Fresno State: $4 million to turn trees to asphalt

If you’ve heard only one thing about the California State University system in the past couple of years, then it’s probably the words “budget cuts”. Details like “enrollment slashed” or “tuition hiked”. “Classes eliminated”. Remaining classes “doubling in size”. That’s what we’ve been reading in the news every month for the past few years.

So it’s especially maddening to see this piece of news which hit every station in Fresno today.

Fresno State faculty members gathered Thursday to express dismay and confusion over the university’s decision to chop down 160 mature trees, making room for 600 more parking spaces on the east side of campus.

Fresno Bee

There may not be money for silly things like classes, but adding 600 unneeded parking spots, and taking away some of the little greenery the university has?

There’s always money for that.

The problem:

“We use other areas for overflow parking.”

(overflow parking areas being used for parking is apparently a problem)


“So we want to have available parking for students on campus. The project is going to add 600 new spaces,” Amy Armstrong, Fresno State Parking Administrator, said.”

Picture taken from series posted on Huron County Extract

There is not a lack of parking at Fresno State. There won’t be a lack of parking in the near future, as enrollment keeps getting cut. Even if there WAS some kind of parking shortage, there are many ways to work around it, outside of dumping $4,000,000 into asphalt.

As English professor Craig Bernthal stated

“The University is set to have about 1,200 fewer students next year,” Bernthal said. “How many parking spots do they need in the immediate future?”


Take a look at Fresno State’s campus.


Do you see which portion of campus is dedicated to parking?

Let me make it extra clear.


Forgive me if I missed a few spots.

There is no shortage of parking. Parking is only $3 a day, less if you buy a semester pass, so many students drive. But even with the incentive to drive, the lots are never full. I’ve never been a student at Fresno State, but I spent a large portion of time at their library last year, and when I did park, finding a spot was no harder than doing so at the local Target. The only “shortage” was a scarcity of spaces directly under shade-giving trees.

The Fresno State rep is remarkably cynical about the “improvement”.

“It’s definitely hard for people to see the trees gone, but the end result will hopefully change peoples’ perspective,” said Amy Armstrong, Fresno State’s Parking Administrator.

CBS 47

That’s right folks. Once you see how SMOOTH the new asphalt is, all we be forgiven. No, but seriously…it’s a surface parking lot. We all know what they look like. We all know how hot they get, and how uncomfortable they can be. How exactly will the end result change ANYTHING?

At least FSU is building a state-of-the-art lot.

“We’ve added additional security cameras and emergency phones,” said Armstrong.

Can’t wait for the ribbon cutting!

The parking lot in question is this one.


The project will turn the “wasted” space into more asphalt. Why is that space wasted? It’s for water basins. Parking lots, of course, prevent rain from entering the ground, but I guess that’s not an issue at Fresno State, a school which prides itself on the agricultural focus.

Another non-issue is apparently the heat-island effect that giant lots of asphalt create during Fresno’s scorching summers. Again, I guess a school with large agricultural holdings doesn’t care about micro-climate-changes caused by their development.

So what could have been done instead?

Let us imagine for a second there was a parking shortage of some kind.

Here is the Savemart Center on campus, which is the basketball/hockey/concert arena. Of course, most of the year, the parking lot sits empty. Wasted. Lots of spaces for students. One solution could have been….using the existing lots!

Even during events, which happen in the evenings after classes are done, the lots never fill. I’ve been to sold out events at the SaveMart Center. The lot’s never get full, because most people go in groups.


But now let’s imagine that these lots are full. Let’s imagine that Fresno State suddenly increased enrollment. Let’s imagine there are events at the arena every day. Let’s imagine that students are indeed circling for parking.

Could a university filled with so many bright heads not think of a way to lower demand for parking….and not spend $4m in doing so? perhaps a way that instead of eliminating greenery, could add to it?

The formula is simple.

Make parking less attractive by using demand pricing
Make other forms of transportation more attractive.

Spend $1m to do so. Then use the $3m leftover for things like….education.

Fresno State is filled with students, many of whom don’t drive when they arrive due to the expense of owning a car. Many already arrive to campus on foot, bike or on a bus.

Instead of pushing them to buy a car as quickly as possible, why not make the experience worth continuing?

Look at how Fresno State fronts Shaw. A narrow, extremely ugly sidewalk lined with a metal fence.


A fence which was actually only just added a few years ago, as this older google image shows. That’s right, FSU spent money to making walking less attractive and more inconvenient.


Start by planting trees. Widen the sidewalk. Add lights. Add a bike lane.

On the other side of campus, on Barstow, walking is more pleasant (thanks to the trees!). But bike lanes and such? Not over here either. Doesn’t take much money to add those.


As the Fresno Bee photographer points out, it doesn’t take much work to find people arriving to campus using other forms of transportation.


So what’s the big problem here?

Fresno State frames transportation as parking. Walking is not transportation. Cycling is not transportation. The bus is not transportation. In some twisted way, not even driving is….just the parking.

Take a look at the entire transportation page on the university website


Our transportation demand management objectives are to develop and maintain commuter programs, promote transportation alternative, mitigate traffic congestion and reduce parking demand.


