Parking for Students in our Neighborhood

This article just appeared in the Carletonian, and gives a very thoughtful view from the students’ side.      Ed

2009 Spring Issue 8 (May 29, 2009)

Carleton and Northfield synergize on local parking and transportation issues

May 29, 2009
By Emily Hartley

As I sit at a table near the snack bar interviewing four members of the Northfield East Side Neighborhood Association (NESNA) about parking policies and transportation, we are interrupted by sudden cheers from Upper Sayles. Suzie Nakasian, a former adjunct in the religion Department, wife of a Carleton professor and resident of Fourth Street, asks a student at the next table what’s going on, and he shows us his computer screen, where the Carleton Ultimate Team (CUT) is playing for the national Frisbee title.

“Why doesn’t the community know about this?” asks Jerri Hurlbutt ’76, another neighbor and former German professor.

“We should have a parade,” says Nakasian, then adds, “This is all part of the conversation—why the community doesn’t know about this stuff.” She has managed to build on the overarching theme of our conversation, which somehow was relevant to both CUT and parking issues. Throughout the talk with the two women, as well as Rich Noer, retired physics professor, and Bardwell Smith, retired religion professor and former Dean of the College, the subject consistently ended up in the same place—working together as a college and as a community.

The issue of parking at Carleton has been around for a while. It proves evident not only during large events, when an influx of visitors makes parking spots scarce, but also in day-to-day situations, when student, faculty and staff vehicles overflow onto streets surrounding campus.

“For many years there have been minor frictions between people who live near the College and the College in terms of overloading of streets with cars,” Noer, who lives on First Street, said.

“Particularly people who live close to campus have long stories about people parking in front of their driveways and visitors having nowhere to park. It’s not a big deal, but irritation builds.”

About a year ago, NESNA began informal talks with the College, mainly going through Steve Spehn, Director of Facilities and Capital Planning, and Joe Hargis, Associate Vice President for External Relations. Hargis coordinates the Advisory Council on College and Community Relations, which has discussed issues with people living near Carleton frequently over the years, but is also a neighbor himself, living on Fourth Street.

Nearby residents have expressed concern with an increase in vehicles stemming from current construction work on the new dormitories as well as with what will happen when the Arts Union project at the old Northfield Middle School is resumed. Their concerns are not only as neighbors, however, as over three quarters of the people in the neighborhood also have a connection to Carleton.

“Although there are possibilities of adversarial relations, it’s been very friendly,” Noer said. “We love the neighborhood and the College.”

This positivity helped the progression of talks until, eventually, Hargis said, “we just got to the point where it was beyond Steve and I and beyond the Advisory Council to move forward.” One month ago, the Task Force on Vehicles and Parking was created as “a place to be able to institutionally place these issues and ideas.”

The task force is co-chaired by Noer and Julie Thornton, Associate Dean of Students, and members include Hargis, Spehn, Treasurer and Vice President of the College Fred Rogers, Director of Security Services Wayne Eisenhuth and students John Krause ’10 and Emily LeGrand ’09. The committee has met three times over the past two weeks and will likely continue meeting into the fall. They will make a preliminary report of parking problems at the end of the term and “consider all of the issues and ramifications and make recommendations,” Noer said.

Those involved say the root solution to the parking issue would be having less cars on campus, and in trying to provide for this, the issue becomes less about parking and more about transportation in general.

Transporting Together

“I think students and faculty and staff tend to park where it’s most convenient,” Hargis said of the growing number of vehicles on and around campus. “While it’s important to look at tightening enforcement, it’s equally as important to ascertain the demand people have for cars… We need to find convenient, dependable, cost-efficient transportation that I think would lead to less demand for cars.”

This has become the main focus of another task force through the Northfield Grass Roots Transit Initiative. Though it operates out of the city of Northfield, several of its members are associated with Carleton, and its programs aim to benefit both the city and its college communities. Among these, according to Initiative facilitator Nakasian, are three key points: improving the convenience of the local Northfield Transit system, instating a joint community-college ride share database and creating a seven-day bus service to the Twin Cities area.

