Focus group brainstorms strategies, ideas for parking at GVSU

GVL / Kevin Sielaff - Parking lot H pictured from above on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016.

Kevin Sielaff

GVL / Kevin Sielaff – Parking lot H pictured from above on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016.

Emily Doran

To discuss the current state of parking at Grand Valley State University and brainstorm ideas to create additional spaces, Jim Bachmeier, associate vice president for strategic initiatives and Chief Renee Freeman of the GVSU police department held a parking focus group with student senate.

Roughly 20 student senators attended the focus group Thursday, Nov. 10, which was formatted as a casual discussion in which everyone had an opportunity to ask questions, provide commentary and offer suggestions about parking policies and logistics.

“(Bachmeier and Freeman) reached out to me and they said that they’d been hearing concerns about parking,” said Beth Hopkins, student senate vice president of campus affairs. “They don’t really get a lot of feedback from students directly about current parking issues on campus, so they were just looking for any sort of dialogue with students about how parking is, how it’s going, what they think of it, things that they wish they could change.”

Bachmeier opened the discussion by inviting the student senators to express their opinions about parking at GVSU and offer their ideas and solutions to any problems.

He also addressed the common suggestion to build a parking structure on the Allendale Campus to remedy the supposed shortage of available and convenient parking spaces. While building such a structure would not be unthinkable, he said, it would be expensive.

“It’s all about money,” Bachmeier said. “Even to this extent, if our students as a group really wanted a student parking ramp and the costs that go with it, I think we’d build a student parking ramp.

“Now, here’s the bad news: by the time you plan it and get it built and get to park in it, you’re doing this for or to the people that follow you.”

One student senator asked about the increase in fines for parking tickets this year, adding some students cannot graduate because they have balances on their accounts due to parking fines that need to be paid.

“The whole purpose of the fine process is not to penalize,” Freeman said. “It really is to encourage people to follow the rules. (We) tried so hard this year especially to educate about all the changes and help people understand you have to be responsible when you’re parking on campus.”

Other ideas discussed during the focus group included adding more bus stops, not allowing freshmen to have cars on campus, creating a GVSU ride-share program between campuses and developing an app to track parking availability, among others. Bachmeier, Freeman and the student senators dissected these ideas, weighing their potential benefits and downsides and analyzing whether their implementation would be realistic.

Hopkins said there will likely be another parking focus group next semester open to the GVSU community so more students will have the chance to express their opinions.

“Ultimately, I’m really glad to know that (Bachmeier and Freeman are) open to student discussion and student dialogue on the problem,” Hopkins said. “Going forward, I’d like to schedule another (focus group) next semester. (I) do think that this is a really important topic, and it’s obviously something that students are very passionate about, so just letting them express those opinions is always a great first step.”