Students cram parking lots as Blinn classes get under way

From The Eagle

By Brooke West

Published: August 29, 2012

School is back in session and college students are eager to make it to their first week of classes, cramming on buses and circling lots to find the scarce empty parking space.

It’s a familiar scene for returning students and locals, and it typically subsides a few weeks into the semester when students are less eager to get to class.

At Blinn College in Bryan, however, parking is proving especially difficult for students this semester.

On Tuesday, of the approximately 3,400 spaces available for parking at Blinn, there were hardly any spaces open, and when one became available it was quickly snatched up.

Some students and visitors had created their own parking spaces, lining up their cars along the grassy medians throughout the lot.

Brandon Webb, assistant director for marketing and media relations at Blinn, said parking issues at this time of the year aren’t unfamiliar.

“The first two weeks, sometimes the first three, of parking can be a zoo,” Webb said. “A lot of trading of schedules goes on in the first couple of weeks. We continue to shuffle the deck with enrollment.”

Webb has been with Blinn for three years and said he receives calls concerning parking issues from parents and the media each year.

It’s common for large institutions such as colleges and universities to sell more parking permits than spaces, with the number of permits sold typically based on parking analyses.

According to the “Campus Master Plan” from Sam Houston State University sent to The Eagle by Webb, “the total amount of parking being planned for should be more than adequate if it is properly distributed.”

Sam Houston State’s parking ratio is 2.2 to 1, just over two students to every one space.

Texas A&M has sold 36,105 permits for 31,313 spaces this fall, a ratio of 1.15 to 1.

Webb said that, in 2011, Blinn distributed approximately 8,500 permits, a parking ratio of 2.5 to 1.

Webb was not certain of the number of permits issued for the fall semester, but said more than 5,000 have been sold.

That number will rise, he said, and is based on demand. There is not a cap for the number of permits sold.

“There is no evidence of overselling. We keep a good handle on that,” Webb said.

Debbie Hoffmann, associate director for transportation services at Texas A&M, said that every lot at the university is managed and analyzed separately.

“We look at the spaces and who is parking there,” Hoffmann said. “If the lot is primarily residence hall students, we can’t oversell there. If it’s a commuter lot, there’s constant turnover so you’ll have much higher oversell.”

Hoffmann said transportation services conducts lot analyses a few times a day throughout the week.

“When we sell a permit, our customer expects to park in that lot. We guarantee that by controlling the lot,” Hoffmann said.

Hoffmann said that if a commuter lot had 1,000 spaces, transportation services would oversell the lot by 800 to 850 spaces.

Under Texas A&M’s parking system, Blinn would have sold less than 6,500 parking permits for the 3,400 spaces.

“I can tell you 100 percent that back-to-school parking woes are an every year thing,” Webb said. “But what is new for Blinn is the way we’re working to solve the problem.”

Webb said Blinn acquired a temporary parking lot in 2010 that brought in 100 additional spaces.

There is also property available across a retention pond on the side of the campus near Villa Maria Road that may be utilized for additional parking, Webb said.

Webb said that trying to keep costs low for students is slowing development of additional parking areas.

“Bringing in a parking garage would be 10 times the cost of a traditional surface lot,” Webb said. “We’re uncertain what the Legislature is going to do with our budget ... We try to keep costs really low, but that doesn’t allow you to expand very fast.”

The cost for a year-round parking permit at Blinn is $75. Parking for just spring and summer is $50, and summer only is $25. Texas A&M permits range from $88 to $700.

A Texas A&M University shuttle bus, route 12, “Reveille,” is available to Blinn students, and arrives at the Blinn campus approximately every 15 minutes.

Blinn also spent $100,000 to lease a bus from Brazos Valley Transit that takes students between Blinn and Texas A&M.

Webb said email notices were sent out to advise students to arrive early to find parking, or use alternate modes of transportation.

Webb said that Blinn officials are not handing out citations this week for students who do not have a permit or otherwise park illegally.

“We really do try to be flexible with people ... They do risk the chance of being towed, but [we want to] be as gentle as we can early in the semester,” Webb said. “Do I want to see this poor kid towed? Do I want to see them with a ticket? It’s a balance that we try to walk and it resolves itself eventually.”

Several vehicles parked in medians in the lot had citations on the windshields Tuesday afternoon.

Bill May, captain of the Bryan campus police, said that the parking issues this week were expected.

“It’s an inconvenience now, but it will change,” May said. “It’s no worse than it has been.”

Morgan Jahnke, sophomore radiology major at Blinn, said parking is always difficult.

“Later in the semester I have to get here at least 15 minutes early to find a spot.” Jahnke said. “It’s worse at the beginning but it’s pretty bad year-round.”