Parking meter in Uptown

The challenges and benefits of permit parking

Permit parking is one of those things that people seem to love or hate. Love because it provides parking to those who live or work on a crowded street who now get preferential parking or can keep certain livability issues away. Hate because it might push parking congestion a block away or is a hassle or costs money.

Love ’em or hate ’em, where there’s a huge parking demand and few free parking spots, you very well may find permit parking.

I fall into both camps, as I see a tool that can help resolve certain livability issues but at the cost of privatizing a public resource and potential broader impacts for a community. Let me use the popular, dense, and mixed-use Uptown neighborhood in Minneapolis as an example.

Additional permit parking to be approved in Uptown
As reported recently, the City of Minneapolis is in the process of approving two more blocks of permit parking (also known as Critical Parking Areas or CPAs) in Uptown Minneapolis. To make this change, 75% of the residents (not property owners) must sign a petition requesting the change, that more than one block be included in the zone, that at least 33% of the on-street stalls must be currently utilized by non-residents during hours of enforcement, and that the City makes the following four findings:

1. The area is detrimentally impacted by parking of commuter, student, customer or visitor/guest vehicles generated by area businesses, institutions or recreational/entertainment facilities during the proposed hours of restriction.

2. The area does not have sufficient off-street vehicular parking for the use and convenience of the residents thereof in the vicinity of their homes.

3. Vehicle noise, pollution or congestion will work unacceptable hardships on residents of the area if present parking is allowed to continue unregulated.

4. The health, safety and welfare of residents of the area and the city as a whole and the attractiveness and livability of specific neighborhoods will be promoted by a system of preferential parking enacted under this section.

Of course, the City staff report found that each finding to be true without elaborating much on the hows or whys.

The potential benefits
Over the last several years, plenty of complaints have been generated about livability issues in Uptown, specifically late night noise, public urination, littering, and (at times) robbery. With the privately owned, public parking facilities in Uptown charging fees to park, there are some people (employees and visitors) who park on nearby neighborhood streets. Some of these streets also are extremely dense and have limited off-street parking, so even without non-residents parking, on-street parking would be tight.

With Uptown having many late night bars and restaurants, it attracts both nearby residents and those driving in to walk through the neighborhood late at night, sometimes being disrespectful in the process. Depending on the block, sometimes may be a lot.

So permit parking, if enforced late at night, may indeed cut the number of people walking through the neighborhood on their way back to the car. Its impact is limited by the number of people who are actually walking back to a car and not to their nearby home. And in Uptown’s case, I understand that there has been no data collected on who is causing the late night issues.

Another benefit for residents is that the permit holder gets to park in the permit district (sometimes several blocks in size) easier because the pool of people parking is far smaller. This is of course, not without inconveniences.

The drawbacks
For the resident, drawbacks include guest parking, the cost and hassle of getting a permit, and having to get a new permit if a new car is purchased. Depending on the city, there are different processes to handle guests, but in Uptown, residents can buy an additional permit and on occasion buy a limited number of temporary passes.

For businesses and residents on nearby blocks, it means a reduced supply and probably no reduction in the overall parking demand in the area. In the most recent case, the City said it collected “before” data and will compare “after” data prior to expanding the district.

For the other City property tax payers, they may feel that permit parking equates to a privatization of a public resource, a resource that they helped pay for. I’ve had one business owner tell me that he thought it was horrible that he pays nearly 3x as much in property taxes than a nearby residential property and now has fewer rights to what he sees as a public amenity. Contrasting that view may be the resident who, in Minneapolis, pays for much of street improvements through assessments. But most streets end up being rebuilt at some point, so that may be somewhat irrelevant if everyone pays for street improvements.

Lack of community coordination
In Uptown, there will be four blocks of permit parking, two of which will be new. When the first blocks went in (late 90s or early 2000s), they seemed aimed at removing employee and visitor parking, so their hours were into the late evening. As livability issues started to become more of a problem, I believe they were extended to bar close. As someone who was active in the neighborhood association, I don’t recall any community process in trying to approach the issue in an area-wide fashion. It was simply driven by the two blocks that wanted it.

So now we’re back, about a decade later, and two additional blocks want permit parking. Again, it seems driven by the blocks that want it. The City did not take into account how the changes will impact surrounding blocks and are deferring on the issue until future blocks approach them. Other than provide parking to residents, it doesn’t seem like it will help the livability issue too much as the parking restrictions are too limited to really force non-residents to park in a parking ramp, take transit, bike, or walk. It seems like it will simply shift the demand to an adjacent block.

In 2005, the City completed a parking and transportation study that included a parking supply survey. The data supplied indicated that at all times of the survey, the occupancy rate on the permit parking blocks was between 0 and 49%, while a neighboring block further from the action had occupancy rates typically in the 50-74% range during peak times. However, it did note that a similarly located block on the other side Hennepin Avenue (main drag) had 75-100% occupancy during those periods.

What to do now
I think the first thing we should do is to establish a Transportation Task Force that dives into various transportation priorities in the community. There have been numerous studies and plans in Uptown, and all have talked about the need to address improving parking, transit, biking, and walking.

I think this Transportation Task Force should include reps from each neighborhood association, the business organizations, Public Works, Metro Transit, and the Ward 10 office. This group should review the past plans and studies as it relates to transportation and then prioritize the main goals to focus on. Then really dive into the issues and try to implement a few things.

I imagine that parking will be a part of that discussion, and I would hope that permit parking’s purpose will be more clearly defined as it relates to Uptown. Is it a livability issue management tool or is it a parking supply tool to provide benefits to residents? For areas where livability is the biggest concern, the hours can be tailored to that. But if it’s about managing parking supply, I would encourage looking at some other options, such as metering the blocks and allowing permit holders to be exempted. This would better regulate the supply and ensure that people have the option to park there if supply is there. Prices could be set to keep some supply available the majority of the time.

Parking meter in Uptown

Parking changes are coming to Uptown with the addition of permit parking. Perhaps excess parking capacity could be sold off by meters, potentially exempting permit holders.

I don’t fault those seeking permit parking nor do I have issue with Public Works or the City Council in how they’ve handled permit parking to date. But I do think it is time that it gets addressed in a more community-wide process as to avoid having some individuals receiving benefits while penalizing others. I think there can be more balance.

***DISCLAIMER*** I work for The Ackerberg Group, a commercial real estate company in Uptown who owns numerous commercial properties and owns a public parking ramp. This is my personal opinion and should not be interpreted as an opinion from my employer.

Thatcher Imboden

About Thatcher Imboden

Thatcher Imboden is a transit-oriented development professional in Seattle with deep roots in Minneapolis. He previously worked in Minneapolis in both the public and private sectors advancing transit-oriented development projects, and was involved in Uptown area business and neighborhood associations. He dabbles in bicycle and transit planning, local history, and local politics.