The first two of these three are still being processed, with a recent Carleton transit survey sent out via e-mail last week and a prototype for the ride share database to be released in June.

“The city really wants to have students have access to the city,” Nakasian said. “The city should be your classroom.” Adding to this, Hargis deemed it “very important for our students to be able to get into the community and do the kinds of things that make Northfield great.”

Perhaps most immediately relevant to Carleton students, though, is the third initiative. The committee on May 20 reached an agreement with Northfield Lines to form a seven-day-a-week, three-time-per-day bus service, called the Northfield Metro Express, to key locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul, including the airport. The buses will begin operating in late August, meaning students can arrange transport from the Cities to Carleton for the beginning of fall term via the Northfield Lines website (www.northfieldlines.com ) starting Aug. 1. Making the service even more student-friendly, students may be able to pay for their transit via OneCard.

With hopes to create an all-encompassing mass transit system around Northfield and to the Twin Cities, “maybe parents won’t need to pay insurance for their kids to drive to Carleton because we will have everything they need,” Nakasian said. “It serves Carleton’s competitiveness to say, ‘You’re in a small town, but you can get anywhere.’”

Carleton’s competitiveness is also served by another focus of the Transit Initiative—sustainability.

Embracing a New Era

As Carleton continues to improve its reputation as an eco-conscious school, transportation becomes an increasingly important factor in the equation. This, according to Smith, relates to a marked change in societal constructs since he began teaching at Carleton over 35 years ago.

“Until two career families became a norm, most people who worked at Carleton were local,” he said, “but that changed 25 years ago, and at the same time there was a liberation of the car policy. Permits were given without any warrant for them.”

“Now,” he continued, “we’re dealing with a large social and cultural issue. You’re not going to change the fact that people commute… Alums are surprised to see the number of cars now, but images—sometimes they’re hard to change.”

The city of Northfield, as part of a group of small towns across the nation, has created yet another task force to begin changing cultural perceptions of issues that affect the environment. Through the Environmental Quality Commission (EQC), the city has made a commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, which, according to Nakisian, Co-Chair of the EQC, is greatly affected by transportation.

Carleton has also won a grant based on a recent study conducted by the College Sustainability Report Card, which gives schools grades based on nine criteria relating to sustainability. Carleton received an “A-“ overall, and the money it won will go toward improving sustainability in transportation, an area in which the college received a “B.” In part because of this, the Task Force on Vehicles and Parking and NESNA are also taking sustainability into consideration in discussing the issues before them.

“We see this as an important part of the whole sustainability thing,” Smith said. “It would seem a little ironic if we weren’t concerned with it. It’s part of what now attracts students and faculty.”

As students have become increasingly involved in green issues, their concerns have helped to inform the task force. A paper written on Carleton’s transportation by students Blake Hansen ’10, Julia Reid ’11 and Sarah Prather ‘11 in a Sociology & Anthropology class provided a basis for the Task Force to follow, and awareness citywide is increasing.

“I think this side of town is very transportation conscious,” Hurlbutt said. “People walk and ride bikes. That attitude is already in the neighborhood.”

The continuation of this attitude, task force members hope, will encourage students, faculty and staff to turn to green means of transportation, including carpooling and an improved mass transit system, thus reducing vehicle usage and, in turn, alleviating much of the parking problem.

With my interview with the NESNA members winding down, I ask if there is anything they’d like to stress in the realm of parking issues and administration versus neighborhood perspectives. They all note the word “versus,” assuring me that no versus exists in the situation. Just before we finish, the Upper Sayles crowd again breaks out in cheers, and the student at the next table informs us that CUT has just won the national title. The neighbors seem excited and quite impressed, expressing laments that the championship story will likely not appear in the Northfield News and showing their desire, in more than just transportation, to bring the college and community together.

Though Joe Hargis could not be a part of my meeting with the neighbors, he captured this idea well, as he said, “Students certainly play a part, but these sorts of issues aren’t just about students. We all need to work together to solve them.

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