Princeton University undergraduates and the ‘Daily Princetonian’ editorial board are protesting about a plan by the University to limit undergraduate car parking on campus. This is nothing new. Students have been protesting for decades about plans by the University to restrict car use. Despite that, the University’s historical lack of interest in easy car use is a major reason why the present campus is so great. Let’s consider the reasons why…
When it emerged last week that the University plans to ‘ban’ undergraduate car parking on campus, many students left comments online voicing their anger. But the University is not really ‘banning’ cars, it’s just revising the parking policy so that students won’t get parking automatically. Even setting aside the question of sustainability (!), past University policy has always prioritized walking and biking on campus. That is a large reason why the present campus is such a pleasant, people-oriented place. The closing of College Road to through traffic in 1964, which is beyond the memory of current undergrads, is an example of the choices made by University management which enable students today to enjoy the campus without being hassled by passing cars. The latest decision to limit parking is just a continuation of this past policy of deprioritizing cars in favor of a walkable campus.
As the University grows, and with plans afoot for a new residential college, hard choices must be made about how space close to campus is used. Providing space to park cars is not part of Princeton University’s core mission. (The same goes for faculty and staff parking, which could and should be next to go.) With increasing transportation options, the necessity of keeping a car on campus is questionable. Although students are vocal about wanting to park cars today, this is really nothing new: protests like these have been ongoing since at least 1927. In that year, Princeton University undergraduates got national press attention when they started roller-skating around campus after a restriction on car ownership, waving placards saying “They haven’t taken this away yet!”
The students who are complaining about limitations on car use do make some good points. It is hard to get groceries in downtown Princeton, which is a particular problem for undergraduates who don’t subscribe to the elitist ‘Eating Clubs‘ that provide dining for many upper-class students. Ideally, the University might think about options for expanding food retail options close to campus as part of the next Campus Plan. Alternatively, increased transit service to Route 1 supermarkets could be provided. Keeping a car just to drive to a supermarket once week doesn’t make much sense anyway. Uber or hourly car rental can cover those trips for cheaper than the cost of car ownership. Limits on car parking for undergraduates are not unusual: at some universities, students aren’t even allowed to park in the local town, never mind on campus.
As the University makes it tougher for students to park on campus, the town of Princeton ought to anticipate increased parking of student vehicles on local streets. In much of the former Borough, this is impossible, because of overnight parking bans, but overnight parking is still allowed on many streets in the former Township. The local Governing Body voted against an extension of overnight parking regulations last year. The town could either ban student parking, or set an appropriate fee for it. The second option seems fairer. Students should not have to give up the privilege of keeping a private car when they join Princeton University, but it is reasonable to expect them to pay a fee for parking that car.
- The post was edited 5.10.16 to clarify that overnight parking is permitted on some former Township roads (but not all of them).