PSU’s transit authority

Dan Zalkow faces a challenge that will never end: finding parking spaces for all the cars that want to descend on Portland State.

The university’s manager of transportation and parking foresees a time what the goal can become impossible by today’s standards. Currently 30 percent of PSU students drive alone, 38 percent take public transit and 6 percent ride bikes.

"Whenever we look at the PSU enrollment growth, we see it will be very difficult to accommodate the same percentage of students who drive alone and park," Zalkow said.

As student enrollment nears 30,000, "the percentage of students who drive alone is going to have to decrease," he said.

Fortunately for him, Zalkow’s chief hobby is researching transit systems around the world. He said that when he rides the bus home every night, Portland State’s problems are what he thinks about.

He takes a proactive approach to the problems. Rather than discouraging car drivers, he strives to make alternative transportation more attractive. That means more public transit, more bicycles and more use of Flexcar, which offers use of cars labeled Freedom 5 cars for $9 an hour or $42.50 a day. Carpooling and walking become attractive options to encourage.

"We have less than 4,000 spaces for about 30,000 students, faculty and staff," Zalkow said. "That means we have to make options other than parking attractive."

Despite the problematic future of parking, Zalkow’s philosophy is positive.

"We want to be giving students a variety of options that are affordable and understandable," he said. "We have really good communication between our staff and our customers. Students are generally able to choose their mode of transportation."

Last year, he said, the parking office went from discounting monthly Tri-Met passes to discounting quarterly passes that use a sticker for the ID card. Tri-Met formerly subsidized student passes by as much as 25 percent, but eliminated the program two years ago.

"We instituted our own subsidies through parking revenue and a program worked out with Tri-Met so passes cost about two-thirds retail price," Zalkow said.

Improving bicycle use has become a major target. In October 2004, his office opened a bike shop at the corner of Southwest Fifth Avenue and Harrison Street. It is open 25 hours a week with membership at $10 a year. The shop offers secure parking. Bike riders can order parts and buy minor supplies. It is paid for with parking revenue.

"We’re looking to build out the shop," Zalkow said. Its present small space would be enlarged, with more staff. A preferred location would be in the ground floor of the proposed recreation center building at Southwest Sixth Avenue and Montgomery Street. That will put it at the transportation hub of the campus, where the streetcar and MAX will meet. The MAX extension through the downtown mall will open in 2009. The new location may have valet parking for a small charge.

"We’re looking at building some covered buildings, with reserved bike parking," he said. Initially they would be free, but eventually would charge a small fee, such as $5 a month.

"We will start building one later this year," Zalkow said. "We expect to have two by next fall." The first building likely will be erected in an unused space at Southwest 10th Avenue and Harrison Street, behind Montgomery Hall.

Zalkow is a product of the University of Georgia, where he took a degree in psychology and statistics.

"After working in Atlanta for a couple of years, I was looking for a better quality of life," he said. He traveled around the country and said he "quickly fell in love with Portland." He became assistant manager of transportation and parking in 2000 and in 2002 moved up to manager. Since coming to PSU, he earned his master’s in regional planning specializing in land use transportation.

When he isn’t thinking about transportation, he goes hiking or camping. His favorite area is the Steens Mountains in southeastern Oregon.

The state Legislature approved $30 million for parking for this biennium, but Zalkow called the allocation a "placeholder" rather than a specific parking plan. The new recreation center, persistently called the "PCAT project" because it starts with tearing down the PCAT building, will have two levels of new underground parking.

Other than that, "we have no set plans for use of that money," he said. It will be spent "as the opportunity arises." This means probably inserting parking into any new buildings.

"We don’t plan on building any new parking facility," Zalkow said.

He said PSU is a rarity among universities because it has a number of different parking permit choices geared to those who may not need daily parking or daytime parking. There are more than 10 different part-time permits available. Most universities, he said, have one permit regardless of the needs of the parkers.

"We spend about 10 to 15 percent of our revenues on transportation alternative programs," he said. "That amounts to over a half million dollars a year." Revenues come about 90 percent from parking permits, pay stations and meters, 10 percent from parking citations. PSU parking meters are different from city meters. Twelve student employees function as parking enforcement officers.

"We try to set parking rates so that we can sell transit passes for about half the price of a parking permit," Zalkow said. He tries to make sure there is always some place to park, although it may be in Parking Structure 3. Even that structure gets close to full the first week of a term. The acquisition of University Place by PSU has added some parking.

As for the most convenient parking structures, 1 and 2, they are generally full between 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

Improving transportation and parking calls for continuing study. Every two years Zalkow’s office circulates a survey to see what students think of the transportation system on campus. In off-years, the faculty and staff are surveyed.

"We have many options and good communications to serve a wide variety of students at PSU," Zalkow said. "We’re far from perfect but we are continuously trying to think of better ways to communicate and provide more options."

The transportation and parking office in Neuberger Hall is protected behind a secured entrance. The security provides protection against burglary, but there is nothing sinister or secretive about the office, Zalkow said.

"Some people think we have a hot tub in here," he said with a grin.