No Parking
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No Parking

Is Minneapolis sabotaging progress with its future focus on a car-free downtown?

Almost missed filing my column—I’ve been driving around downtown Minneapolis trying to find a place to park. Lately, even my contract spot is no guarantee as parking lots get replaced by new buildings. I park right next door to the city’s new public service building, which is under construction on the site of an old ramp. When the 11-story tower opens this fall, it will draw 1,300 workers to Fourth Avenue South—no additional parking is planned.

I know I’m privileged to own a car and to be able to afford $220 per month for parking. I am aware that ranting about parking is not particularly progressive or original. And I know Mayor Jacob Frey just thinks I’m old. When I’ve asked how it helps business to eliminate parking spots—as the city did on Hennepin Avenue South in Uptown—or not require parking for new construction downtown, he says “young people” don’t want to own cars anymore.

I applaud that future thinking and agree that our world is changing fast. But I’ve also lived in the Twin Cities long enough to know that our public transportation is never going to compare to Boston or Washington D.C., or even Chicago, where I gladly forgo driving for the convenience and economics of hopping on a train. Some days, driving to work downtown might be a luxury, but on others, it’s the only way to get to where I need to go—meetings, school carpool. That’s just me—what about people with disabilities or those who live far from a bus line? Might we be getting a bit ahead of ourselves on the goal of a car-free future by eliminating the parking too soon?

Frey says no. As he told the Urban Institute in an interview last year: “A lot of developments will need parking due to market conditions and financing, and that’s fine. We just don’t want parking to be a requirement for building in our city. By removing the requirement, we can arguably engage in better land use, improve affordability, and respond to real-world market conditions.”

“You can’t just flip a switch and have a transit-dependent downtown. We are working in that direction.” —Steve Cramer, president and CEO, Minneapolis Downtown Council

I had plenty of time to think about goals vs. reality as I circled downtown, passing one “full” sign after the next. I drove through my own ramp three times before I gave up. “But I’m a contract parker—aren’t you supposed to save room for those of us who pre-pay?” I asked the attendant who was waving off cars as they approached. He suggested I could take a chance on a handicap spot (seriously?) or spend even more on a reserved monthly spot.

Instead, I paid $25 to park a few blocks away.

I wondered how the employees of a much larger company, Sleep Number, were dealing with parking since 2018, when headquarters moved from the land of surface lots to downtown Minneapolis. Apparently, better than I’ve been doing lately: 25 percent of Sleep Number employees eligible for parking benefits have elected to take the bus, says senior public relations manager Julie Elepano. In fact, Metro Transit presented Sleep Number with an award for its high use of mass transit. Says Elepano, “Parking has not created a significant challenge for our employees. Sleep Number offered many clear options when we moved downtown and employees use them without issue.”

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That’s great to hear, and a reminder of why I’m not mayor. But I am a strong supporter of our downtown. I never want transportation to dictate my city activities, and yet, increasingly, I find myself scheduling around parking headaches. Parallel Café, on the edge of downtown, has become my go-to for morning meetings with people who don’t work in the center of the city as I do, to spare them the hassle and expense of trying to park. North Loop is no better. Lately, the promotional emails I receive from North Loop retailers are as likely to be about parking as they are about merchandise. MartinPatrick 3 added valet parking, $5 per. The new Washington Avenue boutique Requisite recently leased two off-street spots behind the store for customers to use. “We hope this adds convenience to your shopping experience with us,” the email to customers read.

The Minneapolis Downtown Council advocates for broader transit options, from buses and light rail to scooters along with some new parking options, like the Federal Reserve ramp proposal in the North Loop that was shot down by the city. “You’ve got to have a dash of reality,” council president and CEO Steve Cramer says. “You can’t just flip a switch and have a transit-dependent downtown. We are working in that direction.”

Full ramps, and escalating parking rates are, overall, positive signs for the city: Businesses are moving downtown and so are people. But I’ve recently heard rumblings from friends in the North Loop who are about ready to move their offices further out, where parking is more readily available. And that tells me it might be time to deal with today’s reality before we sabotage the progress that’s been made downtown.

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