Luke Lowry

Luke Lowry is a Senior studying Mechanical Engineering. He is originally from Hickory, NC. While not writing, he enjoys reading, spending time in the mountains, exploring new places to eat or drink, and being with friends and family.

Is there enough parking on campus?

For those who have ever been to a family gathering with lots of extended relatives, there is a common saying — “don’t bring up religion or politics.” At UNC Charlotte, there is another subject that is taboo and sometimes equally divisive, and that is parking. The tension between students who claim that campus parking facilities are inadequate and school administrators who claim that parking is provided plentifully seems to be increasing every semester. So what is the truth of the matter?

One of the most common complaints is that there simply isn’t enough parking on campus. At certain locations, at certain times, this complaint is completely valid. However, if all parking is examined aggregately, it doesn’t stand. During the Spring 2018 semester, UNC Charlotte’s Parking and Transportations Services (PATS) conducted a study to determine the average number of available parking spots at all locations across campus at various times throughout the day. East Deck Two, one of the parking locations closest to campus’s academic core, only had seven spots available at 10 a.m., which meant that is was 98.6 percent occupied. Attempting to park here may well require a herculean effort. However, at that same time, CRI 1 had 769 spots and North Deck had 570 spots. Respectively, that is an occupancy rate of only 40.8 percent and 51.1 percent. These two parking decks not only have a low occupancy rate, but they also have direct bus service to the same academic core which East Deck Two borders.

So from this data, it is clear that the overall quantity of parking is sufficient. During peak occupancy, thousands of parking spots remain unfilled. This reveals the truth of the matter; students are not satisfied with sufficient parking — they want convenient parking. There is nothing wrong with wanting convenient parking, but students at UNC Charlotte have become accustomed to a level of convenience that is well beyond what comparable universities offer. At some other UNC system schools, freshmen are prohibited from parking entirely and other undergraduates are subjected to a lottery system. Additionally, many of the schools have parking facilities which are over a mile off campus and require a shuttle. By comparison, UNC Charlotte’s parking is phenomenal. When people become accustomed to even the most well functioning systems, there will undoubtedly still be complaints; however, UNC Charlotte provides above average parking facilities for its students.

My goal in this article is not to say that parking on campus is perfect and impossible to improve and that students need to quit whining. On the contrary, I believe that there are numerous ways in which PATS is under performing and could provide better services to students. However, what I am trying to accomplish is to reframe the argument away from vague, unsubstantiated claims about “bad parking” and towards more actionable goals. When students say things like “there isn’t enough parking,” PATS has the data to invalidate those claims. However, there are real, fixable issues which are unaddressed. For example, although there are three bus lines that run on campus, they are often slow, crowded and unreliable. The Silver Line which connects the Student Union to CRI campus is often packed so densely that some people waiting can’t enter and have to wait for the next bus. The Green and Gold Lines which collect people from North Deck, while less crowded, have few buses on their lengthy routes which results in inconsistent service. There are specific actions which PATS could take to fix these issues like adding another bus to the Silver Line or creating a shorter, more efficient bus line which feeds directly from North Deck and the Light Rail to the academic core and back. Although still difficult, these tasks are practical, and with enough advocacy the students on this campus could drastically improve the quality of transportation.

As long as this university exists, the debate around parking and transportation will likely persist. However, students need to realize that there is a sufficient quantity of parking on this campus and the level of convenience to which we are accustomed is not, nor should it be, normative. It is good that students want to improve transportation on campus, but there are many other pertinent and achievable issues that we should advocate for.

Finish the Cross Charlotte Trail

In the past few years, Charlotte media platforms have frequently shared stories of new apartments, entertainment venues and skyscrapers sprouting up all over the city. However, recent news from the Charlotte City Council has highlighted one specific project which has been far from successful. The city had plans to connect 26 miles of greenways from Pineville to Cabarrus County as part of the Cross Charlotte Trail. According to WFAE, the city underestimated the cost and now needs an additional $77 million to complete the project. Obviously, this has complicated the development process. Although the city is considering options to either halt the project or connect the routes through existing roads, I believe that it would be worth the cost and effort to complete the project as initially planned.

For starters, the quality of Charlotte’s park system is woefully behind almost every other comparable city. In a 2018 Trust For Public Lands study ranking the quality of parks in different U.S. cities, Charlotte was No. 97 out of 100. For reference, Raleigh ranked No. 34. While Charlotte does have a few exceptional parks, such as Romare Bearden Park, Freedom Park and others, it ranked low on accessibility. For one category, the amount of people within a 10-minute walk of a park, Charlotte only received 1 out of 40 possible points. Many of the uncompleted sections of the Cross Charlotte Trail would go through areas of the northeast corridor between Uptown and University City, both of which are severely lacking park accessibility. Thus, this project would help connect a large population of the city to nearby parks and recreational facilities.

Additionally, people in Charlotte desperately want more greenways. A 2015 survey conducted by the Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation Department asked citizens what kind of facilities they felt they needed. 73 percent of those surveyed indicated a desire for paved walking and biking trails. Even when broken down by race, gender, age, income and geographic location, this was resoundingly the most requested facility type. This project would be utilized by all kinds of people, and a failure to provide additional greenways would be a blatant failure to give the people of Charlotte what they have deemed as an important factor for their health and recreation.

Even further, there are long term economic benefits from greenways. A study done by the Institute for Transportation Research and Education at North Carolina State University with Alta Planning and Design looked at four different greenways in North Carolina, one of which was the Little Sugar Creek Greenway in South Charlotte. The researchers found that for every dollar spent on trail construction, $1.72 was supported in the local economy from business revenue and health benefits.

