Looming over my house like a giant grey troll and spending most of the evening hording the last rays of the setting sun, the Harmon Parking Deck is the unquestionable house-of-the-lord for all who come to the UA.
And why not? The parking deck is the largest in Arkansas.
It’s not only a place to put your car (how mundane) but a facility complete with a Razorstop to facilitate your every need.
Opened in August 2005, it has a total of 2,149 spaces. Besides the numerous impromptu gravel parking lots created recently, the deck is a vast improvement from the Stadium Drive Parking Deck – the last real parking project completed in 1999. It only has 586 parking spots and with its Copy Center, it only facilitates your paper needs.
Despite the improvement, it’s hard to miss that The Deck is eerily empty. Even after almost two years of explosions, construction and grand openings, The Deck, with maybe two of its nine levels full during any given weekday, seems like an embarrassing failure.
I’ve not met a single person – staff or student – who’s attributed this cause to anything less than the $537.99 price tag for a deck permit.
Looking at the numbers
Six months after the opening of the new deck there had been virginal kinks in the software of The Deck’s new operating system. During an interview with Transit and Parking Director Gary Smith, the question of whether the deck would continue to be vacant came up.
Smith shrugged off the question saying that people had predicted the same thing about the Stadium Drive deck when it was first built. A year later it was at max capacity.
One year after the Harmon deck was built, the place is still lifeless. Only 772 permits have been sold – about 36 percent of the spots – and only 200 spots (9 percent) were sold during the USC invasion.
Transit and Parking, however, is still holding firm to the belief that The Deck is a good investment. Andy Gilbride, Program Advisor for Transit and Parking, said it takes about three years to fill the spaces enough to begin to pay for the parking deck, which costs $13,650 per space, or about $3 million.
While people might not be paying for spots now, he said, they will eventually come around because of simple convenience.
“You pay for convenience if you don’t want to have to wait for a bus or find a parking spot,” Gilbride said, with suspicious assurance and confidence.
Convenience is also a cute little word for wealth. Short of saying Transit and Parking is creating motor vehicle elitism, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a struggling grad student or a non-traditional undergrad with two jobs and a kid purchasing that convenience.
If a press release by Transit and Parking is any indication, then students are willing and able to do anything not to pay for parking.
According to the press release, 13 students have been found with “altered parking permits.” Gilbride said the fake permits have been made by people using computers to create a ’06-’07 tag with a parking permit from last year. Most of the fakes have been impressively bad, although one violator had one so perfect that they were only caught because someone reported them.
It’s only a matter of time before some computer geek with too much time creates a card that allows free access into The Deck’s gulag-like gates. That, or students will buy a collective helicopter to drop everybody right on their target classes.
It’s easy to think of Transit and Parking as a bureaucratic Sheriff of Nottingham taxing and fining the poor public. But why not force on-campus students to park off campus? The university provides all the essentials for daily living, there’s no need to have a car that close to campus.
The simple answer is that we’re fat, lazy and too comfy. The more complex answer is not as funny.
Students are still unlikely to pay for the high cost of parking, especially with the destined 15 percent increase over the next three years. And within the next 10 years, the city and the UA will be unable to support their own transit system. The area will be so large we won’t get certain federal grants that smaller areas receive.
The gods of past and present have always demanded more and more from worshippers until the inevitable sacrifice of a virgin and the destruction of the entire civilization.
Our Ford in heaven is no different. He will demand more and more sacrifices made in the name of the car.
I pray for the flames of Hell to engulf all the vehicles on campus. Then, we will move to a time of unicycles and Segways.
Our Ford in heaven, grant me this wish.
– Arkansas Traveler, Sept. 13, 2006
[Original column available here.]