Planning to Fail: Parking at Blaine Lakeside Commons Park

Blaine Lakeside Commons ParkSometimes, “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.

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4 Responses to Planning to Fail: Parking at Blaine Lakeside Commons Park

  1. Nathaniel M Hood
    Nathaniel June 26, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

    This is really well written. I plan on writing some ideas here when I get some time.

  2. Alex June 27, 2012 at 7:36 am #

    Excellent illustration of the problem with applying urbanist policies like parking requirement reduction to places that were master planned – older cities typically have features that make them more resilient, such as bike facilities, (more) walkable streetscapes, and transit. I hate to recommend on-street parking, but if the area at the intersection of Harpers and Lake Pkwy were intended for commercial, it seems like it would have been smart to have a few parking bays on Lake Pkwy. That would have mitigated this problem a bit.

  3. Reuben Collins
    Reuben Collins June 27, 2012 at 8:10 am #

    Great post. This is an interesting scenario. Parking shortages in the 'burbs! Who would have guessed?

    One aspect you didn't mention is that the problem may not be a lack of parking, it may be a lack of useful parks. Is this park really that great the people are coming from all over to see it? Or have the north 'burbs just underserved by decent parks? In other words, is the solution more parking, or more parks?

    It would be interesting to see the traffic study for this development. What assumptions did the engineers make to arrive at 72 spaces?

    The only real planning fail I see here is exempting local residents from the permit fee. Otherwise, the City could just change its own ordinance to permit parking in dirt lots and the problem would be solved (temporarily until the commercial development arrives).

  4. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke June 27, 2012 at 9:56 am #

    Should parking for city parks always have a cost? St Paul doesn't charge for parking but Mpls does. Does that make St Paul parks more equitable, or more auto-dependent?

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