Parking at Western

The Slow Train Wreck > Parking at Western

© 1997 by Paul de Armond

Parking has repeatedly come up at the recent meetings held by Western with the surrounding neighborhoods. Residents in the Happy Valley, Sehome and South Hill neighborhoods have frequently and vociferously complained about their streets being used as overflow parking for the campus.

WWU Vice President George Pierce recently stated that between 500 and 700 Western students, faculty and staff park in these streets. According to the Bellingham Planning & Community Development department, the number is approximately 1,400. Both figures come from University studies. The lower number is from a count of on-street parking done by University personnel in 1995. The higher number is from the Campus Parking and Transportation study done for the University by Chance Management Advisors in 1992. The two studies used different methods and studied different areas.

On June 9th, the Bellingham City Council will consider a Residential Parking Zone ordinance in the South Hill neighborhood. This would require cars parked on some streets near campus to display a city-issued sticker. Other cars parking in the area would limited to two hours.

Bellingham Deputy Chief of Police Randy Carroll said, “The neighbors have decided what kind of proposal they want and have found consensus.” Carroll stated that the RPZ came about as a direct result of Western cutting the number of on-campus parking spaces a year ago. He is confident that “we can make this work,” citing adequate manpower for enforcement. Carroll said a previous attempt at two-hour parking zones near campus had failed due to the lack of an enforcement officer.

A similar zone is being considered for the Sehome neighborhood, but the neighborhood consensus-building process and boundary designation is not as far advanced.

One possible cause for the overflow of Western’s parking into off-campus areas came to light at the April 30 meeting between WWU planners and the South Hill neighborhood to discuss the University’s Master Plan.

One resident pointed out that if he were to build a multi-unit apartment he must provide parking: “If we have a situation where the university can build and there’s no money for parking. it seems absolutely absurd.”

Another neighbor followed up on this point. “Where is the university’s civic responsibility if it does not have to provide the same parking that would otherwise be required of anybody else?” asked Tom Ashton, a local attorney. Ashton’s question was followed by a long silence from the university staff. Asked for comment, WWU Vice President George Pierce pursed his lips and silently shook his head to signify “no comment.”

In fact, Bellingham’s parking ordinance does specify how many parking spaces are required. New construction is within the City’s planning jurisdiction, according to City planner Jackie Lynch. Patricia Decker, director of Planning and Community Development says she doesn’t know if it is or not.

Campus Parking Manager Carl Root says Western expects to incorporate parking as part of new construction, but that this was not done for the library expansion. “The next residence halls, we’ll have to put in parking,” he said.

The difference between Western’s view of parking and the City’s is that the University has been looking at parking in the context of its Transportation Master Plan. In this framework, parking demand is a consequence of the number of trips to campus in cars. Accordingly, Western views transporation planning as the most effective way to meet parking needs.

“My job is to try to get people out their cars and onto busses, bicycles and on foot,” says Carl Root, University planner for Parking and Transportation.

The City development ordinance looks at buildings as “use generators” of parking. The city formula for calculating parking requirements uses rooms, student population and public space inside of buildings. These statistics are then used to predict the demand for parking.

There are now approximately 3,400 parking spaces at Western.

If the WWU campus was to be built today, here are the estimated parking requirements specified in the current Bellingham parking ordinance.

Bellingham parking requirements
Use Classification Facility Parking Spaces
Duplex/Multi Family
1 space / 2 bedrooms (assume 2 beds/rm)
500 apartments 750
Boarding House*
1 space / 2 bedrooms (assume 2 beds/rm)
3,200 beds 800
Public and Semi-Public Assembly
1 per classroom and office
1,088 1,088
plus 1 per 4 students enrolled 11,300 2,825
1 space / 200 sq.ft
139,455 sq.ft.
public space
Total parking spaces required*** 6,020

* The city ordinance counts bedrooms, not beds.
** The square footage for Wilson Library is taken from the WWU Master Plan and does not include the expansion into Haggard Hall currently under way. The conversion of Haggard Hall (104,212 sq.ft.) into library space would require approximately 415 additional spaces.
*** These figures do not include the parking for the Performing Arts Center Auditorium (1,100 seats) and the Concert Hall (700 seats) which would need an additional 450 parking spaces (at 1 space per 4 seats.) These probably fall under “school assembly areas” and might not be included in the parking requirements if it is assumed that they are used at different times than the school rooms and offices.


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