OSU-Cascades faces the future of parking

The university’s plans for student transportation

By Tyler Leeds / The Bulletin

Published Apr 6, 2014 at 12:01AM

Skepticism has emerged over the limited number of proposed parking spots at Oregon State University-Cascades Campus’s new site, but those involved hew to a commonplace philosophy — if you build it, they will come.

In this case, according to OSU-Cascades’ traffic engineers, if more parking spaces are built, more drivers will come, and the queues at nearby roundabouts will stretch. In an attempt to minimize automotive trips and local traffic, the university plans to build only 300 parking spots on its 10-acre site near the Southwest Chandler Avenue and Century Drive roundabout, a location that will house the initial phase of the university’s expansion into a four-year school. At its full build-out, the 10-acre site will host 1,900 students, an increase of about 800 students more than the current OSU-Cascades population in Bend.

At a public meeting in late March attended by about 200, Truth in Site, a group opposed to the university’s proposed location in southwest Bend, characterized the number of parking spaces as inadequate and speculated students would end up parking on nearby residential streets and in commercial parking lots. Scott Morgan, the group’s spokesman, declined to comment for this article.

OSU-Cascades administrators insist the plan can work, though they acknowledge their designs are unusually aggressive. Typically, universities have a higher ratio of students to parking spaces. With 300 spots and 1,900 students, the ratio is about 0.16 spots for every student. At the University of California-Merced and Northern Arizona University, two schools OSU-Cascades identified as “like universities,” the ratios are just above 0.4 spots for every student, according to a report by OSU-Cascades’ campus expansion advisory committee. However, at the University of Oregon, the ratio is 0.08.

The traffic engineers at Kittelson & Associates, a national firm with offices in Bend, are behind the proposed number of parking spots. They followed the directive of the university to minimize the number of auto trips generated by the campus, a desire the university says is motivated by an eye toward sustainability and neighborliness.

“From there, to get to the number, you need to start with the population who will be using the campus,” said Matt Kittelson, an engineer with Kittelson & Associates. “But when you look at a campus, you also have to think about how many will actually be on the campus at one time. You also need to funnel down to different user types, and how they will be getting to campus. To reduce the number of trips, you have to create an environment that supports it.”

Kittelson pointed to lockers and showers as two aspects of an environment that supports alternative transit. But, to reduce traffic and parking demand, there are also programmatic changes the university can implement. Unlike an office, which sees a mass influx and exodus of commuters at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., campus traffic is pegged to class schedules. To spread out the activity on campus, and as a result limit any spikes in traffic, the university plans to offer classes earlier in the day and later in the evening than currently offered. Additionally, the university will begin holding classes on Friday, stretching out class schedules even further.

“We’re going to start these behavioral changes for next year and get good at managing them,” said Kelly Sparks, associate vice president for finance and strategic planning.

Nonetheless, Kittelson said it’s still necessary to focus on the people who will be using the campus, beginning with how many can physically exist on the campus at one time, which is just more than 1,000. From that point, Kittelson & Associates considered the types of students and staff that would be coming to campus and the means by which they will travel to the university.

The firm estimates about 20 percent of campus users currently live within walking distance of the campus, and that with the university’s encouragement, around 15 percent could walk. Additionally, roughly 30 percent of the campus population lives within biking distance, and the firm estimates around 15 percent could routinely bike. The university is in discussions with Cascades East Transit to increase service to the new campus area and CET has told the university it can serve 10 percent of the campus population. Additionally, the university is working with Central Oregon Community College to develop a shuttle between the schools’ respective campuses. Finally, up to 300 students will live on campus, a group that will not be allowed to keep a car at OSU-Cascades.

After all that, only cars remain. But to chip away further, the university plans to create around 65 carpool-only parking spaces.

When all the numbers are subtracted, Kittelson & Associates estimates there will be demand for 180 single-user parking spots. When one includes guests and visitors coming and going throughout the day, there is a need for about 33 additional spots at any one time. The 300 on-campus spots, plus 21 on-street spaces along the site’s Chandler Avenue frontage, represent the firm’s estimate of enough spaces to meet peak demand with a 15 percent buffer.

“Regardless of coming to this number and saying it’s right, it’s very important to have feedback loops,” Kittelson said, referring to a means of receiving and incorporating input from the campus and community partners. “If you need to, you can further incentivize walking or the bus more. You need to be able to evaluate and adjust.”

Sparks said if the university realizes it needs more parking, it can do that, too, as additional space has already been identified northwest of the main parking lot.

“But we’d prefer not to begin with those spots, so people who could take another mode don’t get used to driving and parking,” Sparks said.

To instill other habits, the university is working on various incentives, such as free bus passes for the entire campus population. Sparks also discussed the possibility of hosting a small fleet of about 10 flex cars, which students could use for trips. She also noted that COCC is open to the idea of a bike-share program, something that may facilitate students riding to OSU-Cascades who aren’t inclined toward the reverse trip up Awbrey Butte.

“We’re not just trying to find one thing to make this work, we’re looking at various strategies,” Sparks said.

Kittelson said variety is key to overcoming the most daunting challenge — Bend’s capricious winter weather.

“If it’s snowing, a walker has to have another way,” Kittelson said. “That’s why there will be the options to carpool, be dropped off, or take a bus or shuttle.”

Sparks acknowledged that Bend is a “car-loving town,” but she also insisted today’s college-age population is more inclined to use alternative modes of transportation, citing a study by the National Association of Realtors and American Strategies.

“We’re not just expecting everything to fall in place, we’re going to work on this and make sure the options available to students are abundantly clear and enticing,” Sparks said.

— Reporter: 541-633-2160, tleeds@bendbulletin.com