Students hunt for parking in crowded C-Lots

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Junior civil engineer Andrew Watkins searches for a parking spot in a C-Lot behind the Rec center Wednesday afternoon. “It’s a nightmare if you don’t get here early,” he said.

Photo Credit: Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan Staff

Levi Sturgis is on the prowl. He guns his black Corolla’s engine and cruises down a straightaway in one of the student parking lots on campus. A truck, an SUV and a pack of students cross at the intersection in front of him. Sturgis looks left and right, plotting his next move. It’s 10:50 a.m. — the lot is sure to be buzzing with action soon.

Sturgis, an engineering junior, almost turns left, but he surveys the path ahead and stops.

“Nah, I’m going straight. I’m going straight,” he decides. Then he whips the steering wheel back again with one hand and guides his car down the long aisle of filled parking spaces.

“I saw a lot of cars going that way,” he explains matter-of-factly. “I feel like they’re going to that C-Lot, so I didn’t want to go to there.”

For students like Sturgis who have an orange C permit dangling from their rear-view mirrors — 5,627 of them in 2009-2010, according to UT’s Parking and Transportation Services’ most recent annual report — a parking lot strategy like Sturgis’ is a common scenario. C permit holders have access to more than 3,000 on-campus parking spaces, but as the PTS website points out before students buy a C permit, “Purchase of a permit may not guarantee a parking place on campus.”

To some students who are late for class, those words are ominous.

“If you’re not here before around 8:30, you’re not in luck, normally,” Sturgis said. “You have to go on the hunt and the prowl. And if you’re really close to class time, that’s when it gets bad.”

Essentially, having an “early bird gets the worm” kind of mentality helps when parking in the student parking lots, which include four C permit parking areas (commonly referred to as “C-Lots”) near the stadium and several Longhorn Lots across Interstate Highway 35, near the baseball fields. There are 866 parking spaces available to C permit holders in the C-Lots and 2,389 spaces in the Longhorn Lots, which anyone with one of UT’s 22 different types of parking permits has access to (32,380 parking permits were issued in 2009-2010).

Jeri Baker, assistant director of PTS, said besides arriving early enough to get a spot, students should make sure to check out the Longhorn Lots, where there are generally lots of open spaces. The East Campus UT shuttle bus is available to transport students to campus from those lots.

“Parking is an issue, yes, if by ‘parking is an issue’ you mean ‘will there always be a spot outside the door where I want to be?’” said Baker. “That’s not going to happen. But [PTS] does lot counts daily, and there are usually about 300 spaces left.”

These counts, conducted by PTS employees who record the number of empty parking spaces in on-campus parking lots at different times each day, are designed to identify underutilized lots so that PTS can direct drivers to park there. Dennis Delaney, parking services manager, said that parking lot counts allow for PTS to see if new parking areas should be constructed in the instance that there are too many drivers for the spaces to accommodate.

“When we have gotten tight in the past, we have provided additional spaces through the construction of garages,” Delaney said. “By doing lot counts, we create data that has value for historic purposes, allows us to respond to the claim ‘that there is no parking’ and strategically plan for future parking needs.”

While PTS tries to make parking more available to everyone, Sturgis said there’s no denying the benefit of arriving to campus sooner rather than later. Every weekday morning, while other folks drink coffee, read the newspaper and park elsewhere, Sturgis and many of his fellow C permit holders wake up early to prowl, cruise and battle over the asphalt aisles. Anyone who shows up late might be doomed to wander the rows, waiting for a spot to open up.

Sturgis glances down at the digital clock. It’s 10:53. “I’ve got about 37 minutes ’til my class.”

Let the countdown begin.

He patrols another row, eyes alert as he scouts for a space. The whole time he’s driving and surveying the landscape, Sturgis talks about how he’s had to miss class because of parking problems a couple of times before, especially in the beginning of the semester. That’s when last spring’s C permits hadn’t expired yet, but the new fall 2011 permits were still being issued, so there were even more C-Lot parkers fighting for a space.

Sturgis spots a tall man about 50 yards away, fiddling with his bags by his closed car door.

“You’ll see a person walking in the lot,” Sturgis says as he takes a determined left and drives in the direction of the man. “And you know, you like lock on, and all the other cars will see it too, and you kind of jockey for positions.”

Sturgis rolls up alongside the man and mouths, “Are you leaving? Are you chilling? Are you leaving?” into his closed window, moving his hands back and forth to get the point across. The man signals that he’s actually just putting a bag in his car. Sturgis turns away from the window and continues the hunt. He says that he doesn’t like to bother people too much if he can help it, but being late to class and not having anywhere to park can make people more aggressive.

“I’ve definitely seen times when people will roll down the window and say, ‘Hey, are you parking here?’” Sturgis says as he drives on. “And a lot of times, you’ll see a person just sitting there. And they’re seriously just parked, waiting for walkers. And then as someone starts walking to their car, they’ll just trail ‘em. Like at two miles an hour — just trail ‘em.”

Sturgis believes this to be the true definition of prowling. It’s a technique that he said anyone who knows anything about parking in the C-Lots employs. However, Sturgis said prowling can backfire if the target is just going back to his or her car to get something. False alarms like that are disheartening to students who are late for class, Sturgis said. He’s no stranger to the feeling.

“The girl ended up getting a yoga mat out of her car and then left,” Sturgis recalls. “It was disappointing.”

Another group of students are walking towards the parking lot that Sturgis is patrolling. His eyes narrow a little bit, and he circles back around in order to tail them. As he races to get in prowling position, he says that it’s a risky move to turn back in order to get behind a group of pedestrians. If they turn out not to be leaving, the driver that went back for them ends up giving up his or her position and wasting time.

“You’re looking for the pole position here,” he says.

Lucky for Sturgis, the students spread out and go to different cars. He follows one of them and waits patiently about 20 feet in the distance. He’s still on guard, however, against potential “spot-stealers,” as he calls them. These are the people that blatantly take another driver’s chosen spot “from right under their nose.” However, people like this aren’t too common, Sturgis acknowledges. In his experience, he has always found people to be respectful of others’ territory.

The targeted pedestrian gets in his car and begins to leave. Sturgis lets out a whoop and pulls in.

“11:17!” he exclaims. “Plenty of time to get to class.”

Printed on September 22, 2011 as: Limited parking puts students on 'prowl'