At the start of each semester, especially in the fall, USF students take to social media for a time-honored tradition: airing their grievances about parking. Anecdotes are abound of students and faculty searching for ten, fifteen or thirty minutes at a time for an open spot.
USF students deserve a real solution. Contrary to popular belief, however, that solution isn’t bigger parking lots.
At face value, the reasonable solution is to build new parking facilities, but there’s good reason why USF won’t (and shouldn’t) try.
The problem is not that there aren’t enough spaces, but there aren’t enough spaces close to classes and amenities. A new parking garage makes little difference if it’s on the outskirts of campus.
Looking at a map of USF, there are few, if any areas to build new, centrally-located parking without worsening traffic and sacrificing greenspace.
Even if there was a good location for a new parking garage, it would likely cost millions of dollars ($24,000 per space on average, over a full year’s cost of attendance), meaning even more expensive parking permits.
If we want a real, cost-effective solution to our parking problem, then we have to think holistically and invest in alternatives to driving. Alternatives include biking, walking and mass transit. Most student housing is within about two miles of campus.
In traffic, it takes about the same amount of time to get to campus by bike as it does to drive. Cycling, however, can be a dangerous proposition on major roads: the nearby stretches of Fletcher Ave. and Bruce B. Downs Blvd. both made the list of Hillsborough County’s most dangerous roads. Conditions aren’t much better on Fowler, Bearss or McKinley either.
Public transit, meanwhile, remains lackluster. There’s a reason USF runs its own bus lines via the Bull Runner system: the county hasn’t had the money to pick up the slack.
Between chronic underfunding and low ridership, Tampa’s mass transit system has been called “one of the worst in America” by the Tampa Bay Times, particularly for a city of our size.
There is, however, some good news.
Last November, Hillsborough County voters approved a 1-cent sales tax to make transportation improvements, including better sidewalks, new bike lanes and expanded bus service.
The ball is now in USF’s court to lobby for improvements that benefit students directly — including expanded bus service, safer crosswalks and separated bike paths in the neighborhoods around campus.
Nathaniel Sweet is a senior studying political science.