100 Years of Transportation

UW–Madison has 13,000 parking spaces for 80,000 students, faculty, and staff – not to mention millions of visitors.

If you’ve ever wondered why it’s hard to find a parking spot, the short answer is: the university can’t pave campus with a parking lot.

Located on the isthmus between Lakes Mendota and Monona, land constraints mean we must take great care of the space and environment we have.

The question about parking space ramped up in 1924 when the university started  enforcing parking restrictions for students and employees.

As stewards of campus parking regulations and transportation programs, we understand it’s hard to be short on space. So we visited the University of Wisconsin–Madison archives to draw inspiration from our predecessors.

The sampling of newspaper headlines and maps on this page help tell the story of all the ways we get to and from campus. You may find, as we do, the common theme of our campus responding to the parking situation as a community with grit and tenacity, in true Badger fashion.

Where It All Began

Have you ever wished you could park anywhere at any time?

Before 1924, there weren’t any parking rules. Students, faculty, staff, and visitors were free to park in designated areas without restriction.

That may sound nice. However, with vehicle ownership on the rise, major traffic jams started plaguing Bascom Hill. This prompted the university to introduce parking rules in 1924.

An early article in The Daily Cardinal describes the gridlock behind Bascom Hall:

“On Tuesday morning there were more than 75 cars parked in this little space. Those who drove their cars up the hill to eight o’clock were unable to get them out until after twelve for other cars, driving up behind them, closed the exits. The drivers of the blocked cars were forced to wait until the cars around them were removed before they could get their own. Thus proving that it may not always be handy to own an automobile.”

The writer calls for more parking space to be built or parking rules to be enforced. Readers are also urged to consider a “third alternative,” that of “leaving their automobiles at home.”

Black and white photo of old cars parked in front of Memorial Union on tree-lined Langdon Street on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus in the 1930s.
Langdon Street and old cars ca. 1930-1935 | University of Wisconsin-Madison Digital Collections. Click image to enlarge.

With the new restrictions, students were no longer allowed to park on campus east of Stock Pavilion. Faculty were assigned to specific lots and issued brass tags. Special areas for visitors were declared. There was also a prohibition against riding on the running boards of cars.

In the century that followed, the university worked on making campus accessible by building more parking space, enforcing parking rules on existing space, and encouraging people to leave their cars at home. Thanks to the creative problem solving of our predecessors and campus community, there are efficient ways to get to and from campus today.

Image of 1922 Daily Cardinal newspaper article discussing the rise of traffic snarls behind Bascom Hall.
More Parking Space – Daily Cardinal Vol. 32 No. 197 – June 28, 1922 | University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives. Click image to enlarge.
Image of campus parking regulations appearing in a 1924 edition of The Daily Cardinal student newspaper
Official Notice of Parking Regulations – Daily Cardinal Vol. 34 No. 6, September 28, 1924 | University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives. Click image to enlarge.

 

 

 

Full Map

Image of notable transportation developments at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 1924 to 2023.
Click timeline to enlarge.

Transportation Services: How We Got Here

In the 1970s we were called Parking and Transportation, and before that simply the “Parking Office.” Today we are known as Transportation Services. Formerly part of Physical Plant, the university’s parking office became its own department within Facilities Planning & Management (FP&M) in the 1990s.

Our department works with campus administration and shared governance to manage parking operations and support alternative commute activities.

This includes running the campus bus; the building and maintenance of bicycle facilities and parking lots; planning construction detours; operating parking garages around-the-clock; painting stripes on campus roadways; clearing snow; coordinating the use of state Fleet vehicles for research departments; organizing special event parking; providing customer service; and much more.

We are an auxiliary unit, which means we operate without state funding. Most of the department’s revenue comes from the sale of employee parking permits. Rates are set in accordance with university policy to cover only the cost of these operations.

Transportation Services became an Accredited Parking Organization with Distinction in 2023 and has also been named 2023 Organization of the Year by the International Mobility and Parking Institute (IPMI). This means Transportation Services is a leader among our peers in the practice of responsible parking management.

We’re proud of these achievements, but our work is never done. As we look to the next 100 years, Transportation Services’ programs will continue to develop with new technology and the growth of our campus.

Photograph circa 1923 showing a person walking behind Bascom Hall near two rows of parked Model-T vehicles.
Early Automobiles Behind Bascom Hall, ca. 1923 | University of Wisconsin Digital Archives
Image in black and white of passengers boarding a bus at the corner of Park Street and State Street on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus in 1961.
Bus stop at State and Park – March 25, 1961 | University of Wisconsin Digital Archives
Image in black and white of buses, cars, and pedestrians traveling down Linden Drive at Charter Street on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus on a rainy day in 1970.
Linden Drive in the Rain – Circa 1970 | University of Wisconsin Digital Archives

 

 

Full Map

 

 

Full Map

About This Project

Image of UW Transportation Services logo to commemorate 100 years of managing parking and transportation operations at the University of Wisconsin-Madison“100 Years of Transportation” showcases primary source materials from the University of Wisconsin-Madison archives and University of Wisconsin Digital Collections to tell the story of how transportation activities on campus evolved since 1924.

The abundance of materials available on the subject of campus transportation means it’s not possible to fit everything on this page. If you think we missed something, or would like to contribute a newspaper clipping, photograph, or story of your own, please email lauren.hawley@wisc.edu and jon.kjarsgaard@wisc.edu. We want to hear from you!

Image in black and white of pedestrians crossing Park Street underneath the Park Street pedestrian bridge.
Pedestrian bridge over Park Street | University of Wisconsin Digital Collections

 

 

Full Map