able to get taxpayers from other jurisdictions to provide CH with a majority of the money, does not make the buses free.

    Again, thank you both for educating me on the source of the funds.