At one time, almost all Penn State students either lived on campus or a stone's throw away. Those days have been gone since the 1980s. As enrollment increased, so too did the need for student housing. Developers met this demands by creating student apartments at places like Briarwood and Toftrees, and then later at State College Park, The Pointe and Nittany Crossing. Soon, the Retreat will offer yet another housing option for students far from campus.
Not only is this housing far frm campus, it is also far from the bars and most student parties. Additionally, parties at these distant apartments attract students who live far away. The inevitable result is an increase in DUIs, and we should only expect an increase in DUIs as student housing spreads further and further away from downtown.
As a criminal defense attorney in State College, PA, who represents Penn State students, I have noticed that an overwhelmingly high percentage of my DUI clients live several miles away from downtown. http://www.mattmlaw.com/Criminal-Defense-Overview/Alcohol-Offenses-DUI.shtml Only once in a blue moon do I represent a Beaver Canyon denizen in a DUI case. The reason for this is obvious. Students want to drink and they would rather drink where the action is than in their quiet, student suburb.
So what are the possible solutions? How can we reduce DUIs among Penn State students as urban sprawl moves student housing ever further away from downtown?
Well, the most obvious solution is to convince Penn State students not to drink or not go to downtown bars and parties. Quite frankly, that is not going to happen unless Penn State becomes a branch campus of BYU. Any solution must take into account the reality that students are going to drink.
One thing we can do is add more cabs to State College during the school year. The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission regulates how many taxi cabs can operate in a given area. Currently, State College is at full capacity, and the PUC will not allow any more cabs. The problem is that State College is not a normal town. We do not have a constant population year round. Thus, we have far too many cab drivers sitting around with nothing to do during the summer, and far too many people waiting for cabs during the school year. The PUC should allow more cabs to be deployed during the school year, while reducing that number during the summer.
More cabs will reduce the number of DUIs in State College. Currently, it is nearly impossible to get a cab on an event weekend like THON, Arts Fest, home football games and graduation. I have represented more than a few people who had planned to get a cab after a night of drinking, only to discover that no cabs are available. They then take the chance of driving home, only to get a DUI.
Another option is to expand the bus schedule to student apartments late into the night during the school year. This too should reduce the temptation to drive on a night of drinking.
The third option is to allow more student housing within walking distance of downtown. Currently, this is a politically unpopular idea among many of the adult permanent residents of State College. Many fear creating another Beaver Canyon. I believe that with proper planning, we could add more student apartment buildings downtown without creating another mini-Manhattan like Beaver Canyon.
Unless and until changes are made, we should expect to see more and more student DUIs each year, as student housing creeps further away from campus.
Matt McClenahen is a State College criminal defense attorney and Penn State alumnus.