Opinion: Rethink student parking

A+parking+lot+with+a+few+spaces+left+for+drivers+to+park+in.

Zulfiqar Ahmed | Northern Star

A parking lot with a few spaces left for drivers to park in.

Parker Otto, Columnist

For years, the only parking options for students living in residence halls were the orange parking lots  near New Hall and Grant and Stevenson Towers, meaning that residents of Neptune and Gilbert Hall had to park in lots which made accessing their vehicles more inconvenient. This changed during the COVID-19 pandemic when Neptune and Gilbert residents were allowed to park in lots closer to their respective residence halls during the 2020-2021 academic year. Despite no plans to do so, campus Parking Services ought to continue this policy this academic year to improve life at NIU for students living in Neptune Hall.

During the last academic year, students in Neptune with orange parking passes, ones made for residential students, were allowed to park on certain levels of the NIU Parking Deck and students in Gilbert were allowed to park in Lot V by Anderson Hall, according to a Sept. 18, 2020 email from Parking Services sent out to Neptune and Gilbert residents. Originally, these lots were for commuter students and faculty.

Having available parking close by these residence halls made life at NIU more convenient for students living there to leave campus to get groceries, commute to an off-campus job or explore the rest of DeKalb.

Parking Services hasn’t extended this new policy into the 2021-2022 academic year for students living in Neptune Hall, due to in-person classes becoming available in the Fall 2021 semester. However, this will only hurt students living at Neptune Hall as the closest parking to them will be lots by New Hall, Stevenson and Grant Towers. This means that students living in four of NIU’s residence halls will have parking right outside, while students living in Neptune Hall will have to walk across campus to access their vehicles, which can be difficult during the winter months.

The policy that Parking Services made allowing closer parking for resident students was based on inclusivity. The lots that Neptune and Gilbert students were allowed to park in during the 2020-2021 school year originally allowed commuter students, faculty and staff to park in them. The rescinding of this policy only excludes resident students in Neptune Hall while Gilbert students are allowed to continue parking in Lot V.

According to Parking Services, 1,454 students have purchased orange parking passes while 5,482 students have purchased yellow parking passes, ones made for commuter students. With students paying upwards of $4,954 to live in residence halls and also paying money to have a vehicle on campus, having close parking is fair and ought to continue for every student living and taking classes at NIU. 

Continuing this policy for only Gilbert Hall is understandable since Lot V, where students from Gilbert can park, is further away from the heart of campus. However, there is room for both commuter students and resident students to coexist with parking in the heart of campus. The most used lots on campus by commuters are Lot C (located West of Neptune Hall), Lots E and 2 (located East of the Campus Life Building) and the Parking Deck, said Jessica Nunez, interim coordinator of Parking and Traffic at Parking Services. 

The ones used the least, but located in the center of NIU campus, are lots 15E (located North of the Student Recreation Center) and L and K (both located Southwest of Barsema Visitor’s Center), Nunez said. 

If there is a way for Parking Services to continue last year’s policy while also offering convenient selections for commuters and faculty, they should do so. One possible solution would be to have lots C and E, which are located near Neptune Hall, available not just to commuter students and faculty but also to residential students who live close by. And if those lots aren’t feasible, other locations like the Parking Deck, Lot 2, Lot V or Lot D  are more convenient for students living in Neptune Hall.

While parking will always be a controversial subject at most universities, this is a problem that can’t be ignored, especially when there are some reasonable solutions present. While it is understandable to want to go back to normal after a year and a half of remote learning, some elements of the 2020-2021 academic year should have some spiritual successor.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 11 a.m. Sept. 16 to reflect that students who live in Gilbert Hall with an orange parking pass are allowed to park in Lot V.