Reduce parking demand eh?

Not much detail on how they’d do that. So let’s click on the next link….

Traffic Operations welcomes you to California State University, Fresno.

Our goal is to provide you with safe and reliable access to our campus. We are dedicated to maintaining accessible, attractive and safe parking facilities.

Our objective is to manage parking resources efficiently, emphasizing customer service, so that students, faculty, staff and visitors are able to park without difficulty and lawfully.

We are always exploring new ideas and methods to improve our existing parking and transportation system, and we welcome any suggestions that you may offer. Please take advantage of the information provided on this web site and the services we offer so you can make the most of your campus experience.

Amy Armstrong, Parking Administrator

Fresno State Traffic Operations

Adding 600 parking spaces obviously won’t reduce parking demand, but when the sole focus of your job is to administer parking, it’s not a surprise that the only solution to any transportation problem is “more parking”.

One last thought:
Usually, in stories like this, you see some ridiculous PR attempt to save face.
IE: “Sure we’re cutting down 160 trees, but they’ll be replaced by 300 trees, so this is actually BETTER! More trees, yay! It’s a tree planting project!”

I found it amusing that FSU couldn’t even muster that.

She said the university removed 160 trees and plans to plant 148.

Come on.

11 Replies to “Fresno State: $4 million to turn trees to asphalt”

  1. In Sacto they have a joke:

    "What would Sacramento be without trees? Fresno."

    Sure, it's a State U, but true to form for Fresno. Remember the tree-sitting protests at Berkeley?

  2. You are a first class idiot! The lots being redone were in complete disrepair. The lot was a major safety hazard for campus patrons. Huge pot holes caused a severe hazard for pedestrians and motorists alike. The lot was cheaply patchworked over the years and the major problems were never fixed. It flooded in winter, caused major traffic congestion on a daily basis and simply was no longer functional. It was the darkest and most unsecured parking area on campus. The people bitching and moaning in T.V. are faculty members who never have to look for available parking. Those of us who have afternoon classes have a true understanding of the problem. This was long overdue and I commend Ms. Armstrong and the parking management for not consulting these entitled crybabies. The trees were nice but ultimately the safety and security of students comes first. Find something else to do!

    1. I bet you command many other dictators for taking care of the problem without consulting anyone and by just using their small brains. It is not about health and safety, it is about security. Welcome to America after NDAA 2011! The boss can do whatever he wants without consulting people who pay his salary, and if anyone objects, there are pressure group members like you to attack them.

  3. Of course part of the problem is that they have people with job titles like "parking administrator." The likelihood of her having a balanced viewpoint on the issues seems very small…

  4. The infrastructure of that parking lot was terrible. Cars would block the different lanes waiting for parking spaces to open up. The Savemart lot doesn't fill up during events? That statement is uneducated , incorrect and a flat out lie. I don't mind the parking cost going up if it makes an improvement to parking and traffic related issues. Would you rather they spent tens of millions on a parking garage? I also hope that those who have blasted this project will not park in the new lot. I fully expect them to take the bus , ride a bike and park off campus. Of they will probably be the first people to park there.

  5. The campus needs more of the metal fence. Im tired of all of the bad people from the surrounding neighborhoods coming on to campus. I believe acces our school should be more controlled. Just a thought from an interested student!

  6. Thank you for this excellent post on the wrongheaded "more parking spaces" approach to transportation on our campus. I am one of the faculty members – the urban ecologist – who have had to spend the past few days fighting on this issue, finding myself in front of reporters and TV cameras when I should be analyzing data and writing papers based on ecological data sampled on campus, some of it right under those same trees that were cut down! But I guess providing parking spaces for cars in this top-down fashion is more important on a university campus than actually paying attention to what faculty and students do there, and how they (we) use and relate to the campus on a daily basis.

    It is true that the lots in question were in some disrepair – but that could well be by design: don't patch potholes, allow the asphalt to crumble so people are inconvenienced, and then come in with such a complete asphalt makeover that removes all the trees! Fresno City College is also currently redoing a major parking lot, but they're managing to do it without cutting down all their trees! Surely we could have worked around the trees here too, and even filled up those ponding basins without touching the trees – but that would take a little more consideration for the campus environment and community, so why bother? You are right: there are indeed smart people at the university (where else?) who can figure out better ways to do this – but we were never really consulted on this at all.

    I have been blogging about this at Reconciliation Ecology where I have also posted the full text of my open letter to President Welty about this deforestation and other failures of campus governance, as well as a brief generic response from him. Do visit and share your thoughts there if you get the chance. I may post a roundup of other blog/media coverage of the story, and will make sure to include a link to this post.

    Thanks again!


    1. Thank you for stopping by. The responses from Fresno State are indeed disappointing. I find their use of "reforestation" quite insulting, when we all know they're talking about tiny saplings that will take 10 years to shade a motorcycle, and are probably required by city or state guidelines for parking lot construction. I hope others continue to apply pressure to the administration both to improve the current situation (ie, a promise to plant an additional 200 trees around campus) and to avoid future missteps like this.

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