Tag Archives: Parking

Three Easy Ways to Fix the Streets around the College

For a few more precious weeks, she sits in front of me as I ride her home from school. The bleary-eyed days of babies screaming the house awake two hours before dawn are being replaced by mornings I consider serving the kindergartener a cup of coffee before school.

Today, though, this last baby chatters about the “app-ohs” she had for snack, asks if dragons are allowed in our house, and repeatedly demands chicken nuggets for lunch.


We cut through Hope College’s peaceful campus to take advantage of their leafy sidewalks, but a wrong turn this week brought us down one of the streets directly adjacent to the school instead. It was lined with parked cars on either side, and we enjoyed the slow pace of the street, a pace that matched our own. A car pulled out behind us as we rode that street, glided past us as we turned the corner. Two blocks later the driver pulled into a driveway, safely home.

American to the core, the student appeared to have driven five meager blocks. And this is our culture: we drive as a default, as a reflex. We drive because it feels like an indulgent waste of time to spend those precious minutes on a walk. We drive because it’s easy and we’re promised parking on the other end – and sometimes because it freaks us out to cross that one road. Most of us have done this, myself included.

But this student’s journey suggests a set of solutions to the questions our city is facing this season.

Front page in the local paper last Tuesday: Record enrollment at Hope College has huge impact on Holland.


The two big issues are parties and traffic/parking.

The college has and maintains 998 total parking spaces, said Tom Bylsma, Hope College’s chief financial officer and vice president of business. Students must have permits to park and earlier this month, a total of 955 had been sold. It is standard to leave a small cushion of spaces for snow piles in the winter, he said.

“That should be enough,” Bylsma said, adding that historically, about one-third of the students have a vehicle.

The car-lined streets in the Hope College Neighborhood is a concern mentioned numerous times by people who live there.

Homeowners on 12th Street said if there is practice or a game at the soccer stadium, it is near impossible to get in or out of driveways.

Yet Hope officials have not had any formal discussions about a parking structure, Bylsma said, but added they would be open to conversations about it with city leaders.

“We want to be good neighbors,” Bylsma said. “No matter what college or university you go to there will be parking challenges. We feel the parking is sufficient.”

The real challenge is parking behaviors of people, he said. People tend to want to park as close and conveniently as possible to where they want to be “and often people park where they shouldn’t,” he said. “And often times that is what creates the problem.” (Emphasis mine.)

“I see the biggest problem is going to be parking,” City Councilman Wayne Klomparens said Wednesday, adding it was a problem when he went to school there.

Councilman Myron Trethewey suggested allowing parking on only one side of the roads in that neighborhood to help ease congestion.

I rode through campus again today to see how all those parking lots are looking, and I bet you’ve guessed it already:

Hope College - parking lotb

Tom Bylsma, quoted above, nails it: we want to park as close to our destination as we possibly can, and will only choose otherwise if there is a compelling reason to do so.

In addition to all the dedicated student parking lots, there is free street parking everywhere in the city during daytime hours. Much of this parking is blocks closer to the classroom buildings than the parking lots. The streets by the college are, indeed, lined with cars for much of the day.

Hope college - 12th street

Much to the neighbors’ chagrin, there is no disincentive to driving five blocks.

This is actually not a problem that’s difficult on a technical level. It’s been addressed, successfully, in many other places. But it does require us to begin to think a little bit differently about when and how we use our cars in the city. With that said, here are some great options:

Option 1: Meters

This would be a fun experiment. Leave everything precisely the same as it is now, but meter the on-street parking at a reasonable rate (I’ll leave it to the experts to determine what’s reasonable, though parking guru Donald Shoup suggests setting a price that produces 85% occupancy). Given my memories of how far I was willing to walk in college to avoid paying for parking, this might solve whatever problem we have all by itself.

The powerful thing about this option is that it’s revenue-producing. Even though we think of providing street parking as a free service, it’s not. Our streets are built and maintained out of the big bucket of property taxes that we all pay into, so we’re subsidizing all this extra driving and parking as a community (city-wide, not just in this area). Although we could just use the revenue to offset the additional wear-and-tear from the weight of the parked vehicles, this would also be a great opportunity to improve our city’s bikeways as an additional step in solving the parking problem. We’ll talk a little more about that below.

