Establishments add preferential parking for eco-friendly vehicles
By Kacey Deamer
Parking has become a new experience in recent years. When pulling into a parking lot you pass the commonly reserved handicap parking spaces and maybe a few “with child” spaces. Now, you may even have to drive past some prime parking spaces reserved for green vehicles.
In recent years, green parking spaces have appeared in parking lots across the country, from consumer locations to colleges. These preferred spaces are set aside for patrons who drive what is deemed to be an eco-friendly vehicle, usually hybrids or other fuel-efficient cars.
Locally, these newly reserved parking spaces have been implemented at the Carousel Center, a shopping mall in Syracuse, NY.
In a press release put out by the Carousel Center’s Bob Congel, the director of the Destiny USA project (the movement to make the mall more eco-friendly) said that the parking program was created to “educate and include the community in the global efforts toward sustaining the environment and purchasing in an environmentally friendly way.”
However, most of these parking spaces are being implemented not simply to be eco-friendly, but to follow LEED regulation and get their stamp of approval. Campuses such as Ithaca College, the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley, have set aside these spaces to meet LEED certification.
Cars considered eligible to park in the preferred spaces are chosen based on a point system. Factors include pollution made from manufacturing, production and distribution of fuel, and vehicle tailpipes. Air pollution is another aspect of the point system.
According to UW-Madison’s article on UW-Fox Valley’s new program in Madison’s newspaper, The Badger Herald, in order to build a structure in accordance with LEED standards, the campus was required to switch 5 percent of its total parking capacity to these preferred spaces for green cars.
Some students at UW-Fox Valley, however, found the parking spaces to be ‘elitist.’ The Badger Herald article explained that students consider the program simply “a reward [for] the more privileged students who can afford a recent, high-end vehicle.”
Assistant Dean of UW-Fox Valley, James Eagon, defended the program from these attacks. He pointed out that the preferred parking is not limited to hybrid and other similar vehicles; cars like the Chevy Cobalt and Ford Focus also make the list.
There have been more extreme reactions toward these parking spaces. According to an article in The New York Times, one library in Darien, Connecticut received so much criticism after implementing the preferred parking program that the library decided to rearrange the spaces so that only four of the seven spaces were in front by the door. The other three were moved to the middle.
Not much has been said about the Ithaca College campus, where there is only one preferred parking space for visitors outside of the Peggy Ryan Williams Center. Since the total parking for the center is 15 spaces, only one space needed to be set aside as a reserved space for green vehicles to gain LEED credits.
According to Melissa Devendorf, the submittal clerk for HOLT Architects, who were charged with the Peggy Ryan Williams building project, the Peggy Ryan Williams center is pursuing four alternative transportation credits as a part of the LEED certification. She explained that the credits will “encourage the reduction of carbon emissions by providing preferential parking spaces and facilities (charging stations) for those who choose alternative transportation.”
The LEED Platinum certification for the School of Business awarded the site 4.3 credits for the two electric cars for IC staff that will be parked near the site, two charging stations that are available, and preferred parking for hybrids in a nearby lot.
In the past few years LEED certification has become the new “gold star” for college campuses across the United States. As of 2008, there are 415 college-owned LEED certified buildings. There are over 100 more projects currently underway.
Ithaca College has joined this LEED obsession. Marian Brown heads IC’s sustainability movement. She explained that energy savings are appealing, but LEED certification forces a consideration of all environmentally friendly options.
“If you don’t have the discipline in place of trying to meet an ‘outside’ rating system that requires you to think about the longer-range impacts of those decisions,” she said.
Brown went on to explain that once a familiarity with constructing and renovating buildings to higher standards of efficiency is established, the actual LEED certification isn’t a necessity. In order to become LEED certified, an establishment must pay for assessment by the U.S. Green Building Council. Now that the IC campus has two LEED certified buildings, they have the ability to continue environmentally sound expansion without paying for the LEED accreditation costs. Ithaca stated in a press release that any new construction or major renovations will be carried out to LEED silver standard or equivalent.
For now, Brown said, LEED is a good discipline that helps to provide a framework for us to learn what the efficiency standards are and why they are important both environmentally and economically.
Still, the desire to have LEED certification or simply to be eco-friendly has disconcerted some. Whole Foods, a popular organic grocery store, implemented green spaces in accordance with its mission of being environmentally conscious.
But there are still critics to this parking aspect of green promotion. One New York Times blogger, Jay Goltz, wrote in response to Whole Foods’ new parking spaces: “I appreciate the value of driving a hybrid. But their owners get rewarded with lower fuel costs and the self-satisfaction of doing something good for the environment. I don’t feel the need to treat them like royalty.”
Yet, the concept of preferred parking spaces for those who drive fuel-efficient vehicles can be compared to discounts at the grocery store when using re-usable bags. The parking spaces are trying to influence a much more expensive life choice, but the idea behind them both is the same. Enticing people with small rewards when they make environmentally friendly choices makes it more likely that people will join in on the green movement in some way.
Kacey Deamer is a freshman journalism and environmental science major who wants a car that runs on hope and starlight. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.