A project to convert the portion of 4th street in front of Bridges Hall of Music (‘Little Bridges’) on Pomona College’s campus into a pedestrian-friendly walkway has generated complaints from students, faculty, and Little Bridges concertgoers who feel the project does not take into consideration the concerns of program attendees, many of whom are elderly community members, who will be forced to make a longer walk from their parked cars to the music hall after the 4th street parking spaces are eliminated.
According to Assistant Vice President and Director of Facilities and Campus Services Bob Robinson, the walkway will still allow for vehicles to drive through the street when necessary, but the project is part of a larger initiative to redesign Pomona’s Marston Quadrangle and Stover Walk.
“It was always a part of the college’s Master Plan to make the central core of campus pedestrian-friendly,” Robinson said. “That was the stated Master Plan ten years ago.”
In preparation for the 4th street construction, which is slated to begin next summer, the school has already closed the parking spaces previously available on 4th street directly in front of Little Bridges. Some music students have objected to the project, arguing that fewer parking options near Little Bridges could detract from attendance at Little Bridges events.
“The closest handicapped parking to Little Bridges is [now] Sumner Hall, and the kind of parking they expect people to use is the new parking structure on South Campus, which is quite a distance,” said Katie Bent PO ’13, a Music major, Music department liaison, and co-President of Glee Club.
In addition to concerns about the increased distance between available parking and Little Bridges, there have been concerns over losing the sense of community that parking on 4th street used to provide.
“It established this kind of community in front of the concert hall, because everyone would get there at the same time and get out of their cars and meet up with people who had been coming there for years,” Bent said. “Now everybody parks so far away, you just kind of walk in and sit in your seat.”
After reviewing surveys distributed to concertgoers at Little Bridges performances and talking to the participants of these surveys, Bent said she has found some unhappy attendants.
“Older members of the community indicated in surveys [that] they feel like they are being alienated by the college’s choice to limit their access to what is supposed to be a really public space,” she said.
George and Elizabeth Roleder, who have been attending Little Bridges events since 1958, said they were surprised by the sudden change in the parking situation on 4th street.
“I’m surprised that there weren’t any surveys or a search for comments before the decision,” George Roleder said. “My biggest concern would be for those that are disabled, because it was a lot easier for them before the change.”
Robinson said the school has worked to make the Little Bridges parking transition as smooth as possible.
“I think we did a good job of mitigating it; there was one handicapped space within 40 yards of Bridges, and there are now ten,” he said. Pomona’s Office of Facilities and Campus Services has created ten new handicapped parking spaces at Sumner Hall to compensate for the lot closure on 4th street. The north and east sides of the Thatcher Music Building will also be used as drop-off zones.
“It’s change, [and] change is hard,” Robinson said. “There’s going to be a plethora of opinions. Parking is one of those hot-button issues that affects everyone; everyone wants convenient parking right next to their office or where they’re going.”
Robinson also pointed out that the area of 4th street that used to be cluttered with parked cars is now an open area that can be used by local nursing homes with carpool vans.
“They now have much clearer access to drive up and drop people off,” he said.
Still, some students said they feared the walk from Pomona’s South Campus Parking Structure would be too much to ask of some Little Bridges concertgoers.
“If mobility is a difficult thing for you,… but maybe you’re not disabled, so you don’t have a disabled parking pass,… then that’s a really long way to go,” Bent said. “I’ve seen people limping up to the front [of Little Bridges].”
Despite concerns that the changes could affect attendance to Little Bridges events, Robinson said he had not heard of any major issues. “They haven’t experienced any drop-off that I’m aware of,” he said.
Throughout the remainder of the fall and spring semesters, Pomona’s Music Department will continue to collect data on the community’s response to the 4th street construction project. Pomona administrators will meet with faculty from the Music Department in December to discuss the fall survey results. The design phase for the 4th street construction is set to begin this month, with actual construction estimated to begin next summer.