The new 10th Street: Parking isn’t the problem, you are

As students began to arrive back on campus this semester, one of the biggest changes to campus was something Hope College can take very little ownership of: the newly constructed 10th Street that passes right through campus. The day immediately following Convocation for the class of 2021, the City of Holland began to tear up 10th Street in order to replace the 100-year-old water and sewer mains under the street. This also meant resurfacing the street, replacing the curbs and sidewalks. The biggest addition was a new bike lane running in both directions from Lincoln Avenue, in front of DeVos Fieldhouse, to Pine Avenue past the western edge of campus and Centennial Park. 

Student response to the construction project has been mixed, to say the least. One of the biggest concerns is that parking is now only allowed on the south side of the street, instead of on both sides as the old configuration of the street allowed. This parking was removed on the north side in order to make room for the new bike lane without having to significantly widen the street, which would have necessitated the removal of many trees. Some students appreciate the new bike lane as they now feel safer biking down 10th Street. Others appreciate that they no longer have to cross the street between parked cars, obscured from the view of 10th Street drivers, as they can use the two mid-block crossings. However, no group of students is louder than those who cannot find parking. 

Parking has always been a touchy subject on Hope’s campus. A large portion of students and faculty feel that there is not enough parking on campus. Many tell stories of driving around for 20-30 minutes trying to find a parking spot on campus close to where they want to go. Others complain about the exorbitant cost of parking passes. I’m here to tell you something that many of you will argue with me about with every breath of air you have: WE DO NOT HAVE A PARKING PROBLEM AT HOPE. Here’s why:

Hope is an urban campus. We are surrounded on all sides by the city of Holland. Not suburban Holland with wide avenues, high-speed roads, highways and confusing cul-de-sacs, but dense, gridded, walkable Holland, where you can get to downtown, the Herrick District Library, Kollen Park, Window on the Waterfront, Centennial Park, Mi Favorita Grocery Store and the Amtrak Station all in under 15 minutes. Hope’s campus is designed so that you can get to almost any building from any corner of campus in a 10 minute passing time between classes. This is intentional, and something that the Campus Master Plan lays out as one of its guidelines for expansion planning. Because we are an urban campus, walking and biking is necessary to get to most places (especially because no roads run through the center of campus). The removal of 12th Street between College and Lincoln Avenues, orchestrated by President Emeritus Gordon Van Wylen in the early 1990s, cemented this ideal into our campus. 

Thus, due to our urban campus, parking cannot be provided for everyone when and where they want it, and this is OKAY. Space is incredibly limited on Hope’s campus. Anyone who is familiar with the Space Committee 一 the body that decides what offices and departments get to occupy what spaces 一 can tell you how contentious an issue space is. All of the space in Hope’s central core is either taken up by buildings or vital communal greenspace, like the Pine Grove. Our community cannot afford to replace these green spaces with parking lots. Our campus would become more spread out if a large parking lot was required next to every building. Would everyone be able to drive from their house four blocks away and park right in front of their building for class? Sure, but it would feel more like the campus of Michigan State University, with large roads, busy intersections, traffic lights and even longer walks for those without vehicles. Losing our greenspace to parking and forcing campus to be more spread out would attack the sense of community that we experience at Hope, which is essential to our transformative nature. 

So you may be thinking, “Great, we can’t add more parking lots, but why remove so much parking on 10th Street?” Urban Planners use a variety of tools available to them to make big controversial decisions like these. One of these tools is traffic counts. Traffic counts collect data on how many people use a street each day and what mode of travel they are using, whether that be driving, cycling or walking. Both the City of Holland and a local cycling organization, Pedal Holland, carried out extensive traffic counts all along the 10th Street corridor for years before the project began. Pedal Holland found that during peak usage times such as between 5 and 7 p.m., up to 60% of users were active users, meaning they used 10th Street on foot or bicycle or longboard, etc. This means that less than half of the users were in motorized vehicles. The most logical conclusion would be that 10th Street was set up so that 60% of the space between the outside edges of the sidewalk would be dedicated to walking and cycling. This couldn’t have been further from the truth. In fact, upwards of  70% of the width of the corridor was dedicated to vehicle traffic, in driving lanes and parking space, while the other 30% was split between the sidewalk space and the greenspace between the road and the sidewalks. Now, the configuration is still less than ideal, but some of the space dedicated to vehicular traffic has been converted to the bike lane, making about 40% of the width for non-vehicular transportation and greenspace. This was a needed step in the right direction. 

