Nov 2, 2013 5:45 PM by AP (PHOTO: MGN ONLINE)
LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) - It's barely 6 a.m. on Thursday, and Maria Chiriboga is eating a bowl of Cheerios in her car. She is parked on the shoulder of the one-way portion of Girard Park Drive, just feet from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette campus.
She's not alone.
"I have to get here earlier now," Chiriboga says. "The word got out."
Long before light breaks through the morning, more than 20 cars line either side of the road. Most drivers remain in their cars. Many study by the light of their cars' interior bulbs. Some play on their smartphones. A couple catch an early morning nap. One watches a movie on his laptop.
For Chiriboga, waking early each day to score a parking spot by the campus is a necessity. The sophomore psychology major works immediately after attending classes. The free shuttle from the main campus to Cajun Field won't get her to work on time.
"It's tricky to park on campus," she says. "You have to know where to park."
Students need inventive ways to park on the UL campus, where more than 16,000 students are enrolled and fewer than 3,000 can park on any given day.
If Chiriboga gets to campus too late, she scours neighborhoods that border the campus for a curbside spot.
Brittany Schexnayder, a junior nursing major, parks on Girard Park Drive on days when she has exams. Usually, that's at least once a week.
The shuttle service from Cajun Field to the main campus doesn't start until 7 a.m., and the wait to catch a shuttle can be 30 minutes or more. Schexnayder doesn't want to take any chances.
"The lines at Cajun Field have been absolutely ridiculous," Schexnayder says. "And in nursing, you can't be even a minute late. They lock the door, and we're only allowed one unexcused absence."
Like Chiriboga, Schexnayder sometimes finds herself searching for legal parking spots along neighborhood roads near campus.
Two or three rounds of tickets are doled out daily to cars parked illegally in neighborhoods near campus, according to Pearly Alfred, parking administrator for Lafayette Consolidated Government's Traffic and Transportation Department.
Residents in the university area petitioned decades ago to get restrictions placed on streets near campus, Alfred said. Legal parking spaces are few, although most of the houses near campus are occupied by students.
"The biggest complaint we hear around the university area is blocking driveways," Alfred said. "Or they're parking too close to a stop sign, and they're stuck in the line of sight."
For UL students, campus parking and transit solutions are a top concern.
They're not alone.
Most universities and colleges struggle with on-campus parking, so much so that many have restrictions on vehicles. Tulane University in New Orleans, for example, does not allow freshmen to buy parking permits or park on campus.
UL's parking and transit issues are currently being addressed by the university in the newly named Office of Transportation Services, formerly known as the Office of Parking and Transit. Cheri Soileau, who became its director in July, says transportation can improve the quality of anyone's life.
"Students already have a lot on their plates," Soileau said in a news release Friday. "The last thing they - or our visitors - should have to worry about is where to park."
Soileau previously worked as a senior transit planner in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and her responsibilities included planning and scheduling shuttles for the University of North Texas.
Multiple requests for an interview with Soileau went unanswered by UL.
Currently, the primary parking option on the main campus for commuter students and visitors is the paid lot located along Girard Park Circle. Parking rates are $1.25 for the first hour and 25 cents for every 15 minutes after.
A few dozen on-campus parking spots are also available for purchase each semester through a lottery system.
Commuter students frequently complain that the two parking garages on campus are only available to faculty members and those living on campus.
"There is definitely an issue," said Emily Musso, a junior pre-med major. "You'll see people walking a half an hour from their apartment just so they don't have to bring their car here."
A 1,150-space parking garage is planned along Lewis Street. The project, along with another to improve the Athletic Complex facilities, was approved by the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget in September.
Between 400 and 500 spots in the garage would be allotted to commuter students and university visitors, according to Aaron Martin, marketing director for the university.
Although campus parking is a top concern for UL students, there will never be enough parking on the main campus to accommodate the growing university's student body and faculty.
Fall 2013 regular enrollment is at 16,646, and 1,636 faculty and staff members have parking permits on campus.
"It's a problem," Musso says. "I don't know where else they could put spaces because there's businesses and houses around the campus. I guess there's not much else they can do."
The UL Master Plan calls for less dependence on vehicle traffic by increasing shaded walkways, expanding sidewalks, building a parking garage and creating new bike paths.
The master plan also includes the possibility of a 2,000-space parking garage in the St. Mary and St. Landry corridor across from Olde Tyme Grocery, with ground-level retail spaces.
Students approved a $7.50 per credit hour fee, which began in January, to fund the plan.
For now, however, some students rise long before the sun in hopes of snagging a spot near campus to avoid the hassles of taking a shuttle from Cajun Field.
"If I could, I would probably use the bus," Chiriboga said. "But it's just way more convenient for me to just wake up earlier and get a close parking spot."