Barry Mills: Let’s Solve Bowdoin’s Parking Problem


In less than a week, Bowdoin’s spring semester will be underway and the campus will be alive with students, faculty, staff, visitors—and cars. For Barry Mills, that means conversations about parking are certain to follow.

I’m probably an atypical American citizen—in all of my working life I have never had a job that required me to get in a car in the morning to drive to work. For years, our family lived in New York City where public transportation is convenient. On many days my commute was a walk to work. At Bowdoin, as I walk across the Bowdoin quad from my house on Federal Street, I often think about how fantastic it is not to have to drive and park my car. I’m sure I miss out on the benefits of “drive time” radio like “Morning Edition” or all-sports stations, but I make up for it by getting up really early and reading many newspapers on my iPad.

Last week in The New York Times, there was a very interesting article on the architecture and impact of parking lots. Another good article on the subject of parking—this one in Los Angeles Magazine—is also worth reading. It’s pretty amazing to think that parking lots in the United States cover the equivalent of a few New England States and that drivers in Westwood, CA, use 47,000 gallons of gas annually just searching for a parking space. We all understand the importance of preserving our environment and the value of conservation, but the reality is that people have to get to work and back home—even here at Bowdoin. And in states like Maine where people are spread out, public transportation is not a viable option for most. In many ways, the economic impact of driving is regressive because the lowest paid in our community have to live the farthest away from campus because of a shortage of affordable housing in Brunswick.

But, back to parking. For years, we’ve had a serious parking problem at Bowdoin. Conventional wisdom says the problem exists because our students all have cars and never walk. Well, like a lot of conventional wisdom, the assumptions don’t exactly match up with reality. We no longer allow first-year students to bring cars to campus, and only about half our students have cars. So, while it is true that students contribute to our parking problems, it’s also true that staff, faculty, and visitors contribute mightily to the challenge too. (As an aside, it isn’t easy to park in downtown Brunswick on many days either, an issue that will be exacerbated by the arrival of Amtrak later this year. The good news is that parking isn’t just my problem to solve!)

Over the years I think it is fair to say that we’ve tried to “will the problem away” and haven’t sought solutions aggressively. For some time, I was enamored of the idea of building a parking garage or underground parking near or on campus that would solve the problem. I am less enthusiastic about these solutions because they are very, very expensive, and even “designer garages” are not all that attractive or consistent with our sense of our campus. In fact, I’m actually very enthusiastic about the concept of closing North Campus Drive and South Campus Drive at some point, a move that would eliminate parked cars in the middle of campus and only make the existing problem worse.

We are in the process of working with a parking consultant (yes, there are consultants for every conceivable problem), and the advice we get is that we actually aren’t short of parking spots. We’re just not managing our inventory of spots effectively during busy parts of the day. We will, of course, create committees and seek input from vast numbers of people on campus about these issues. As every college president knows, there are few issues at the heart of an academic institution that are more serious than parking!

We have many parking spaces at Bowdoin, but most aren’t utilized during the day. One would have to walk (or be shuttled) to campus to utilize some of these spots. We could also think about being more vigilant and aggressive (beyond ticketing and towing) in managing how and where people park. We could even think about “valet” parking for special events—something that would create jobs and be much more convenient. There have to be creative solutions to our problem.

I do think we have to put our money where our values are on this issue. In tough economic times, it just isn’t sensible to spend many millions of dollars on parking lots and garages. At a time where we are all concerned about our environment and sustainability, it also isn’t sensible to encourage even more cars by making parking easier and more convenient. What does make sense to me is a creative effort to rationalize our parking situation so that when people arrive at work, visit my office, or view an exhibit at the Peary MacMillan Arctic Museum, they don’t need a half-hour to decompress from the anxiety of finding a place to put their car.

I don’t underestimate the emotion this issue will generate at the College as we work creatively, thoughtfully, and—hopefully—cooperatively to solve our parking problem. But now is as good a time as any to push for a new solution.


In the coming weeks, I will continue to offer my thoughts on subjects interesting to me or of importance to the College, but I want to hear your ideas too. If there is a subject you’d like me to address, send me an e-mail at

Previous Bowdoin Daily Sun columns by President Barry Mills are available here or on the Bowdoin website.


  1. David Webster '57 says:

    Tues. Jan. 17

    With the land coming to Bowdoin from the Brunswick Air Base doesn’t Bowdoin have a natural place to put student parking OFF CAMPUS w/o considering a garage. Rent a bikes for those using off campus parking , as provided in Boston, New Your and Portland, could be incorporated into the solution.


  2. James A Pierce says:

    Every time I visit the campus to photograph, use the library, or participate in a function all I seem to see are a myriad of cars and just as many warnings stating that “parking is reserved for holders of blue stickers only.” I know that the college has grown since we were undergraduates, but who are these privileged holders of the blue sticker anyhow? A somewhat user unfriendly attitude exists for those of us who want to do what I do when it comes to parking, and, no, I’m not parking at Whittier when I want to make a ten minute trip to the library. How about a shuttle service for those staff members who have to schlep in every day?

