Some Things Never Change!
For some reason, my parents bought into the idea that a college freshman should not have a car. So, when I arrived at the University of California, Santa Barbara, over 30 years ago, I felt like the only idiot being punished for some long-lost parochial wisdom. Of course, I did have the opportunity to go away to college, but such appreciation was lost in the residual resentment that came with being a sullen teen.
While a normal commute posed
its own challenges, a rainy-day commute took campus driving to a whole new level.
Instead, I arrived at my dormitory with a shiny pink mountain bike ready to expand my horizons (and yes, I realize the proper term is residence hall, but I am reliving my youthful experience). This is when I was first exposed to the demands of vehicle management in a university setting. Those who had cars at the time either had the luxury of using a coveted parking space at the off campus dormitory (freshmen were not guaranteed on campus housing in my time) or were forced to move their cars every few days to prevent burglaries or on-street towing.
Since I lived in an off campus dorm, I quickly realized who had a car. We all did, because if you wanted to head to the market or venture beyond Isla Vista, the adjacent college town, you needed a car. We had free bus access with our student IDs, but the bus, at that time, was unreliable and there were no digital signs, mobile devices, or internet to guide the way (yes, I am that old).
While a normal commute posed its own challenges, a rainy-day commute took campus driving to a whole new level (yes, it does sometimes rain in California, and yes, El Nino events were epic). Rather than ride my bike and get a muddy skunk stripe down my back or wait for the already crowded bus delayed by the line of packed cars at the campus entrance, I would foolishly pack into a dormmate’s vehicle, clown-car style, and chug along with the understanding that the clown-car passengers would pay for the daily permit fee.
We would wait, creeping along, crammed in, and backing up traffic, including the buses, along El Colegio Road, until we purchased our daily permit. Then we would stupidly hunt for a parking space. Sometimes we would bail on the driver in order to get to class, other times we would give up and go back to the dorm and, once in a while, we would locate a parking space so far away that simply walking to class with our umbrellas would have been the better option.
Soon after, I would begin my career introduction into parking by becoming the first parking enforcement officer in Isla Vista (IV, for those in the know). Who knew that over 30 years later I would be dealing with the same congestion mitigation issues today?
IV was dense. Students crammed into apartments, especially along the coastline, parking lots overflowed, and it was easy to do my job because there were so many safety hazards. Every day, I wrote tickets for blocking fire hydrants, double-parking, impeding accessibility ramps—the list goes on—and yes, I WROTE parking tickets. We didn’t have the advantages of handhelds and electronic tools. If I found a scofflaw, it was usually because of a personalized license plate that I could recall from skimming the paper list throughout the day. Calling for a tow truck would only occur after the records department verified the scofflaw's delinquent status over the radio. By the time the tow truck arrived, I would be lucky if the car was still there, the entire process and paperwork taking the majority of my day.
What’s interesting now is that when I visit my old stomping grounds, I am envious of the advancements. There are no longer entrance booths causing back-ups along the arterials, digital messaging at the bus stops now indicates route timing, the bike paths have expanded, and campus parking lots have been replaced with educational buildings. Isla Vista, while still crowded, seems a bit more organized and provides improved opportunities for pedestrians and bicycle access. And what’s more, parking personnel are now equipped with automated technology to efficiently manage parking impacts.
But at the core root, we are still dealing with the same challenges. Parking spaces are limited and students are encouraged to leave their cars at home. If they do bring their cars, they try to juggle the parking regulations, likely impacting the surrounding neighborhoods. Most don’t want to ride their bikes in the rain (muddy skunk stripes are not pleasant), but now, we have the technology to promote bus availability and optimize ridership—I won’t even mention the introduction of rideshare and drop-off impacts to the campus and already congested community.
I can’t imagine what college would have been like with a mobile device. I may not be ancient, but old enough to have lived in a society without the worldwide web, and it’s hard to think back to a time that we didn’t have immediate access to up-to-date information. Yet even today, when communications go down or a vendor integration is unsuccessful, I am quickly reminded of what it felt like to be riding my bike through IV and making it work. After all, some things never change, and for everything else, we figure out how to adapt.
Julie Dixon is President of Dixon Resources Unlimited. She can be reached at Julie@dixonresourcesunlimited.com.