Why I Love Community Meetings About Parking


A responsible citizen paying respect to the parking meters on his downtown Main Street.

When you get involved in urban planning, it can be a real learning experience. One of the things you learn is that there are a lot of passionate people who care deeply about their neighborhoods, and want to share their thoughts with their neighbors in constructive ways. When strangers come together through positive dialogue, most of the time we bring out the best in each other. Neighbors uniting for the common good has become almost commonplace. For me, that’s what makes living in a city worth while.

And nowhere is this more true than in conversations about parking. I know what you’re thinking… parking probably seems boring. In fact, I’d bet that you never think twice about it. After all, we’re just talking about storing a car when you’re not inside it; how big a deal can that be?

I’m imagining you shaking your head right now! I mean, the absolute worst case scenario is that you have to pay a few dollars or walk a few blocks through our lovely city on the well-designed and always comfortable sidewalks filled with non-threatening street life. As we all know, walking in our city is such a pleasure that most people love strolling around.

But believe me, you’d be surprised at how often parking comes up in conversations. At neighborhood meetings, in city council conversations, in the elevator… Why just the other day an acquaintance asked me “So where did you park?” instead of saying “Hello how are you?” Boy was I surprised!

Anyway, my point is that sometimes people do think about parking. And sometimes they discuss it with each other in civil ways that are almost always respectful. With that in mind, here are some reasons why I find the example of people coming together around the seemingly inconsequential issue of car storage to be a testament to our civic discourse:

#1 Reason: People See the Big Picture


Two friends calmly agreeing to disagree.

Most of the time, when people are discussing parking, parking lots, paying for parking, or whether or not it’s difficult to find parking, I’ve noticed how quickly someone who might have had concerns puts aside petty squabbles and embraces the big
picture view.

I know… it’s hard to believe. I had trouble believing it until I saw it repeatedly during community meetings.

For example, just the other day a new restaurant wanted to open up in our city, but their parking lot was small compared to the Coon Rapids Applebee’s. Well, once the business owner explained the situation, and how the neighborhood was walkable and historic, everyone was OK with it. That’s inspiring!

Another example was the time that bicyclists asked the neighborhood for a bike lane on our busy street. The only catch? They’d have to remove a couple of parking spots in order to make the street safe. Once they explained it, folks in the community realized that safety was important. All of them agreed that having to walk to the other side of the street was worth the sacrifice. In fact, some of them even tried riding a bicycle themselves! That was inspiring too.

Reason #2) People Don’t Mind Paying a Little Bit for the Common Good

parking barking meeting avidor sketch

The public sphere in action at a recent parking meeting. I think the meeting was run by Quakers because everyone did such a great job listening. H/t to Ken Avidor for being inspired to make this sincere artistic homage.

Another thing I love about parking conversations is how quickly people get on board with paying a little bit of money for the privilege of parking their car in busy commercial neighborhoods. It’s surprising because, every once in a while, people can seem reluctant to pay for parking. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true! Sometimes I hear stories about how car drivers once in a while might treat a free parking space like a god-given right such as life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Yep, it’s the exception that proves the rule.

But once you explain to folks that parking is a valuable commodity, especially in a congested or desirable area, almost everyone I talk with realizes within the space of a few minutes of polite conversation how much sense it makes to have to pay for the privilege of using valuable public space. For example, you never hear of anyone illegally using handicapped placards, circling the block incessantly, or fighting with each other about who saw what space first. And when’s the last time you heard someone complaining to a business owner about how it was hard to park? I can’t remember the last time I heard that antiquated line of doggerel.

In Conclusion: I Never Think About Parking Any More

So much of the time, it’s easy to get discouraged. Sometimes our culture seems to promote selfish individualism at the expense of more collective ideals like equity, environmental stewardship, and love. So when we come together around community issues, it’s truly a testament to the benevolent nature of humankind. The more you have parking conversations, the more you see them as a shining example of peaceful harmony. It’s like the middle east in that way. I sleep easy at night knowing that I live in a place where people respect each others’ values.

So I wanted to say thank you fellow citizens for not letting something petty like a parking spot prevent our city from being a great place for all people to share and enjoy. If minds are like parachutes, then parking is like skydiving because everyone’s mind is wide open. And thank goodness, because otherwise we’d hit the ground.

best photo ever

A friendly citizen parking his unicorn llama on the moon while a happy cat watches to make sure nothing goes wrong with the light saber.

21 thoughts on “Why I Love Community Meetings About Parking

  1. John Bailey

    This morning an article was posted on my neighborhood (Hamline Midway) Facebook page about the owners of the Amsterdam Bar getting the contract to run the Como Park Pavilion and one of the first comments was “I hope it doesn’t get too trendy and they’ll be no place to park around there.”

