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City examines area parking

Photo by Rachel Torgerson. Cars fill the street parking near campus during the business day. The city of Moorhead hired a survey team to study parking congestion around Concordia College, Minnesota State University Moorhead, and Eventide.

When sophomore Sara Rimmereid left to go to her clinicals at 8 a.m. last semester, the Fjelstad parking lot had plenty of open spaces. However, when she returned at 10 a.m., the lot was so full that she needed to search alternate lots and nearby streets for available parking spaces.

“It’s inconvenient to not have a spot close-by,” Rimmereid said, “and frustrating to have to worry about getting a ticket or forgetting to move your car overnight.”

Rimmereid is one of many students who has to do a daily search to find a parking space around campus, as the lots and surrounding streets fill to the brim during weekdays. In an attempt to alleviate the congestion and frustration that comes with parking perils, the City of Moorhead has hired a survey team to conduct a parking study around the Concordia College, Minnesota State University Moorhead and Eventide areas. Over the course of the next few months, they are hoping to gather input from community members in the affected neighborhoods and be able to offer solutions that will best satisfy the needs of all involved parties.

“It is intentional that this conversation is a community issue,” said John Shardlow, who is a fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners employed by Stantec, the company conducting the study. “We will continue to advocate for good communication and continue to collaborate between the institutions.”

The results of the first phase of the study were presented Feb. 15 in a meeting open to the Moorhead community. This phase consisted of monitoring parking on the streets and parking lots in the campus area of Moorhead in the daytime and evening to determine which areas experience the most congestion.

They determined that the first block in each direction from the Concordia campus is highly congested, at nearly 100 percent utilization during the daytime hours. Additionally, most of the lots are between 75 and 100 percent full, with a few exceptions on the southernmost edge of campus. As one goes outward from campus, the streets become less congested, as two blocks in each direction are at 25 to 50 percent utilization.

The evening map appeared to be more open, with 25 to 50 percent of street parking being used overnight. However, a particular “hot spot” near Hoyum, Livedalen and Brown Halls remained at more than 75 percent utilization even into the evening hours.

With these numbers established, the survey team will use this information and results from a survey distributed to students from both institutions, employees and leaders at Eventide and community members to formulate options for Moorhead and each campus to consider.

“There is no one easy solution,” said Paul Bilott of the American Institute of Certified Planners. “Everything will impact somebody in some way.”

The survey conductors said that there are typically two routes the city and campuses can take to alleviate parking concerns. Regulatory tools, for example, consist of using overnight parking restrictions, parking meters and zone or area permits, whereas nonregulatory tools include the creation of additional surface parking, parking tickets and enforcement towing.

After the presentation, multiple community members that live around MSUM and Concordia expressed their concerns with having packed streets and little parking in front of their homes, suggesting that surface parking or parking ramps be the only solution to get the vehicles out of the neighborhoods. While Bilott and Shadlow did acknowledge that building more structures was one option being considered, parking lots typically cost $5000 per space and ramps run from $15,000 to $20,000 per space.

“We know the availability to provide more spots for cars is limited,” Bilott said. “Our solution will likely try to decrease the demand of parking spaces and give students alternatives to using their vehicles.”

They suggested increasing the promotion of public transit, biking and walking to and from school. Additionally, they explained that hour cars, which are cars that can be checked out on an hourly basis, have become very popular in universities across the United States. For a small fee and the cost of gas, students can rent these vehicles to go to and from campus, removing the need to keep a car with them during the school year.

Graphic by Rachel Torgerson. This graphic shows the areas of parking congestion around Cocnordia's campus during the daytime, according to a parking study funded by the city of Moorhead. Click for larger version.

Tracey Tullefson, business manager of facilities management at Concordia, said that parking has been a major issue around the Concordia area for the entire time she has worked here. While she doesn’t see Concordia doing any major structural changes in order to accommodate for more vehicles in the near future, she does think the parking study will be taken into consideration for other parking solutions.

“We need to work together to see if we can shift lots on campus,” Tullefson said. “It’s all about collaboration.”

In order to facilitate dialogue on campus in order to find collective solutions, Tullefson is part of the Campus Parking Committee, along with Interim Dean of Students Bruce Vieweg, Treasurer and Vice President for Finance Linda Brown, Director of Facilities Management Wayne Flack, Director of Budgets and Planning Rebecca Amundsen, English professor Bill Snyder, electronics technician Dale Owens, Student Government President Tyler Dugger and SGA Facilities and Services Commissioner Reagan Haroldson.

“Our goal is to make sure everyone’s opinions are expressed,” Tullefson said. She also thinks there are some issues students will have better perspective on than faculty and vice versa, she said.

Tullefson said that, while she could not posit a guess regarding solutions the group will find this early in the game, she did say that she predicts that eventually not all students will be allowed to bring cars or that parking will no longer be free. However, because Concordia’s third largest demographic is students from Montana, limiting who can and cannot bring cars will continue to be a struggle.

“Concordia is what it is because it brings people here rather than elsewhere,” Dugger said, addressing the public last Wednesday. “We cannot retract demand, because it means retracting students.”

Dugger said that he does understand that living in a college town and in college neighborhoods can be difficult, but he urges community members to understand that college students are community members, too.

“It’s 2,500 students in a confined area – what do you expect?” Dugger said.

The community is also a consideration in the parking decision-making process. Tullefson said that whenever Concordia needs to build additional lots close to nearby homes, they attempt to keep the lots well maintained and ensure that they are not a negative addition to the neighborhoods. She said that Concordia’s relationship with the community is considered in each move they make.

Tullefson said she does not expect a solution by the end of this year, but she hopes that the next year will bring answers through the parking study results later this spring and the continuous communication of group members.

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