BYU students Rachael and Adam Wride commute to campus from Mapleton every day. The Wrides struggled to find street parking at the start of the semester and decided to buy a parking pass, thinking it would make it easier for them to get a spot close to campus.
They haven’t been so lucky.
“There are days when we spend 15-20 minutes driving through Y lots and end up parking on the street because there is a shortage of spots,” Rachael Wride told The Daily Universe. “It’s a bit frustrating because we assumed that with the purchase of a parking pass, there would be enough spots for us to park.”
Aliyah Formen, a junior studying public health, expressed the same frustration.
“A lot of people are buying parking permits but of the people buying, there aren’t actually enough spots,” Formen said. In reference to the new music building being constructed on the east side of campus, she added, “There aren’t a lot of options when it comes to parking, and the parking we did have got demolished!”
Jashod Roy, a Ph.D. student from Baduria, India, said he often struggles to find graduate parking unless he drives to campus early in the morning. Roy and another Ph.D. student John Johanson both said they have noticed a lot of empty faculty parking spots.
“Maybe there’s a lot more faculty than I’m aware of, but I feel like there’s a lot of faculty parking and I don’t know where there’s any more student parking,” Johanson said.
University Police Lt. Rich Christianson said on a phone call with The Daily Universe that he thinks parking is better for faculty this semester with more departments allowing their employees to work from home. Still, this has aided professors more than students. Christianson said he agrees with students frustrated by empty A lots and overflowing Y lots.
“Having to park far away and then walking up to campus and seeing empty A lots would be aggravating,” Christianson said.
If people feel like there are more students on campus this fall, it’s not just their imagination. There are only 34,737 students enrolled at BYU as of September 2021 compared to 35,615 last year, but BYU Media Relations Manager Todd Hollingshead told The Daily Universe via email the number of people taking in-person classes has risen. He doesn’t have exact numbers on how that has changed, however.
Christianson pointed out that lots of Y parking is available further from the school to accommodate more students, such as next to the old Provo High School building and LaVell Edwards Stadium.
“You just might have to trek for 10 minutes to get where you’re going,” Christianson said. “Things are changing all the time. We’re trying to use our space the most efficiently we can.”
Christianson also said he has only been able to hire about 20 students to help with parking enforcement compared to his usual 35-40 volunteers, highlighting a shortage in workers on campus. He expressed his concern that people may get too comfortable parking wherever they want with the dearth in enforcement.
Not a new problem
Complaints about BYU parking aren’t unique to the 21st century. A January 1978 political cartoon by Steve Benson depicts BYU’s parking enforcement as a Cosmo-themed spaceship zapping a college student’s car for staying in a 30-second parking zone for too long.
“We have a serious parking problem on this campus,” communications professor Ray Beckham told The Daily Universe that same year in response to Benson’s cartoon. “We need a serious appraisal of possible solutions.”
Parking problems aren’t unique to BYU either. The University of Utah had 18,758 parking spaces on campus as of 2017 but sells roughly three times that amount of permits, former commuter services director Alma Allred said that year.
Students at Utah Valley University in Orem have been complaining about parking scarcity as well. UVU student Kelsey Anderton said she switched to riding the bus to campus this fall after spending previous semesters scrambling to find good parking every day.
“Often I circled the entire campus to find a spot to park, and sometimes I was even brought to tears because of the frustration of it all,” Anderton said, who lives south of BYU campus, making it necessary for her to seek public transportation or drive herself to school. “I was late to my classes a handful of times because of the lack of parking spaces. I take the bus now mostly so I don’t have to go through the agony of finding a place to park my car.”
Christianson completed his undergraduate studies at UVU and expressed similar concerns about parking from his time as a Wolverine. His past travels across the country accompanying the BYU football team also gave him a greater perspective on how difficult parking is at every university, he said.
“It’s not just us, it’s everywhere,” Christianson said. “When we have as many students as we do, parking’s just going to be painful.”
“Parking is an ongoing challenge for most large universities,” Hollingshead said. “It is something the administration reviews and discusses regularly.”
BYU’s space management coordinator Nathan Summers patrols campus twice a week monitoring parking lots in need of improvement, Christianson said.
Still, Hollingshead called the BYU campus “pedestrian-friendly” and said students can avoid parking problems by taking advantage of access to public transportation, such as the UTA Bus Rapid Transit.
Christianson said part of students’ aversion to using public transportation may be the Western United States attitude of people being attached to their cars.
“People like to drive, they don’t like public transportation,” Christianson said. “Everybody likes their cars out here.”
Indeed, data from a 2014 Pew Research Center survey shows 25% of Northeasterners chose public transportation compared to only 9% in the West. On the other hand, attitudes may shift in the future as an increasing number of young people are open to using public transportation: 21% of those aged 18-29 use buses and metros compared to only 12% of those aged 30-49.
Hollingshead also encouraged students to take advantage of housing proximity and be more open to walking to campus.
The aid of housing proximity in combating the parking problem may lessen in future semesters, however: More people may be commuting to campus starting fall 2022, as the new off-campus housing policy allows students to live in non-BYU-contracted housing.
The BYU Off-Campus Housing office told The Daily Universe via email they’re not sure how this decision will affect parking yet.
Christianson said a new faculty parking lot is opening up across from the ROTC Wells Building, which will open up Y spots across the street from campus. He also said parking will be more available this fall next to the new music building once construction clears, but then construction will take up spots next to the Harris Fine Arts Center as that building is renovated next.
“It’s just a constant merry-go-round,” Christianson said of the parking situation.
Rachael Wride suggested BYU either open up more spots to students or discount the passes to make it fairer. Roy said A lots should be redistributed and more parking spots should be added by the Wilkinson Student Center.
BYU could add parking spots along Cougar Boulevard and create more parking garages on top of existing lots, Formen said.
Christianson said the cost of constructing elevated parking makes it infeasible in the near future, but he expressed appreciation for the three in place on campus already and hopes more will follow.
“With a school population this vast, it’s kind of crazy how few spots we have,” Formen said. “I think it would make the school more inviting and more accessible.”