    1. Matty LangMatty Lang

      Excellent piece, Bill! There are now five comments about parking under the post John references on the Hamline Midway Facebook page (including mine sharing the link to this most excellent piece of snark).

  2. Sean Hayford Oleary

    You forgot about one of the best parts of on-street parking: since our cities are beautifully gridded, it’s really no big deal if a business doesn’t have quite enough parking, since customers can make temporary use of ample street parking that’s not being used on residential streets nearby.

    Single-family homeowners are 100% totally cool with this, since they realize the street is a public space, not a private annex of their driveway. They acknowledge that, at the very most, they pay an assessment during street reconstruction that covers 25-50% of the cost of building the street and none of the maintenance cost, so someone using a legal parking spot in front of their house is definitely no big deal.

    1. Kyle

      “it’s really no big deal if a business doesn’t have quite enough parking, since customers can make temporary use of ample street parking that’s not being used on residential streets nearby.”

      Except at Oaks Station Place at 46th and Hiawatha where Localvore couldn’t secure funding for their new restaurant because there was a distinct *lack* of ample street parking. Metro Transit was hesitant to give up bus space and turn lanes, and the neighbors had restricted parking foisted upon them to help keep the streets from being day-long LRT parking. And the geography of the area eliminated a lot of on street parking as well.

      The comedy of errors popping up while trying to get a business in this space has been re-donk-u-moose.

      Oaks Station Place was supposed to be this modern fusion of transit and business and light rail and bikes and walking and trendy this / that / the other and while the building is fantastic and the transit is working just fine, the distinct lack of parking may have doomed the commercial aspect of it – which is a distinct black-eye in light of how the area was designed and how the city and the neighborhood expected the area to mature.

      Something will go there, one day. My hope is a bar with a great big deck. We’ll probably get a Brueggers, an HR Block and a nail salon.

      1. Sean Hayford Oleary

        The neighbors had anti-park-and-ride restrictions “foisted” on them? My impression was that, generally, when those kind of restrictions come about, it’s at the behest of the neighbors. Note that there are no major restricted zones around 38th St or Lake St station.

        By the looks of Street View, looks like the restrictions are so successful, nobody parks on the street, not even residents.

        1. Kyle

          I don’t remember off hand if the neighbors wanted restricted parking or the city said the area was going to be restricted parking no matter what but the neighbors were generally not happy to pay the fee to have restricted parking. Though this is probably a universal feeling for people that live in restricted parking zones.

          The restrictions are successful in keeping the area free of cars so that people do not use the close in areas as commuter parking or game day parking. But those same restrictions and the geography of the area (as in it’s not surrounded on all sides by the city grid) meant that funding could not be secured to open what would be a rather nice commercial addition to the neighborhood. The financing was contingent on a certain number of parking spaces because the general thought was that people would not walk 3 blocks to eat.

          Something parking wise will change in this area in the future, probably Metro Transit giving up a few spots. But if commercial funding is parking access dependent at Oaks Station Place the space may stay empty until someone withe alternate funding is interested.

          1. Matt Brillhart

            It sounds like the building itself doesn’t have enough commercial parking to attract the type of tenant people want, which is solely a failure of the developer. They were probably pretty well aware of the parking restrictions on nearby streets and lack of parking on 46th. It’s too bad they chose not to include more in the development. Is it possible there is surplus “residential”-designated parking that the apartment residents are not using due to the myriad of transit options?

            1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg

              Aaron is correct – the residents on each block with critical parking restrictions did this themselves, not sure what percentage of homeowners signed on, perhaps 75%?

              To Matt’s point, so far it seems that transit ridership is high and many transportation options are utilized, but apartment tenants still own a car, but don’t drive it as much. I’ve also heard that many tenants don’t own a car but just as many tenants own two, so the parking need is a wash.

              My hope is that neighbors with restricted parking in place instead agree to 2-Hour parking or the like, which still restricts the ability to Park and Hide for the train but yes, does mean that retail and restaurant customers may park in front of their homes….

              Or the city could raise the rate for neighbors to enact critical parking up to “market rate” maybe those neighbors would think twice about it.

          2. Sue Hunter Weir

            Residents wouldn’t have to pay the fee if they don’t park on the street. The fee is for the permit that you place on your car. Typically, people without stickers can park for up to two hours.

  3. Andrew B

    My favorite part of these meetings are how short they are, the sing-a-long of the city anthem, and the big group hug at the end.

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