Sometimes, “beat practices” in planning churn out some ridiculous scenarios and results.
A good example of this occurred in Blaine. Developers are required to set aside land in new developments for public space, something considered a best practice — it encourages neighborhood open space and community. Super, right? Well, in 2010, this requirement led to the creation of Lakeside Commons Park, a full-featured public space including running paths, a beach and splash area, swimming, boat rental, and pavilions. It’s the only beach in Blaine city limits.
It’s a nice park. And as a result, there were immediate parking problems. It turned out that the “city” park created was generating traffic that resembled a regional park. Because it was both drawing regional-type traffic, and the park is divided from many parts of Blaine by some high speed, multi-lane stroads, the main way people access the park is by car.
Parking at Lakeside Commons has been a problem since opening day:
- The park was built with 72 permanent parking spaces. Studies suggested that parks with similar amenities should offer at least 200 permanent stalls.
- In 2010, a temporary overflow parking lot was installed on yet-to-be developed commercial property to the east of the park.
- It is technically against village ordinance to use an unpaved lot of this sort for anything save event parking (as happens during the annual 3M Golf Championship, a Senior PGA event). Using a lot all summer amounts to a city violation of its own ordinances.
Now, it’s been long established that in many cases, minimum parking stall ordinances subsidize car use and shift costs to businesses and municipalities. However, given the layout of Blaine, the speed and width of roadways near the park, and the recommendation that similar parks have at least 200 spaces, only offering 36% of typical recommended parking stalls seems foolish at best.
Sure, parking is a poor use of land in general, but simply not putting parking in place doesn’t change the essential nature of the community surrounding it, and the nature of that community is that it is not bike friendly, especially to potential family users of a family-oriented park. (There’s a splash pad! Kids love splash pads!) And, to be honest, there are no signs that building with such limited parking-to-amenities was part of a master scheme, but mostly just a screw-up by the city.
In 2011, the Blaine City Council discussed spending $500,000 to add parking to the site, draining Blaine’s Capital Improvement Plan’s park funds. After some shenanigans including public hearings, parking was not expanded at the park for 2011. Instead, parking became permit-based, with city residents eligible for free parking passes, and non-residents paying $5/day or $20/season. Permit revenue for 2011 amounted to $13,181. Permit use also showed that 35% of park users were not Blaine residents (at least as permit enforcement was concerned — no count was made of non-motorized arrivals, or of users after the 6PM end of permit enforcement).
Discussions of expanding parking have quelled since the permit scheme was introduced. A great next step would be to look at the parks CIP and determine ways to encourage active transportation for park access. The nearest challenging roadway, Radisson Road, already has good sidepaths. How could the city better connect other subdivisions to this sidepath? How could the city improve street crossing for families to cross Radisson Road safely? To cross MN65 safely?
A half million dollars could go very far in making some of these improvements and setting a basis for a more human-powered Blaine — and perhaps make the parking scenario at Lakeside Commons seem to have been part of a master plan.