In an ideal world, the city would love to complete the project; it’s the terrible financial estimates which created this predicament. The money has to be there in order for the project to continue. So where would the money come from? Braxton Winston, one of city council members, has suggested using tourism tax dollars at the city’s disposal. These tax dollars are collected from prepared food and beverages, hotels and other sources. They are used for tourism purposes, such as stadium maintenance. Tourism tax dollars can also be used for larger development projects; once the city almost funded the construction of an Major League Soccer stadium in 2017 with them. The main point of contention with using tourism tax dollars for the Cross Charlotte Trail is that a greenway is not explicitly a tourist attraction. However, there are numerous examples of greenways and trails which attract substantial amounts of visitors. The Mineral Wells to Weatherford Trail in Dallas, Texas attracts approximately 300,000 people per year. While it is difficult to predict the amount of visitors to the Cross Charlotte Trail, it would undoubtedly attract enough to reasonably justify it as a tourist destination.

Charlotte made a colossal mistake in their financial estimations for the Cross Charlotte Trail; it has left the project in a state of jeopardy. However, giving up on the project would be an even worse mistake. The people of Charlotte both need and desire a greenway system like the Cross Charlotte Trail. If Charlotte wants to be a successful and competitive city, then it will prioritize the Cross Charlotte Trail with all means at its disposal.

Photo by Taylor Moody

OP-ED: Where’s our Franklin Street?

Huge changes at UNC Charlotte in recent years have transformed the way that students can live, study and play. The extension of the LYNX Blue Line to campus has made Uptown Charlotte and many other regions of the city more accessible. The renovation of Belk Plaza and the ongoing construction of the new University Recreation Center are marked additions to the campus amenities. However, while there has been an emphasis on connecting students to the rest of Charlotte and to UNC Charlotte’s own campus, one vital aspect has been neglected — the connection to the areas immediately surrounding UNC Charlotte’s campus.

Many colleges have vibrant districts immediately off campus, oftentimes a street that is full of unique restaurants, coffee shops, book shops and other cultural offerings. These places are often the focal points of student social life. For example, UNC Chapel Hill has Franklin Street, NC State has Hillsborough Street and Appalachian State University has King Street. However, UNC Charlotte has no equivalent. The Shoppes at University Place is the nearest comparison, but while it offers a good variety of restaurants, it is rare to see large amounts of students congregating there. Although it is right across the road from campus, students are much more likely to grab a drink, study or shop in neighborhoods that are a thirty-minute train ride away.

While it may seem that I’m disgruntled simply for trivial reasons, like the lack of variety in coffee shops (I’m not denying I am), I believe that there are larger consequences. UNC Charlotte is currently trying to attract students to live on or near campus to revitalize the student culture, especially since we are considered by many to be a commuter school. Although improved dorms and campus attractions will help recruit some students, many other students also heavily factor off-campus amenities. If the off-campus amenities pale in comparison to those in other regions of Charlotte, students will opt to live in other regions. Additionally, UNC Charlotte is trying to promote its connection with the greater Charlotte region. The light rail improves the accessibility to campus from other regions of Charlotte, but it does not necessarily add any incentive for people to visit the area. For example, UNC Charlotte football will attract some people, but UNC Charlotte football paired with a unique, bustling off-campus shopping, dining and cultural area would attract a lot more people.

At the moment, there are several unintended impediments to the formation of such a place. First, the entire campus is bordered by four roads with a high volume of vehicular traffic: University City Boulevard, WT Harris Boulevard, North Tryon Street and Mallard Creek Church Road. Additionally, many of the academic and residential buildings on campus are distant from, rather than adjacent to, the existing off-campus commercial areas. These commercial areas are also largely characterized by large surface parking lots which face the street and oversized, generic store fronts. So while successful districts are typically easily accessible for pedestrians and bicyclists and have unique, lively properties where academic, commercial and residential uses seamlessly blend, nowhere near UNC Charlotte quite fits the bill.

UNC Charlotte will never have the natural advantages that some other schools have. While many schools developed as an extension of an already walkable, small town, UNC Charlotte was granted an undeveloped tract of rural land separated from the city. Easy vehicular access was prioritized over a well-integrated, pedestrian friendly urban district. However, I think that there is a lot of potential for change. Obviously, there is a limit to what UNC Charlotte can do: they do not own the property surrounding campus, so they cannot physically reshape the infrastructure. In my opinion, there is something more important than physical restructuring, and that is changing the perception of the area in the minds of students. Since the areas around campus have offered so little for so long, they are not perceived as places to be enjoyed in comparison to somewhere like NoDa or Uptown. If UNC Charlotte were to sponsor low budget, low effort initiatives to fuel activity in these areas, it would go a long way towards changing this stigma. For example, since many of the parking lots along University City Boulevard and North Tryon Street are heavily underutilized, UNC Charlotte should coordinate with business owners and other agencies, such as University City Partners, to host food truck events or free concerts. This would have the dual effect of keeping students in University City on weekends and also stimulating the existing businesses. If these kinds of initiatives were to be instituted, it would hopefully prove that the areas near campus are a desirable district while also encouraging future development geared towards unique, vibrant, accessible uses.

UNC Charlotte is making tremendous strides in the development of its campus and its connection to the city of Charlotte. However, in order to continue its successful growth, it should focus on the missing gap of development: its own backyard.