Monday, April 25, 2011

Resources for Commuter Students

Article by: Tori Choi

Noel Sierra cursed as the Toyota Camry cruising down from the opposite end of the street slipped into the parking spot just meters away from him. He glanced at his dashboard clock—8:07 a.m.. He was late to class for the second time that week. Still he clicked on his turn signal and began his fourth circuit around the block. This is sixth-year UIC student Sierra’s daily ritual hunt for a free parking spot near UIC’s campus.

It usually takes him 20 to 30 minutes to find a free spot but it beats paying $328 for a fall parking permit. Sometimes he will give up early and simply park in the pay-lot or by a meter. But if his class runs late and he doesn’t make it back on time to extend his parking time, he can look forward to a $10 fine, courtesy of UIC police. And Noel sometimes doesn’t pay since living on a $5000 grant to pay for his tuition, books and living expenses can leave him running around with empty pockets for the last few weeks of the semester. “The police haven’t really enforced the payments, but I bet they’re just piling up somewhere and come graduation, they’re going to tell me I can’t graduate,” Sierra said dryly. Even that prospect, however, doesn’t change his routine.

Any student who doesn’t live in campus housing qualifies as a commuter. That means that of the 27,000 total student population, only 3,500 of which live in campus housing, 85 percent of students are commuters who face problems similar to Sierra’s, such as parking fees, running late to class, running to catch the bus or train, having no comfortable place to rest in between classes while being on campus all day, and being unable to participate in campus activities or clubs.

UIC, however, has not left its commuter students high and dry. Since the fall of this year, the Commuter Student Resource Center has been operating in its current location in Student Center East, tucked behind the Wellness Center, and has been a heavy presence in freshman and transfer student orientations. Part of its mission, according to Assistant Director James G. Stewart, is “to act as a support network to provide programming and connections like you could get if you live in a residence hall, since you’d have a Residential Adviser.”

Open Monday to Thursday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Commuter Advisers in the CSRC can help students plan the most efficient and cost-saving methods of travel. The center also offers a lounge space filled with armchairs and sofas for students to come in and relax in between classes. If students need to cram for a test or complete homework, they can use the study spaces, which consist of individual desks, computers with printer and internet, and private cubicles for group study sessions. For students who want to save money and pack their lunch, there’s a free kitchen with microwaves, a sink, and a public refrigerator and freezer. “Food snatchers haven’t been a problem,” said Kristen Scally, graduate assistant in the CSRC.

Of the 300 to 500 students who currently frequent the CSRC, most trek in and out throughout the day for the free lockers and showers. The CSRC provides about 600 lockers and their own locks for free on a first-come-first-serve basis for signup on the first day of class each semester. The only downside is that lockers are only accessible during the center’s open hours. “But most students don’t have problem with the 6 p.m. thing,” Stewart said. In addition to a Multipurpose Room that can be reserved for special events and private Lactation Rooms for breast-feeding mothers, the CSRC facilitates numerous transportation services.

The center’s website hosts links to nifty tools and resources, such as CTA-Bus Tracker, Google Trip Planner, UIC Intercampus Shuttle Bus, and Metra maps and schedule. The site also provides links to services such as PACE Rideshare, a car-sharing program, PACE Vanpool, a van-sharing rental program, and Carpool Connections, the CSRC’s own car-share program. The last is still in its infancy as it requires students to manually submit applications and information about their commute, which can change depending on class schedules every semester.

The CSRC also plans numerous other events, such as resume, interview, safety and biking workshops, along with events for Earth Month this April in conjunction with the Office of Sustainability. Although students may wonder what “going green” and being environmentally friendly has to do with commuter services, the Office of Sustainability plays a large role in transportation initiatives throughout UIC.

Originally, the Office of Sustainability’s transportations initiatives arose from its efforts to decrease UIC’s level of green house gas emissions, 13-14 percent of which is due to buses and cars. The Travel Survey done in 2008 by the department garnered a response from approximately 2,300 students and revealed that 50 percent of students utilized public transit (trains, buses), 20 percent walked or biked, 22.5 percent drove alone, and 3 percent carpooled. This past month, the Office of Sustainability did another Travel Survey, which revealed students’ desire for secure bike parking, as parking bikes in buildings is forbidden and parking bikes outside often leads to stolen property or, at the very least, exposure to rain and snow. Therefore the Office of Sustainability has been focusing on biking initiatives this year.

Students may have noticed futuristic bike racks with large metal towers and mounted solar panels being set up around campus, one of which is located on the street side entrance of Student Center East. They’re part of a biking program the Auxilliary Services has been negotiating with B-Cycle, which allows students to rent bikes on an hourly basis. Besides the biking program it’s negotiating with B-Cyle, the Office of Sustainability also making its own biking program using abandoned bikes that the Campus Police collect.

“Sometimes when someone steals your bike, if it’s a nice bike, they’ll leave a crappier bike in its place,” Cynthia Klein-Banai, Associate Chancellor of the Office of Sustainability said with a laugh. “So there are basically abandoned bikes that are not locked or anything and the police will rescue, work on getting them fixed up and offer them to the students on a rental basis, which is a much lower cost program than the other.”

So students who didn’t have a way around UIC without power walking will have easier and affordable access to bikes, and if they work up a sweat they can simply hop over to the CSRC for a shower, a bite to eat, and a comfortable lounge on a sofa. If biking isn’t appealing, students have many other options open to them through the services available through the CSRC and Office of Sustainability. The alternatives may not give commuter students the perfect commuting experience, but they would certainly make it easier on students’ time and wallets and beat driving around the block for 30 minutes every morning.

“I didn’t know there was stuff like this on campus,” Sierra said. “I’ll definitely check it out now that I do know.” Now all Sierra needs to do is pay his parking fines and he’ll be set.

For Links and Resource Information:

Commuter Student Resource Center:
Location: Suite 245 in Student Center East, behind the Wellness Center
Open: Monday-Thursday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Office Of Sustainability:

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