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Friday, June 14, 2013

New task force will address student parking on streets near NVCC

NVCC students park along Wakefield Chapel Road.
Northern Virginia Community College President Robert Templin plans to appoint a college task force and an Annandale committee to consider alternatives to the student parking fee system. The task force will present recommendations to the NVCC College Board in March. The proposal will then be submitted to the board of the Virginia Community College System in May.

Barbara Saperstone, provost of NVCC’s Annandale campus, announced the plan for the task force at the June 10 meeting of the NVCC/Wakefield Chapel Road Community Forum. That group, convened by Braddock Supervisor John Cook, has been meeting quarterly for years to address residents’ complaints about students parking along Wakefield Chapel Road and side streets. Residents have raised safety issues about students walking in the streets, blocking driveways, and speeding.

NVCC Students walk to their cars after class.
NVCC students approached along Wakefield Chapel Road on June 11 said they parked off campus to save money. Esmael Vafamand, age 20, said he usually pays for a parking permit during the regular school year but called the $105 parking fee for a six-week summer class “ridiculous.” [The fee is $95 if purchased online.]

“I can see why the neighbors are upset,” he said. But students have to find ways to make college affordable, he said, noting that he found a chemistry book online for $56 which cost $240 at the NVCC bookstore.

Kobi Adomako, 23, an alumni of Annandale High School, walked several blocks to campus to avoid the parking fee, as he was also struggling with the rising cost of tuition. “Parking should be free. It’s a community college,” he said.

“It’s time for action,” state Sen. Dave Marsden said at the forum. Otherwise, “we’ll be talking about this for another two years. The task force needs to come up with a solution we are willing to try, even if it makes the situation worse at first.”

The outcome should be a “a policy that makes rational sense,” said Del. Vivian Watts, who sent a letter to Templin in May asking him to re-examine NVCC’s policy of charging a flat fee per semester, regardless of whether students come to campus full time or just for one class. All the other community colleges in Virginia either charge a much smaller fee based on credit hours, roll parking costs into the regular per-semester fee charged to all students, or don’t charge for parking.

Templin’s response to Watt’s letter says the NVCC College Board rejected a proposal in 2011 to impose a universal fee rather than a discretionary parking fee because large numbers of students take classes via distance learning or use transit.

“If the parking fee was absorbed into other fees, rather than remaining discretionary,” Templin wrote, “there is reasonable concern that the neighborhood would see even more students opting to drive and perhaps park in the neighborhood rather than seek available alternatives.”

There is already a residential parking district (RPD)requiring a permit to parkalong several streets close to NVCC. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance June 4 extending that RPD to additional sections along Wakefield Chapel Road, Banff Street, and Fidelity Court.

Mike Perel, of the Oak Hills Citizens Association, said expanding the RPD “will actually make it worse,” because students will just park farther down Wakefield Road. “We need to address the root cause,” he said.

Saperstone defended the parking fee by calling it comparable to the parking fee at Annandale High School [which is $200 a year]. One resident called that comparison insulting, noting that high school students have the option of free bus service and only those who have cars need to buy a permit.

Saperstone outlined several alternative steps NVCC is undertaking to deal with the parking problem: The college requested funding for Zimride, an online system for organizing carpools, a shuttle to and from Metro, and extra police officers to direct traffic during busy times. The college will start a Friday-only program this fall to reduce the number of students on campus mid-week, will include safe parking guidelines in student orientation sessions, and will encourage students to take distance learning courses.

Enrollment of students who come to class in person has only increased 7 percent between 2009 and 2012, she said, while enrollment in distance learning soared 40 percent during that period.

Sgt. Richard Theal, of the West Springfield Police District, said there were 16 “reportable” vehicle accidents on Wakefield Chapel Road, including the Braddock Road and Route 236 intersections, so far in 2013. That compares to 41 in 2012, 32 in 2011, and 24 in 2010.  To be considered “reportable,” there must be an injury or damage of $1,500 or more. There were no accidents last year involving pedestrians or bicyclists, he said.

Several residents disputed those statistics, charging there were a lot of minor incidents that weren’t reported. Theal encouraged residents to report parking problems to the West Springfield Police District, 703/644-7377, or call the police non-emergency number, 703/691-2131.

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