What’s more American than baseball and apple pie? If you take only the past sixty years into consideration, the answer might be “driving everywhere and expecting parking to be free and plentiful.”
Hyperbole aside, parking woes have long been a topic of concern among Uptown area residents. Particularly throughout the apartment and condo building boom of the past decade, debates have raged about whether new buildings provide enough off-street parking. Of course, “enough” is a highly subjective term, and at least one member of the City Council has allegedly suggested that off-street parking requirements–just recently relaxed to encourage dense and walkable development in a car-dominated city–be increased on new multi-family construction.
Visitors coming to the area for shopping and entertainment have long opted to park on close-by residential streets in order to dodge paying for parking in metered spaces or in lots and ramps. This phenomenon surely annoys residents of those streets, but likely attracts some crime as well: anecdotally, robberies on the 3100 blocks of Holmes, Hennepin, and Girard seem more common than on adjacent streets. A more commonly cited concern is that people returning to their vehicles create excessive noise, leave behind litter, and even engage in vandalism. (See: the patio ordinance spat.)
But parking also plays into traffic. Studies conducted over the 20th century (PDF) showed that, on average, 30% of all vehicle traffic consists of drivers looking for parking. In Uptown, Minneapolis, in 2011, we don’t know if that’s really 10% or 50%, but with over 30,000 vehicles using Hennepin Avenue every day, we do know that these “cruisers” are a key roadway constituency. This is one of the rationales for variable priced parking, as advocated by Donald Shoup, the planning celebrity and professor out of UCLA who is behind a certain book you may have heard of: The High Cost of Free Parking. A core recommendation from Shoup’s work is that parking should be priced so that 1 out of every 8 on-street spaces (i.e. one space per block) is always available. See below:
Cities across the United States are taking these recommendations to heart, with San Francisco’s SFpark program being the most exciting example (check out the website, which includes a very helpful video). The project will not directly generate new revenue for the city, but should improve transit speeds, decrease parking violations, reduce smog, and enhance safety for all road users — a pretty significant set of positive outcomes that should prove beneficial for residents and businesses alike (and yes, drivers too!). While new multi-space parking meters currently rolling out in Minneapolis are not slated to incorporate Shoup’s so-called “right pricing” based on demand, according to the City’s website the capability is there for future use.
Could Uptown be a test kitchen for a smarter parking system? On paper, the area seems to be a good fit. Consider the ingredients: plenty of congestion, a mix of through- and destination traffic, underutilized off-street parking capacity, slow moving but highly used transit service, cranky neighbors, and an organized business community. All that’s missing? Money, champions, political will… well, anyway, it’s worth a discussion. What do you think? What are the specific needs of the Uptown area, and which technologies or policies could best address them?