No ‘Mass’ In Mass Transit: Why Driving is Easier On UWT Students

In Dave Barry’s excellent 2006 book “Dave Barry’s Money Secrets,” he remarks, “Despite the fact that colleges are, theoretically, institutions of higher learning, it apparently has never occurred to the geniuses who run them that anybody would be arriving by car. The result is that….many students spend their entire college careers cruising around looking for a legal spot.” To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Barry has never visited UWT; but reading this passage, you can imagine why I might be tempted to think otherwise.

Parking has long been a tough issue at UWT, but it’ll soon get a little tougher. A September 13 article in The News Tribune reports that parking on Pacific Avenue will get tighter: The parking limit in front of UWT sidebar buildings will be cut from two hours to 90 minutes. This means students who previously parked on Pacific Avenue will need to find a new temporary home for their vehicles elsewhere around campus.

So what do we do?

I can already hear the solution pitched by many: Use mass transit. This idea seems appealing, but sadly, impractical.

About 4,000 students attend UWT, and these students arrive here from every which direction. Take my situation: I live on South Hill. Let’s assume I went by bus, possibly the easiest way for me to get to campus via mass transit. There are no bus stops within walking distance of my house; the quickest way for me to take the bus would be to drive up to the South Hill Mall Transit Center, then board Pierce Transit Route 400. The bus ride itself would take 35 minutes–roughly the time it takes me to drive my normal route to school.

But this doesn’t include the time it takes me to wait for the bus. And I have to make sure I arrive at the transit center somewhat early, so I can secure a parking space. (Ironic, right?) Also, this doesn’t count the five minutes it takes for me to drive there.

Now, another choice is to park at Tacoma Dome Station, then, take the Tacoma Link light rail to the Grand Staircase. This is a fairly good idea for many, and I admit I tried it for a while, but it has its own drawbacks. For one thing, the Link runs an irregular schedule. Secondly, you have to compete with downtown employees for parking. By the time I get there in the morning, I have to drive six or more stories up to find an empty space. This process alone takes about five minutes, because the speed bumps limit my speed to about 10 miles an hour. Then there’s the time it takes me to ride the elevator back down to street level.

So parking is sparse, mass transit is a bust, and the Link is a marginal option at best. I’m sure some students feel the same way. Can the university fix this?

Possibly, but it’d involve more building.

If parking continues to be the issue it is–an issue further inflamed by the new Pacific Avenue regulations–UWT could find a lifeline. Up the hill from the university are plenty of open grass fields, basically turning brown and collecting litter. One of those fields is beside Fawcett Avenue, where scores of students (including me) park already. The university could tap into more revenue and relieve some parking by converting some of these fields into parking lot.

I know it seems bewildering to even consider paving the way for more parking spaces, but let’s be realistic: UWT is a commuter college full of students who value independence, which includes being able to drive their own vehicles. Until Sound Transit makes mass transit more appealing, the university will need to accommodate that reality.