Lowertown’s Parking Problem is Lowertown’s Walking Opportunity


“The problem is obvious!”

In Saint Paul, parking remains one of life’s great mysteries. The longer I live here, the less I seem to understand the things people say about parking and walking. Logic seems to twist and transform like hallucinated dragons.

For example, last month’s spate of articles on the “Saint Paul parking problem” were full of interesting quotes. Each of these articles began by citing findings from the city’s recent parking study, documenting the thousands and thousands of underused downtown parking spots. But then came the quotes.

From the Star Tribune’s take on the “quickening pulse” of Lowertown [obvious irony emphasis mine]:

“When you live here and you have to go two extra blocks to get your car or bring your groceries home or a new plant, it’s going to be a problem,” said Lisa Kloster, walking her dog Lola near her Lowertown condo. “We can’t plan any activities when a game’s going on because [friends won’t] be able to come down here.”

From the Pioneer Press’ piece asking, “Where will everybody park?”:

Is it a matter of expectations? Some say that for a city St. Paul’s size, residents should start getting used to these types of issues.

Nobody in St. Paul likes to walk. … If they can’t pull up right next to the restaurant, they’re not happy,” said developer Dave Brooks, who owns the Alliance Bank Center at 55 E. Fifth St. “St. Paul has just got to get in a different mindset.”

And later…

“When you’re used to something, it’s a lot harder to go backwards. You kind of get spoiled over here,” Lowertown Commons property manager Longie said. “We are excited about the happenings, about the Saints being a part of the neighborhood, bringing more life to the neighborhood.

“We just want to make sure the city is covering their bases, and they are aware there is a parking problem.”

For many people, the “parking problem” seems obvious. To me, it’s difficult to sort out. Is parking too expensive or is parking too difficult to find?

 [For much more on this tension, see other posts appended at the bottom.]

Pedicab Observations


Me and a broccoli.

Sporting events offer a great example of how “the parking problem” works because the destination and population size is so discrete. For example, what happens when you compare the parking situation at the old Saints stadium and the new Saints stadium?

For the last two summers, I’ve had a Saint Paul pedicab license, and spent the occasional off evening schlepping people around in the back of one of those boxy yellow bicycles. Mostly, there are two kinds of rides you end up giving people: joyrides, and rides to and from parking spots. And in Saint Paul, where there’s almost never a critical mass of street life, pedicab drivers focus on the latter, taking people to and from Wild games, Xcel concerts, the Farmer’s Market, or Midway Stadium to watch Saints games.

Believe it or not, for a self-proclaimed urban geographer, spending a few hours pedaling a bike taxi up and down rows of parked cars can actually be interesting. In addition to seeing the many varieties of Saints fans (from families to small gangs of teenagers to young couples and the occasional hipster), you can watch exactly where people park.

At the old Midway stadium, with only one road available (Energy Park Drive), the parking dynamics were pretty simple. If you wanted to park next to the stadium, you paid $10; for a lot within a 2-5 minute walk, it was $5. For free parking, it depended on when you arrived; on busy games, latecomers searching for free parking would park on the other side of the railroad tracks, almost to Raymond Avenue. That’s a distance of exactly one mile, which is a 20 minute walk for a normal person.


[Actual walking distances from the old Saints ballpark on top; projected walking distances for new Saints ballpark on bottom.]

The Walk-Willingness Radius


A 3/4 mile radius around the new Saints ballpark grants you access to most of downtown Saint Paul, plus the East and West side.

The point is that parking, particularly during sporting events, functions as a pretty efficient market. People weigh the value of their time and mobility, look at the parking options, and make a relatively informed decision. Those who value being close pay more; those willing to walk pay less. (Those desiring a fun trip in a pedicab paid me.)

But for some reason, the same people willing to walk a mile along the empty railroad tracks to the old Saints stadium are portrayed as unwilling to walk more than a few blocks through an interesting city to the new Saints stadium.

In the Pioneer Press’s most in-depth piece on “the parking problem,” they offered this keen analysis:

A Pioneer Press accounting of Lowertown’s lots, public and private, reveals that yes — while “plenty” is definitely pushing it — there will be just enough parking in Lowertown to accommodate Saints fans and employees, provided no other large events are going on.

Venture a couple of extra blocks into the downtown’s office core — a six-block walk to the stadium — and the problem becomes moot…

Defining what exactly the “parking problem” in Saint Paul is more difficult that you might think. The assumption that people are unwilling to walk six blocks to a baseball game is a baffling to me, given how far people have been walking for years to attend Saints, Twins, and Vikings games in the Twin Cities.

Perhaps what we are facing isn’t a parking problem, but a walking opportunity?


Little known fact: In Chinese, the word for “parking” is the same as the word for “opportunity.”


