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UMBC’s parking shortage worsened by open, yet unusable, spaces

Commuters all know that to find timely parking, they often must arrive to campus 30 minutes ahead of class and search every nook and cranny UMBC has to offer. Even in these circumstances, students still may not be able to find even one place to park that is deemed legal by the parking system. Your average commuter knows the feeling: the clock ticks down – first from 30, then 15, then 5 minutes – with no spots in sight.

Then, avast! A clear area nuzzled against a nice chunk of a curb. Parked there, nobody would hit your car, and all traffic would be able to squeeze through. Everything works out: you leave your car safe and sound. Then, you come back to your car. On it sits a golden envelope wedged into your window with a charge of anywhere between $20 and $40.

UMBC’s parking enforcement may come from the right place, but their aggressive ticketing policy and unwillingness to create new spaces makes life tough for commuting students, leaving the student body prey to what often feels like predatory ticketing. Countless students continue to park in places that aren’t technically spots because they have no options, and UMBC continues to profit from their situation.

Helen Garland, manager of UMBC parking services, explained the policy: “parking enforcement is used to manage the parking inventory, enforce the campus parking rules and provide safety for vehicular and pedestrian traffic. The campus uses posted signs instead of painted curbs to restrict parking. For example, no parking is posted where parking would impede the daylight of the intersection, safety or vehicle access.”

This is all fair and good, but the problem rests in the fact that in many places there are no signs are in place or any indication that you can’t park there. In many places, there’s little reason to believe lighting or vehicle access would be impeded. Without signs, students can’t occupy this real estate — it seems a strange choice, considering how free and open they appear.

An example is in the A parking lot parallel to the public policy building — there are curbs that, although are not marked parking spots, do not fall under the limiting criteria Garland mentioned above. Yet, one would still receive a ticket for unlawful parking if parked there. 

The aggressive parking enforcement is aggravating, but also questionable is where the revenue from parking enforcement is channeled. According to Garland, “ticket revenue goes to the general fund at the university and is not a budget item or revenue stream for the parking department.”

The copious amounts of dollars students give to the university for parking violations isn’t directed toward improving the system — it’s directed at any number of expenses. There is no question that this revenue is useful to the university, but the harsh enforcement and lack of spots feels like a predatory tactic to get more cash flow for the university without any intent of helping solve the issue.

The answer to this parking absurdity is actually very simple. The supply is not there for the demand. The numbers of the lopsided parking system reveal this. According to Garland, there are 7,250 parking spaces on campus, including the 391 spot freshman satellite lot. There have been 11,276 parking passes doled out this year. While hardly a scientific study, the difficulties some have parking seem more understandable in the face of these figures. The strict parking enforcement and ticketing plan includes at least three designated parking enforcers that stroll around campus, which makes sense when actual safety is impeded, but that’s often not the case.

The solution to the parking problem as a whole is large and long-term. There are garages to construct, lines to paint. What can be done in the near-to-immediate future, however, is a reconsideration of what is deemed illegal parking by parking management, or an effort at creating more spaces where possible.