McGill’s downtown campus is gearing up to become a car-free zone within the next few years, in line with McGill’s Master Plan, a document that outlines the future physical state of the University.
According to Jim Nicell, Associate Vice-Principal (University Services), the current state of the campus does not accurately meet the needs of the community.
“We’re a parking lot surrounded by a lot of green space, in my opinion,” said Nicell, adding that many from the University community – including the Board of Governors, the administration, and the community at large – have been advocating for a car-free campus for years.
“Some things we have done to the campus we may regret, so we’re trying to pull back a little bit,” he said.
According to the Planning Base Working Paper, part of the University Master Plan drafted in 2005, approximately nine per cent of the entire McGill community – including faculty, students, and staff – commute to campus by private vehicle on a daily basis, with a third of that demographic estimated to be living within access of public transportation.
“A very small percentage of students do drive to school, and those who do will want to consider carpooling,” said Nadya Wilkinson, SSMU VP University Affairs, adding that those members of the University community who are disabled will have no problem procuring a parking space on campus.
Jonathan Glencross, head of the Sustainable McGill project – a student-led group working toward a more environmentally sustainable campus community – said a car-free zone would be more considerate to all traffic on campus.
“It’s wonderful. I can’t imagine a better way to improve the shared space on campus than to concede that cars are no longer a priority,” said Glencross, who cited the annual car-free day as a good example.
Nicell explained that among the effects of this transition are the potential for improved bike parking facilities upon the removal of parking spaces, and a better general atmosphere, something Wilkinson agreed with.
“I think it’ll mean they have not only a safer campus environment, but a more welcoming one. Students will feel more at home on our campus,” Wilkinson said.
As over 200 parking spaces on lower campus will vanish along with an annual revenue of roughly $600,000, the University will offset the monetary and space loss by reclaiming the SSMU parking garage on McTavish.
As SSMU’s expiring parking garage lease is turned over to the University, Wilkinson explained that SSMU’s operating budget will be affected; there will be less funding available for clubs, services, and events.
“But we’ve known for a really long time that this was coming,” said Wilkinson.
She added that as the parking garage below the SSMU building allows permit holders direct access to the facilities, security will need to be stepped up as SSMU will no longer be able to control who receives parking permits.
Sustainable McGill’s funding is likely to decrease as well, although Glencross also noted that the group has been budgeting for this and remains optimistic for the future of campus.
“I only see this as a move in the right direction,” said Glencross. “I don’t see any opportunity cost.”
Sustainable McGill’s hope is that students will get behind the initiative, and do their part to contribute to a better shared space.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what role the community can play in the transition afterward…[and] what the campus becomes,” said Glencross. “In the end, it’s showing intent. It’s going to reinforce people who have been working hard to make this University a more sustainable one.”
Wilkinson was also pleased and optimistic about the cooperation between the University and the student body.
“We all have different priorities,” said Wilkinson. “This will require a longstanding, continued discussion on what our priorities are.
“It’s a signal that the University does prioritize sustainability in some way.”