When Western University commissioned its first-ever parking study, designed to evaluate nearly every aspect of the issue, Mark Van Den Bossche knew there would be no shortage of opinions.
“Parking is a very passionate issue,” the Western Parking and Visitors Services manager said. “You can have a meeting about budget, and you’ll spend an hour and a half talking about parking. We need to be able to lay it out for people: Where are you going to park in five years, 10 years and, perhaps more importantly, what are you going to pay for it?”
And that’s the university’s goal going forward.
Following up on a request for proposal (RFP) from last fall, Western has contracted with the IBI Group, a Toronto-based firm specializing in urban design and transportation, to conduct the study. The firm has been charged with looking at “everything,” Van Den Bossche said, from lot types, designations and locations to alternative transportation options, traffic patterns and future needs.
Currently, the company is in the initial data-collection phase. Campus community involvement soon follows via surveys and focus groups over the next three or four months.
A final report is due in July. Those recommendations will be used to inform a parking master plan, which will be integrated into the campus master plan.
“We know parking is very important to the Western community,” said Roy Langille, Facilities Management associate vice-president. “The main point is to look at our future need for parking and how to accommodate everyone.
“It’s not going to get easier. So we need to be sure to have a good plan going forward.”
In the end, Van Den Bossche, who has been in his role for less than two years, wants to end the university’s “piecemeal” approach to parking planning. Using information from this study, he hopes to see parking considerations built into all future construction plans early on in the process.
“I think it’s better to have a plan,” he said. “What I am looking for are solid recommendations for the future of parking on this campus out of this process. That would be success for me.”
Langille stressed the findings will inform more than simply where you put your car. “It’s not just a parking issue, but how you get around campus once you get here,” he said.
Currently, Western maintains 6,200 parking spaces including approximately 650 for visitors, 2,400 for students and 183 accessible spots.
As a rule, Western has given priority to academic activities in the central campus since the 1993 Campus Master Plan, and will maintain this priority in future planning.
Since, construction has eliminated more than 500 parking spaces in this central area. This trend is expected to continue, and parking will be pushed to the periphery of campus. In addition, a new 1,000-bed residence is being constructed close to Althouse College, removing another 653 spaces from the building’s parking lot.
When the current master plan was written in 2007, Western had approximately 6,000 parking spaces for permit holders. At that time, approximately 650 spaces were open at any given time within the parking lots. The majority of these available spaces were located at the periphery of campus in the Althouse and Huron Flats parking lots. Trends at the time indicated this supply would be sufficient for the next five years.
However, with the number of new facilities constructed since 2007, the campus expanding to the west side of Western Road, a planned increase in enrolment and the return to main campus of the Ivey MBA program from the Spencer Leadership Centre (220 students), Van Den Bossche stressed a comprehensive parking study is needed to prepare for an even-tighter future.
“As long as you have a campus, you are going to have to park cars,” Van Den Bossche said. “It’s time, as we look at these changes across campus, to see if what we are doing with parking is right.”