UM parking guru: Experiments, expectations

news_icon_greenBy Errol Castens

Daily Journal

OXFORD – Mike Harris says countless variables can be managed in the quest for more effective parking and transportation strategies on the University of Mississippi campus.

But just as important, he says, is managing expectations.

“When I go to the doctor’s office, I expect to sit there for 45 minutes before I see the doctor. When I go to a drive-through, I don’t expect to be sitting for 30 minutes waiting on a cheeseburger,” said Harris, who joined Ole Miss as director of parking and transportation on Feb. 24 after 14 years at Mississippi State University. “It’s all about expectation levels and … modifying that.”

Harris will oversee a host of changes as constant construction on the campus closes some roads and parking lots, creates new ones, offers new strategies from more public transit and a fast-tracked parking garage to smart-phone apps that can help identify open parking spaces.

“We can’t just build new parking indefinitely; when you’re looking at a parking garage or a classroom building, obviously academics have to have the priority,” he said. “We’ve got to look at everything – van pools, permits and incentives for carpooling, transit, timed-fee parking.”

For visitors, the possibilities include time-based paid parking in the 825-space, five-story garage that’s fast-tracked for completion in August or metered spaces around campus.

One of the most high-profile challenges for Harris and his colleagues will be improving Ole Miss’ football game-day experience. Last fall, new parking restrictions, successive traffic- handling changes and shuttle snafus angered many football fans, with some reporting being trapped for hours in post-game traffic.

“I think game days will always be an evolving event. You won’t ever get to perfect,” Harris said.

One principle he’ll advocate strongly is letting changes prove themselves.

“You can’t make a major change every game, because people will never know what to do. You’ve really got to get that full season of work on these changes and see if they work or don’t work,” he said.

“We want everyone to come to campus and have a great experience, but when you start adding 60, 70 or 80 thousand people in a town of 20,000, obviously the infrastructure is overwhelmed. We understand that folks want to get home, but so do the other 80,000 people. Folks need to see the big picture: You can sit in your car, or you can visit with the people around you.”

errol.castens@journalinc.com