Option 2: Parking districts

Chicago parking pass

Homeowners on the street might not be any too enamored with the idea of meters on their streets, but there’s a tried-and-true workaround here, too – the parking district. The sticker above is still stuck to the windshield of my car from last weekend’s trip to visit my adorable niece (and her wonderful parents) in Chicago. My brother has a resident sticker on his car, and can park anywhere in his neighborhood zone for free. This is a guest pass, which is good for 24 hours and cost them about fifty cents.

(As a side note, maybe someday I’ll tell you guys about how much car ownership costs in Japan. Seven years back, and I still can’t get over how cheap it is here in comparison!)

Option 3: Quality network of bike lanes

Putting a price on parking will deter students who drive five blocks, but presenting a viable alternative to driving is essential for those who live further off-campus. Replacing parking lanes with appropriately-sized bike lanes – ideally, separated from moving traffic – would respect the transportation choices that so many students are already making and be an economic win for the city as a whole, too. I’m hoping to talk about this in more detail in coming weeks, so I’ll leave it there for now.

Rainbow shoes

My friends tell me that the pigtailed toddler in rainbow shoes will be headed off to college before I know it. I hope the city of her choice, the school of her choice, will have set up systems that make active transportation easy. I hope that spending the inordinate amount of money necessary to own and maintain a car will be a choice for her, and not a requirement. I hope that someone has decided to make room for her on the roads if she chooses to travel on two wheels, as she does today. And let’s do the same for our neighbors kids.


Speaking Up

Love? Pshhh. All you need is PARKING.
Click image for credit.

Speaking up kind of sucks.

I did it recently. It involved a building project and a big ugly parking lot that was drawn to blight a lovely neighborhood. I didn’t know the group in charge well, but they also weren’t strangers. So I sent an e-mail… then had a conversation… then sent another e-mail. What response did I get? None, followed by a bit of condescension, followed by no word at all. Next week, construction will commence on the parking lot, complete with a twenty-year loan.

Sooooo, that didn’t go so well.

Most of us have probably had the experience of being shot down at one point or another. So we decide that it’s just not worth it, and don’t say anything. And if we do this with our local groups, it’s just that much more true of public bodies.

It’s understandable. Our government (and sometimes our schools, our churches, our neighborhood organizations) can seem so inaccessible to us, so unresponsive to our real desires. Things just….HAPPEN. And what we think doesn’t seem to matter. E-mail falls into a black hole; phone calls go unreturned; demonstrations are ignored by lawmakers; corporate money wins the day… again. We think, “What’s the use?”

It SEEMS hopeless… but it’s not. Not every time, anyway.

Up in Traverse City, this sketch, presented to the DDA by a citizen…

iPad sketch submitted during council meeting

Inspired this project.

actual project, as built

(Click here for the original story.)

When I worked for a transit agency, the fare structure changed. Fares were raised on the door-to-door service, which is a very expensive service to run. It’s mostly used by the disabled and elderly, as well as some people without cars who worked or lived too far away from the regular fixed-route bus lines to ride those. It was a substantial fare increase, and those who count on it REALLY need it. But do you know who came to the public hearing to let the Board know what they thought of it? One woman with Down’s syndrome, this woman’s parents, a paid disability advocate, and two bus drivers. Half a million rides per year, and only ONE person who would be personally, directly affected showed up for the meeting! Know what happened? The impassioned and emotional plea of two parents on behalf of their daughter persuaded the Board to offer a special lower-priced pass for disabled passengers to lessen the economic impact on them. All because one family showed up for a meeting!

I need to be reminded of this a lot – that it never hurts to ask. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do, where to start, who to call. For me, too. I’m working on a resource page that I hope to launch soon that will include some ideas for where to start and how to do just that. Ideas welcome, either here or on our Facebook page.

As for me, I’m on to the next thing. What will you do this week?

Parking, Pedaling, India, Ireland… and Semis. Friday Five: June 7, 2013


On a whim, I visited the Holland City Council meeting on Wednesday. Among other things, there was a lengthy discussion about whether to install a new No Parking sign on a corner near Jefferson Elementary School.

