How To Mitigate Grand Avenue’s Parking Problem

The curious case of Cupcake.

It’s two years old now, but it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth every time I meander past Grand and Milton. This is old news. Now, we have a doggy spa. Three parking spaces. That’s the difference between cupcakes and family-friendly self-service dog shampooing.

The successful University Avenue retailer was looking to expand on Grand Avenue. The problem: the City of St. Paul required 10 stalls. Cupcake only had 7. The City granted a variance, but the neighborhood group filed a lawsuit. There was some local political infighting and some back-and-forth, but at the end of the day, none of it mattered. Cupcake decided to abandon Grand Avenue for the Mall of America.

All the drama erupted over 3 parking spaces.


Space is a premium and that makes land acquisition difficult and expensive. This makes adding off-street parking difficult. But, what if I told you I could find over 100 additional parking spaces within a 3 minute walk of the location.


The red square above is Bubbly Paws. The red lines indicate prohibited on-street parking.


Many of our neighborhood streets adjacent to commercial corridors have restricted on-street parking. At best, we’re not making the best use of a public right-of-way. At worst, we’re stifling the ability for places (like Cupcake) to operate within our neighborhoods. What we’ve done is say that they are required to have a certain amount of parking spaces while there is a huge unused resource at the City’s disposal.

Besides the benefit of not requiring off-street parking (nobody wants more parking lots), having vehicles park on both sides of the street slows down traffic and can discourage people from using side streets as a through-street.

What we’re taking about is a win-win-win: fewer parking lots, more businesses and slower traffic.

St. Paul is a city. Emphasis on city. It’s about time it started acting like it. The area surrounding Grand Avenue is a dense, walkable neighborhood with a compact commercial node, existing mid-size apartment buildings and access to transit and bike lanes. There is no better place to not require more parking lots. Instead, let’s utilize on-street parking and slow down traffic in the process.

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Note: I don’t believe Grand Avenue has a genuine parking problem, but yes – it is more difficult to find a spot during peak periods. That, and you might just have to walk an extra block or two. Grand Avenue is a successful, worthwhile place precisely because it doesn’t have convenient parking. Furthermore, St. Paul needs to consider removing parking minimums all together.

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17 thoughts on “How To Mitigate Grand Avenue’s Parking Problem

  1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    Well-said — although in an urban grid context, presumably the main reason why parking minimums exist at all is to “protect” residents from having excessive people park on their street. Personally, I agree with you: we should focus less on the burden of cars parked on side streets and more on the burden — to pedestrians, to taxrolls, and to the urban environment — of off-street parking.

  2. Erik

    Would there have been push back from the neighborhood group if a variance wasn’t needed? I think a good way to prevent these groups from vetoing projects is to give them less ammunition. If so, then it goes back to parking minimums…and getting rid of them.

    1. Nathaniel

      There might have been push back, but it’s hard to say. Variances give them ammunition. And, while I agree in this particular case, I am hesitant to take ammunition out of neighborhood group’s hands. Now, this is a well-to-do neighborhood that doesn’t really need “protection” – but some neighborhoods across the city might – and the variance appeal might be one of their few only tools. But again, I don’t know.

  3. Erik

    “the main reason why parking minimums exist at all is to “protect” residents from having excessive people park on their street.” See the problem is it’s not their street, it’s a public street. I’m not trying to pick a fight as you clearly agree with the author. But I think the notion residents have that parking on the street they live should only be available to them, is a problem that so often derails the prospects of dense, walkable neighborhoods. Case in point.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      Mostly playing devil’s advocate here, but reading the article on Minneapolis special assessments this morning, it is worth considering the question: is it their street? Not that it should literally be a private drive — but should we give street-related deference to homeowners, when they pay substantial portions of the cost to build the street, maintain the boulevard, shovel the sidewalk, etc.?

      Probably not to the point of preventing a cupcake store from coming into the neighborhood. But in a limited sense (e.g., free or discounted parking permits, metered parking for outsiders), I think they do deserve some degree of special treatment.

      1. Nathaniel

        “should we give street-related deference to homeowners, when they pay substantial portions of the cost to build the street, maintain the boulevard, shovel the sidewalk, etc.?”

        This is a very important question. It’s something I’ve debated in my head and go back-and-forth. In many ways, the assessment process is unfair. Yet, for other things, it makes perfect sense. I believe that many City’s have their hands-tied in the funding equation and can’t do much without it.

  4. John Bailey

    That was good real-world example of The Great Parking Wars. I’m surprised you didn’t mention the lack of meters on Grand. I’m always shocked whenever do park on Grand, especially near Victoria, how there are no meters. In fact, I don’t think there are any on Grand anywhere (don’t shoot me if I’m wrong). That would open up some spots.

    1. Mike Hicks

      That’s a very good point — there really should be meters in many spots along Grand.

      Something that has been sticking in the back of my mind is the possibility of streetcars on Grand someday. Depending on exactly how wide the vehicles would be, it could have some impacts on parking and the current center turn lane.

      But regardless of whether a streetcar gets built on Grand or not, I’ve felt pretty strongly that the corridor (currently served by route 63) should get more frequent service. It has midday frequencies between 20 and 30 minutes now (possibly getting more consistently in the 20-minute range after the Green Line starts up), but should probably get closer to the 10- to 15-minute range.

    2. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      You are not wrong. This is true. Meters are a great way to raise money that can be spent improving a neighborhood and provide the convenience and benefit for drivers of having a spot in front of their destination. More parking turnover = more business for Grand Avenue. More parking turnover = more ease for drivers.

      I’m convinced that people don’t mind paying a buck or two if it provides them with much less frustration.

    3. Nathaniel

      I should have mentioned parking meters. They should absolutely be part of the equation on Grand Ave (at least) between Lexington-ish and Dale St.

  5. Adam MillerAdam

    Somebody must want more parking lots, because somebody created the requirements and somebody sues to enforce them.

    I do not like somebody.

  6. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    If it’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s cupcakes.

    Well actually, if it’s one thing, it’s the sound of children laughing. Then cupcakes at #2.

    Oh, … and kittens.

    No cupcakes, kittens, or children laughing and I’m fine. Consider me peachy keen.

    Oh, that reminds me, I hate peaches too. Especially fresh ones.

  7. Matthew Sindt

    I have a solution. The city should grant licenses for building parking ramps every few blocks or so on Grand Ave. Two or three ramps like the one at Grand and Victoria would solve this problem. No doubt the neighborhood will complain, but someone is going to complain about any progress. People irrationally fear any change even if it is positive. Installing meters would be helpful as well.

  8. Tim Pramas

    The neighborhood group did not file a lawsuit. Cupcakes did come up with the three additional spots and was set to open on Grand until it was lured away by a too good to turn down offer from the Mall of America. Cupcakes was required to have 10 spots by law because it wanted to run a wine bar that would stay open until 1 a.m. If it didn’t want to serve alcohol, seven spots sufficed. Cupcakes did not meet the legal criteria to qualify for a variance. As noted above, after the variance was denied by the City Council, Cupcakes came up with the additional three spots. Parking was once allowed on both sides of certain neighboring streets such as Lincoln. It proved unsafe for traffic, bicyclists and pedestrians, so stretches of the streets were restricted to parking on one side for everyone’s safety. We live in a great city, there are challenges and no easy answers, and articles such as this one are terrific ways to foster discussions on how to deal with the challenges.

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