In an effort to help the city of Auburn collect data on how many university students are taking advantage of downtown parking spaces while attending class on campus, Auburn University will begin monitoring all registered student vehicles parking in downtown lots.
The monitoring will likely begin sometime in September, said Vice President of Student Affairs Bobby Woodard.
"We need to figure out first, what is the major problem downtown," he said. "Is it 100 (students) parking and coming to class. Is it 20?"
The university will use its license plate recognition cameras, which are currently in use on campus, to tag student vehicles that are parked downtown. Students will not receive tickets, but, if it is determined that their vehicles are parked downtown for a long period of time, an email will be sent notifying them that downtown parking is available only to restaurant and retail patrons and not available for longterm campus parking.
Woodard admitted that monitoring students parking downtown will be more complex than just tagging their vehicle once.
"It's going to get a little tricky, I'll be honest with you," he said. "We have to make sure they're not downtown eating and stuff like that. So, we'll do a lot rotation. We'll go by — I'm making this time up — 9 in the morning and then at 10:30 or 11 a.m. and see if the same cars are registering at the same spots. That way we'll know if cars are there longer than they're supposed to be."
The university plans to monitor student vehicles downtown for about three to four weeks this fall, then use the data to understand how large the issue of students occupying downtown parking spaces is.
At the same time, a study is ongoing to examine the university's existing on-campus parking options to see if any lots or parking garages can be better utilized for faculty, staff and students. This study will also look at the Tiger Transit system and ways it can be improved to assist more people.
"We're doing a study to utilize our lots and see what lots are being used and at what time of the day," Woodard said. "We also want to see if there's a way to better utilize our transits and reduce the number of cars that actually come to campus."
The study will also address how the university can build future parking facilities to best accommodate faculty, staff and students when constructing new projects on campus.
"Our master plan on campus is ongoing, so we're looking at how we better utilize our parking when we start to build new buildings, or how do we do parking lots," Woodard said, adding that Auburn University is always looking at options for new parking decks. "We're starting to study other schools and universities and how they build up versus out ... We're always looking at what lots we can take and modify. We'd love to build a couple of decks, but to be honest with you, decks are expensive, and we also want to make sure the look of Auburn stays what Auburn wants it to stay."
Woodard, who has been involved in recent conversations between university and city officials about addressing downtown parking issues, said there is always potential for the university to partner with the city on a deck in the future.
"We have a great relationship with the city of Auburn, and we are one and the same," he said. "We work together to see how we can better utilize our space, which is the whole city of Auburn.
"We and the city are always looking — say there was a piece of land, four acres or something close to (downtown) ... that someone was selling, we and the city would get together and say, 'OK, how can we make this mutually beneficial for both of us.' "
Woodard applauded the efforts the city is making to address downtown parking issues. The city recently unveiled a multi-faceted parking plan that includes increased meter fees and stricter parking time limits; a partnership with AuburnBank for downtown employee parking and public valet parking; and the construction of a second downtown parking deck on the Baptist Student Center property fronting North College Street, for which negotiations are ongoing, among other efforts.
If an agreement can be reached with the Southern Baptist Convention, the deck would take about 12-18 months to be built, would add 300 parking spaces to the downtown area and would include the Baptist Student Center occupying the first floor of the deck. The deck would be accessible to vehicles off Wright Street and accessible to pedestrians off College Street.
If an agreement is reached this month, it would likely be November before construction on the deck would begin.