Now you’re thinking, “Okay, maybe it was necessary to lose those parking spaces, but that doesn’t change the fact that there aren’t enough parking spaces on campus.” I’m sorry to keep doing this to you, but you’re wrong again. The Campus Master plan determined in 2017 that Hope has a surplus of 215 parking spaces, even if you removed all of the on-street parking on the streets that run through and along campus. This was determined using a generally accepted ratio of enrolled students to parking spaces that takes into account faculty, staff and visitor parking needs as well. The problem isn’t a lack of parking spots on campus, it’s you. It’s you when you drive from your cottage on 14th Street to Lubbers Hall for class, when you drive from Kollen Hall to the football field for practice and when you drive from the Science Center to your downtown apartment because you can’t handle the seven-minute walk. On our urban campus, every time you choose to take your car on a pointless trip through campus, you are making the parking problem worse. Walking, biking or taking the shuttle are far better alternatives that are better for our campus community and, conveniently, better for the environment. When you unnecessarily drive, you are also taking parking spots away from the people that actually need them: people with mobility issues such as a senior community member or a person with a disability or injury. These people, delivery drivers and off-campus visitors all rely on the limited, convenient parking spaces on campus. The reason they can’t find parking is because of your choice to be entrenched in the car culture that has so firmly grasped our country for the last century. Cars are great and necessary to get us places off-campus, but once you are on campus, there are very few reasons to waste any more gas and take up that much space. 

On a more personal note, I am upset with the 10th Street project for another reason. It doesn’t go far enough to protect cyclists and advance cycling infrastructure in the city. Back in August of 2020, the city of Holland tested a cycle track on 10th Street between Lincoln Avenue and Kollen Park. A cycle track is a bi-directional, traffic-separated pair of lanes on the roadway next to the vehicular travel lanes. They are widely used in cities around the U.S. like Washington, D.C., and New York City and are becoming more popular in smaller cities as well. A cycle track is what is referred to in the transportation planning world as a protected bike lane. A protected bike lane is cycling infrastructure that is exclusively for cyclists, physically separated from vehicular traffic and is on or adjacent to the roadway (not a separate path). The bike lanes that are now on 10th Street and every single other bike lane in the city of Holland are unprotected bike lanes. Unprotected bike lanes do not do enough to keep cyclists safe, whereas protected bike lanes are much safer for cyclists. Unprotected bike lanes leave cyclists exposed to vehicular traffic, getting “doored” by running into the opening doors of parked cars into the bike lane and bike lane obstructions, such as illegally parked cars or delivery vehicles that force cyclists to dangerously and unexpectedly swerve into the vehicle travel lane in front of moving vehicles. All of these concerns are eliminated with a protected bike lane because there is a buffer between the cycle track and the vehicular travel. 

Another big distinction is that fewer people feel like they can use unprotected bike lanes because they are so exposed. Protected bike lanes are much more likely to be used by children and families because they can feel safe while using them. This was evident during the cycle track trial, as I saw many families with young children still using training wheels on the cycle track. Making cycling more accessible to less experienced bikers and bikers of all ages helps to increase non-vehicular travel, making better use of our urban space and helping to decrease this perceived “parking problem.”

The cycle track trial had one major problem: because of the existing width of the street, parking on all of 10th Street was temporarily removed to ensure that two vehicles could pass going in either direction without having to swerve into the cycle track. Many Hope community members and West 10th Street residents were concerned that this meant they would lose their parking for good. The finished 10th Street is slightly wider than it was before in order to accommodate the bike lane. The bike lane we have now and the proposed cycle track take up about the same amount of width on the street. This means that we have a worse bike lane with the same initial drawback of losing parking on the north side of the street. The city chose to listen to the residents of 10th Street even though most experts would agree that the cycle track design would have been better for the community. This emphasizes the tension in the longstanding question that most urban planners face: when is it okay to ignore public opinion and default to decades of research, data and experience often backed up by years of personal education? The people don’t always know what is best for them because they cannot be experts in everything; should they get their way anyway? The answer to that question will always be a complicated one.

Now please don’t get me wrong, the new 10th Street is so much better than what we had before. Not only do we have a bike lane, but there are other improvements that make the street safer for all of us. The raised crosswalks between Cook Hall and Durfee Hall, Lubbers Hall and the Keppel House and the Martha Miller Center and the Jack Miller Center make it safer for people to cross the street at the places that aren’t at an intersection. They also force drivers to drive more slowly and indicate that that space is a pedestrian space first, and a vehicular space second. Additionally, at the intersections and at the crosswalks, curb extensions, or bulb-outs, make the width of the street narrower. This is beneficial for a few reasons: It keeps vehicles from crowding the intersections and the pedestrian crossings, keeping a clear line of sight for both drivers and pedestrians, it makes the intersection smaller, which forces drivers to proceed with more caution and it makes the crosswalks shorter, so pedestrians have less street width to cross. All of these traffic calming measures will keep Hope students and faculty safer for decades to come. 

Because of the 10th Street Project, our campus infrastructure has been greatly improved. I hope that these changes will help us to realize the real problems that our campus faces: we abuse our cars, we don’t value the dense and walkable nature of our campus and we have other infrastructure issues on and around campus that need to be improved in order to make our community safer, more accessible and more enjoyable. We are the problem, which means we have the power to be the solution. 

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