  3. dawn toth says:

    We are the “privileged” holders of the blue sticker! We cook your food,plow your driveways, administer your paperwork, teach your classes,coach your teams and generally make your education happen.

  4. James A Pierce says:

    Hello Dawn,

    As I graduated in 1969, you most certainly did not make my education happen at Bowdoin and I stand by what I said. Having to hunt around for a parking space every time I wish to visit the campus does not make feel especially friendly to my alma mater, and I agree with the suggestion voiced by Daniel Webster, Bowdoin 57.

  5. Fortunately, Mr. Pierce, you were not the only student to ever attend Bowdoin. Dawn may not have contributed to your education, but she and her coworkers have contributed to the education of innumerable other students since you graduated in 1969. While everyone here at the College–students, faculty and staff–value our alumni community, on an issue like parking our first concern must be the huge number of people required to keep the school moving and the students learning on a daily basis. People who come to work here every day, many of them in thankless jobs that go largely unnoticed, deserve a place to park. There would be no alumni without them. And I may add that it would be impossible for the college to provide enough parking spaces for its thousands of alumni, all of whom would be as entitled to one as yourself.


  6. Ursus Maritimus says:

    I’m overjoyed that the college is spending money on this “serious problem”. I just wish they could find a few dollars to fix the hole in our Harpswell Apartment that we’ve been living with since we moved in. At least I hope (and expect) the consultant is an alum.

  7. dawn toth says:

    Thanks John! I meant no disrespect to the alumni. It would be nice to have parking for visitors also.

  8. Bill Gibson '69 says:

    I love the concept of closing North and South Campus Drives…….proper landscaping (stone pavers instead of asphalt?)with bushes, grass, walkways, etc., could make this look spectacular. Besides, we would lose no more than about 30 parking spaces. As for the parking issue…..shuttles from Pickard Field areas every 15 minutes? Or, walking is actually good for you, students, faculty, and library-using visiting alumni! Unlike some, I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with reserved spots for the people who make the campus go, and who get there in the wee hours of the morning to cook, serve, cut grass, etc., to make the campus work for students and faculty. Those people do contribute to the educational and residential well-being of every student and, just maybe, they should get preferred parking.

  9. Rupert O. Clark '51 says:


    1 Workers need space, ease, and economy of time (and dollars!)
    2 Students need study, exercise and collegial group living.
    3 Nobody NEEDS cars.

    At one end of the scale, in 1947, I could count on two hands
    the number of student cars, and by 1951, hands and feet would
    suffice. All learned a lot, played plenty, greeted everyone
    else eye to eye, and were at least sufficiently fit to walk
    down to the Cumberland movie theatre once a month.

    Fast forward to 2012. Old folks travel to Mayo Clinic and what
    do they see? Massive buildings, tons of workers and NO cars.
    The streets are closed protected walks, with gardens in summer.
    Parking garages are distant, tastefully designed, expensive
    for the users, and a healthy walk away, through tunnels to
    protect from Minnesota cold and snow.

    Is this important? YES. The institution exists for meeting its
    goal – just as do we pursue The Offer of the College. Individual desires
    are evanescent and of relatively insignificant weight.

    At Mayo again, the professionals and all workers are met by
    optional parking space at significant cost, but also by public
    transportation at the main campus entrance; all city buses
    circle past, and in addition buses or shuttles depart as well
    to the Harpswells and Lisbon Fallses and Baths-and-Woolwiches
    of southern Minnesota. The return of Amtrak should be
    welcomed as an aid to students and to alumni arriving in Brunswick.

    FURTHER, as an alumnus I feel greatly concerned by this, to
    the point that I feel that alumni contributions or their impact
    could be significantly reduced by catering to the ‘cars’ issue.
    Actually, Bowdoin has done better than my medical school at avoiding
    ‘the sillies.’ Yet there I see the addition of amenities that are
    actually antithetical to the completion of the academic goal that is
    essential to the meaningful completion of the curriculum. Despite my
    very strong loyalty to that internationally preeminent school, I have
    for now called a hiatus in my donations, while I ponder how best to
    focus any gifts that I contribute.
    All of us are experiencing a significant and probably extended downturn,
    so that Bowdoin too could find a true reduction of donations from the
    critical assayers among the 99% of us who were taught, at Bowdoin,
    to apply judgment in thinking matters through.

  10. Roger Howell says:

    As a Brunswick resident, and a Friend of Bowdoin, I simply follow the following regulations posted on the Bowdoin website with no problems.

    Day Visitor Parking

    If you are visiting campus for one day or for the weekend, you do not need a parking pass.

    Day visitors are directed to park on North Campus Drive (off of Bath Road), South Campus Drive (off of College Street) and in the Dayton lot (off of Sills Drive).
    Visitors may also park in any faculty/staff dark blue decal lot.
    Admissions visitors may park in the Burton-Little Admissions lot.

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