One of the interesting points of discussion was the neighbors’ objection to teachers using street parking rather than the parking lot – there were several references to “the nice new parking lot we just built them.” It’s an interesting relationship we have with the public streets in front of our homes, isn’t it? We have really wide streets in Holland. We’re using using public dollars to maintain them. So. Hm.

Anyway, this was not the main thrust of the conversation, and consensus seemed to be that congestion and visibility in the area were the biggest issues. I have to say, though, that I’m not sure that solving those problems will bring us the desired result. I tend to think rather that the biggest problem is speed and the expectation of speed. We’ll probably take a look at this again soon – what do you think?


Coolest thing ever.

(It’s been recently pointed out to me that I think a lot of things are the coolest ever. Truth. There’s a lot of coolness in this world.)

He EARNED this. Click for image credit at original site.

I ran across this article about Second Life Bikes this week and was so inspired:

Ten-year-old America steps through the door of a cavernous building crammed with 600 or so bicycles in Asbury Park, New Jersey. She fills out a time card, dons a work apron, safety glasses and gloves, then begins wresting a tire off its frame. Asked if that’s difficult, she replies, “I can handle it.”

America is cheerfully and confidently working toward her own two-wheeler, preferably in hot pink or orange, thanks to Kerri Martin, aka “the Bike Lady.” She’s the force behind a youth-centered bike store where kids contribute 15 hours in the shop to earn a set of wheels for themselves. “There’s no prerequisite,” Kerri says. “Anyone who makes the effort can come.” And come they do: Around 200 walked through the door last year. “The kids think they’re just getting a bike,” Kerri laughs. “But they’re learning job skills and gaining a work ethic.”

This crazy idea turned into a great community asset. I love it. In a video on their website, she says, “It worked, and I can’t believe it worked.” What an awesome way to build up a city!


Andrew Spidahl in India. Click photo for original article and photo credit.

I get that crazy itch to travel just reading about this amazing adventure. A intrepid group of six friends went on a bike tour for the ages: they pedaled their way from Germany to Thailand, motivated to see the world, connect with regular people, and not use a lot of fuel to do so. Click here to learn more about their adventures, but be warned: you may be compelled to purchase a plane ticket if you look at the pictures!

I love these unconventional around-the-world travel stories. One of my favorite documentaries is the Ewan McGregor flick Long Way Round, where he and a friend go on a similar adventure.


A while back I posted something on Facebook about heading out on the bike to bring my daughter to preschool, and one of my friends cautioned me to be careful. Later that day, I was driving the same route when an oncoming semi started drifting into my lane. It wasn’t a close call – he was still a few hundred meters down the road. But those things are so freaking big that there was nowhere I could have gone to escape if that dingbat driver hadn’t corrected course.

So – perspective. Traffic is dangerous. Riding bikes is fun. Walk out the front door at your own risk.


A while back, I ran across this documentary by a very passionate advocate for the preservation of Irish Gaelic as he attempted to travel through Ireland speaking only Irish. Interesting stuff – discouragingly enough, it turns out that nobody in Ireland really speaks Irish – but on one occasion he does successfully rent a bike in Gaelic. It’s kind of fun to see him ride the streets of Galway, which are so very, very different than our own. (He starts his ride at around minute 16 following the link above.) And at around minute 22 of this episode you can see him driving an Irish highway. I don’t know if this is typical, but it’s an interesting point of comparison to our eight-lane WAHHH WE NEED MORE LANES behemoths.

On that note, have a wonderful walkabout weekend!

An Oasis amidst Parking Lots


This is one of the last photos I took with my dearly departed Palm Pixi, which I lost late last week.

Imagine that instead of looking like islands, these businesses were sort of squashed together. They have sidewalks running between them, and can share a parking lot. You could visit multiple stores without engaging in the multiple car seat wrestling match. In fact, your townhouse, with its perfectly-sized little yard, is right around the corner. You pop the kids into the stroller once and you’re done. Starbucks wouldn’t have to incorporate the cost of parking into your coffee price, and you could have a mocha every day without ever darkening the door of Weight Watchers.

It’s completely within reach if we just decide to make it happen.