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The Ogden City Council’s weekly meeting had a change of venue Tuesday. Weber State University President Charles Wight sat alongside Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell and student senate president Brady Harris to discuss transportation and parking issues during the first Talk of the Town meeting of 2014.
Unlike typical city council meetings, which are held Tuesday evenings at the Ogden Municipal Building, the council teamed up with the WSU American Democracy Project’s Powered by Pizza event and provided free lunch for students and faculty in attendance.
Members from the Ogden City Council, Ogden administrative teams, Utah Transit Authority and the Utah Department of Transportation and WSU answered students’ questions and comments about the issue of parking on campus and downtown.
“Parking and transit can be a problem and a challenge at Weber State University, especially for students,” Wight said. “In a university that has more than 25,000 students, most of whom are commuters, that’s going to be the case.”
He asked what improvements could be made to mass transit and infrastructure to improve the issue but remain compatible with WSU’s goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2050 and retaining a sustainable campus.
“We have a long way to go, and finding ways to get students and staff and faculty to and from campus on far fewer automobiles is going to be a big part of the ultimate solution to this challenge,” Wight said.
Danielle Johnson, a WSU student, brought up the topic of a parking structure on campus, and asked Wight what the pros and cons of a garage would be.
“As the university gets bigger, the problem is only going to get worse,” said Johnson, noting the cost would be phenomenal.
Wight said that although this solution might work in an urban setting, the solution to WSU’s problem is more complex than “slapping down more pavement” and building expensive parking structures.
Tyler Hall, student senator for the Davis campus, brought before the council the idea of a fast bus, similar to UTA’s 650, that would shuttle students to and from the two campuses and to FrontRunner stations in Davis and Weber counties.
“I would love to know how we can help UTA further investigate what timings need to be shifted or how we can improve it, or definitely how we can get most of those other county students,” Hall said. “I don’t want to be a commuter school, I want to be THE commuter school at Weber State University.”
After the meeting, James McNulty, a strategic planner for UTA, said a fast bus to and from the Davis campus could be a possibility.
“In the future, we are potentially looking at Weber State through South Ogden and Riverdale and then going up to Farmington, so that’s something that has been talked about very briefly,” said McNulty, noting the Ogden City study will come before the Davis County one.
McNulty said UTA realizes cost is an issue for some riders, and studies are being conducted to help change that.
“It’s an exciting time,” he said. “There’s going to be some real neat opportunities in the next few years. There’s going to be some great public transit available for students and residents in the Ogden area.”
Caldwell’s major push during the Talk of the Town meeting was building a sense of community through active commuting by riding bicycles to and from campus. Caldwell has promised to ride his bike to and from work every day of 2014 or take public transit if the weather isn’t permissive.
“This is a paradigm shift; many of us grew up in a culture where car was king for a long time,” Caldwell said. He cited Steve Jobs in saying a person on a bike gets the energy equivalent of about 730 miles a gallon.
The mayor said the available parking at WSU has not changed much since when he graduated from WSU about 20 years ago.
“That’s going to continue to get worse and tighter and worse and tighter if we continue to plan for one person to one car,” he said. “We need to build a lot to have public transportation and active transportation as part of our overall long-term planning process.”
Students who wish to continue the discussion can reach out to their city council representatives and student senate for more information.