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UMBC plans alternatives to reduce need for campus parking

.@UMBC plans alternatives to reduce need for campus parking

As major construction projects at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, campus progress, one thing that won't be increasing is the amount of parking.

University officials, when planning an $85 million, 5,000-seat event center, made the decision about five years ago to rely on the existing parking and transit services to accommodate visitors, said Joe Regier, executive director of transit for the university.

The university's campus, between Catonsville and Arbutus, has 7,247 parking spots, according to Paul Dillon, deputy chief of police for the university.

Enrollment is on the rise, as the university has eclipsed 14,000 students and there are 1,800 faculty and staff members.

There is no extra cost for a student to obtain a parking permit, Dillon said, adding the cost is included in student fees.

During peak times — Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. — the lots are not totally filled, Dillon said.

"We believe that our parking inventory is currently sufficient for our needs," he said. "Everybody's not here at the same time. What you count on is the spots to turn over."

The most recent lot built on campus is lot 29, with 400 spaces, built about three years ago, after the completion of the UMBC Gateway Project, an improved entryway into campus from Interstate 95 and I-195. The project resulted in a net loss of about 170 spots, Dillon said. The construction of the lot cost about $5,000 per spot, he said.

The university has several initiatives in place to promote a green and sustainable campus and reduce the number of cars on campus.

UMBC Transit has seven bus lines linking students to local destinations as well as downtown Baltimore and BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport. Its most popular route is the Arbutus route, which provided 200,000 rides last year.

An eighth line is in the works that would connect the university to Ellicott City and Columbia, Regier said, adding if it is approved, it has the potential to reach 1,000 students who live in the area.

Transit is now being considered in the master planning document for the university for the first time, Regier said.

"We're being considered that kind of asset that needs attention," he said.

While students use university transit and ridesharing programs to get to downtown, the university has partnered with Zipcar to provide discounted memberships to students. The Zipcar app allows students to rent cars for hourly and daily rates. It has been on campus since 2011.

There are six cars that can be rented on campus, said Regier, the transit director. It's a number that can increase with more usage, he said.

The partnership was made with the intention to keep more cars at home, Regier said.

Zipcar usage has gradually increased since 2014, with fall months having higher usage than other months. Last year, usage peaked in October, with about 110 monthly drivers — an increase of about 25 from the year before.

"My hope is that Zipcar continues to multiply on its own success," he said. "That means it keeps more cars at home."

While Regier said the university has no relationship with popular mainstream ridesharing apps such as Uber or Lyft, it does provide a service, called ZimRide, that connects UMBC drivers to those who need a ride.

ZimRide has been on campus since 2015 and is open for anyone who has an active UMBC ID and email address, said Emily Moroney, assistant director of off campus student services. Those who need a ride or want to offer a ride from point A to point B can post on UMBC's portal with the hopes of making a connection with another user. Unlike the ridesharing apps, ZimRide users are able to plan rides ahead of time and negotiate prices.

The system has 1,128 users and has had 752 rides since its inception, Moroney said.

The university also offers 15 prime parking spots in a lot near the center of campus for what it calls casual carpooling, a program that was introduced in 2015. Commuters who carpool can place two windshield permits in a car and get access to the spots between 7:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. daily, when the spots are highest in demand, Moroney said.

While Regier said the casual carpooling was a service that promoted itself at first, Moroney said more spots are not being contemplated because there has not been a drastic increase in usage. She said it has maintained an average of about 35 users per semester. She said she believes the increase hasn't happened because some commuters want to leave campus between classes, while others may not have carpool partners who have matching schedules.

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