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Column: A Green Solution to Hanover’s Parking Crunch

When Clark Kerr was chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, he famously said, “(My) job has come to be defined as providing sex for the students, athletics for the alumni and parking for the faculty.”

Parking is the topic that doesn’t go away, and when I had to go to Hanover recently it confronted me full-face. Hanover’s parking problem is gigantic at any time, but I was there on the day of the annual Shriners’ Parade and the New Hampshire vs. Vermont high school football game. As it happens, I had the kind of luck we all hope for — arriving at a lot just as someone was leaving.

I was reminded of a Dartmouth letter I had read 25 years earlier. As the person who was assigned to write an account of John Dickey’s presidency (the most consequential in the college’s history), I spent two years doing little else than listening to his oral history tapes and reading just about everything in his archived office files. Two letters were mind-blowing.

The first was a reply to a letter from a 1929 classmate who had been at Harvard Law School at the same time as Dickey and was writing to see if there was any chance of finding a job in Hanover. Were they thinking of starting a law school? Could he teach in the college? Should he go into private practice there? Dickey scotched the first two hopes flatly, and then told the man that it was clear to him, after being back in Hanover for a few years, that the town already had as many lawyers as it needed: John Stebbins could handle all the problems the local citizenry might have.

Something similar was to be found in a letter from the president’s secretary to someone who had written to ask if Dartmouth would participate in a survey he was conducting of the parking situation in several college towns. He was told that there was no point in including Dartmouth in the survey because, “We do not have a parking problem.”

Both letters were written in the late 1940s. A few people might still be around who remember Hanover when it had no need for more than one lawyer and parking was abundant.

By the time I went to work at Dartmouth in 1968, things had changed. I recall nothing about the attorney supply, but, commuting from Strafford every weekday for 16 years brought an awareness of how essential faculty parking lots had become. On weekends, my wife found that shopping there entailed a long search for somewhere to leave our VW. By the time she started working in Hanover — from 1980 on — the problem was much worse. If she had not had a reserved place in the Wheelock House parking lot, she would have been in big trouble.

And let’s face it: Cars are not going to go away any time soon.

In 1982, the legendary editor of the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, Dennis Dinan, asked me to write an essay for every issue on any topic of my choice, so long as it had some relevance to college life. I used one of them to give the administration of David McLaughlin some advice, which it ignored, as have the three administrations that came after. Perhaps Dartmouth’s new president, Phil Hanlon, or members of the Hanover Selectboard will heed it.

The solution to the parking problem, no doubt about it, is to do what San Francisco did at Union Square and the city of Boston did at the Common. Hanover must construct a garage under the Hanover Green, three or four tiers deep. Make sure that it is set up to provide juice for the electric cars that will eventually be the only kind available. Turn over all the surface lots now scarring Hanover to something more useful and attractive. I am not forgetting that as recently as the 1980s an immense effort went into putting a lot of pipes and conduits under the Green; the one advantage of such recent work is that everyone knows precisely where all the obstacles are. No surprises will have to be dealt with.

Disruption will be dreadful, but it will mean that, even though Dartmouth has probably built as many buildings as it is ever going to, a couple of new generations of students will learn about construction mess and misery.

I haven’t quite finished handing out advice. The kicker will be that a tunnel will be constructed on West Wheelock Street that will lead into the underground garage for people coming from Vermont; the road will remain otherwise available for people heading up to and down from Main Street.

Peter Williamson Smith, the emeritus dean of the School of the Arts at Columbia, is a former director of Dartmouth’s Hopkins Center. Now retired, he is pursuing a doctorate’s degree at the University of York in England.

Related

Letter: Both Annoying and Dangerous

Monday, September 30, 2013

To the Editor: In his Sept. 22 Perspectives commentary (“Green Solution to Hanover’s Parking Crunch”), Peter Smith neglected to mention the need for an alternative route for pedestrian traffic on Wheelock Street near the Dartmouth Green. The propensity of Dartmouth students to trickle across the street in dribs and drabs, willy-nilly wherever they choose, is both dangerous and annoying, especially …