For more on parking in downtown Saint Paul, see:

Minneapolis and Saint Paul Need Parking Benefit Districts

Rough Sketch of a Solution to Downtown Saint Paul’s Parking Problem

Don’t be Misled by Parking Space Economics

Lowertown’s Parking Challenge

Take Me Out to the Saints Game

16 thoughts on “Lowertown’s Parking Problem is Lowertown’s Walking Opportunity

  1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    How many Vikings fans park in the A, B and C ramps going to games at the Metrodome? Judging from the streams of purple pedestrian crossing downtown on game days, a fair number. That’s right around a mile too.

  2. Mike SonnMike Sonn

    The same stands true of parking around the small commercial nodes around St Paul. How are people totally okay with walking across a barren wasteland of a Target Parking lot, but can not fathom ever walking the same distance (about a city block) through a beautiful St Paul neighborhood. What does this say about how people view St Paul? And why should we be making decisions based on people who clearly loath our beautiful city?

    1. Anders Bloomquist

      Exactly. I’m not the first to comment along the lines of the urban/suburban divide, but most suburbanites will never love downtown, full stop.

      So let’s stop trying to earn the approval of people who only venture downtown as a lark or when they absolutely must.

  3. paddy

    There obviously isn’t a parking problem. I think there is an uncertainty problem.

    It was apparent at Midway where one could park. $10-$5-Free all with a straight shot walk to the stadium.

    While there are plenty of ramps in DT St. Paul, their location(s) and relationship to the new stadium is the uncertainty.

    If I’m random Saints fan, I’d want to have a plan on where to park before I get there and reality is plan is variable based on what’s available. I think that’s what people are voicing

    1. Mike SonnMike Sonn

      The city can really get out ahead of this now that the parking study is complete. Signage and way-finding is crucial to downtown parking and it is sorely lacking right now.

    2. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

      I can see that, but it’s still a fairly weak case. So you plan on picking Ramp XYZ before you leave home; it meets your time/distance/cost range. You get there and it happens to be full. Is it that hard to expect someone who didn’t leave early enough to ensure a parking spot in their most-desired ramp to just circle around to the nearest one and pay +/- $1 relative to what they expected to pay? They didn’t have a backup in mind? I dunno.

      1. paddy

        Of course it’s a week case but if you could ask any Saints fan who has been to a game in the last five years where they plan on parking at the new stadium, I’d bet you’d get <5% who had any clue.

        And then you are asking them to have a back plan??? Good luck.

        I've been lowertown 1-2 year for past half decade and I have no idea where I'd park (I'd probably take the train to be honest)

        In general, while the stadium looks cool and I look forward to going to watch some amateur baseball if not the Saints, I think their core audience was people who like to drink bee in parking lot and this place ain't that

      2. fIEtser

        That’s what dynamic parking displays are for. Put them on the freeway a couple miles out. Visitors on their way in would be able to know how many spots are available at each garage at that time (and ideally, the price as well) so that they don’t have the problem of showing up to a full lot nor one of parking far only to find that closer lots are empty.

  4. UrbanDoofus

    Lazy bums, the whole lot of them. I’ve worn my pedometer a few times during Twins games and the amount of average walking that happens on the concourse going from seat to restroom to concessions doubles is typically(for me) is double or triple the amount of walking I do from home to stadium(6 blocks each way).

    I guess we need to save up all of that energy!

  5. Jack Fei

    The problem is changing public expectations. The public ‘expects’ to have to park some distance away from a major sporting event so a mile is o.k here. The public ‘expects’ to walk from the parking lot to a major retail store so several hundred feet are o.k. here.

    But the public ‘expects’ to park no more than two blocks from a neighborhood store and freaks out if they park more than a few houses away from the front of their house.

    We are dealing with non-rational public expectations based on a lifetime of conditioning. It is bad public policy to continue to pander to a parking demand from a public addicted to private cars. It will take outside the box thinking and planning to introduce walking, cycling, and public transit and balanced multi-modal transit in St Paul.

  6. Matt

    Bill, curious where you came across that translation for parking? I’ve studied and lived in China and I’ve never seen that translation for parking. My dictionary on my phone that it translates as “crisis”.

    Anyway, don’t want to detract too much from a good post. I agree with you 100%

  7. Eric SaathoffEric S

    It must be acknowledged that much of that radius around CHS is highway. As people interested in walkability, it should be obvious that there are a lot of sections that are not “walkable” in the best sense, though there are also many areas that are.

    This doesn’t really excuse the arguments about parking.

  8. Anders Bloomquist

    If anything should be advocated here it should be improved signage to direct pedestrians to the Saints stadium (and other downtown sights), along with fresh & bright paint jobs for pedestrian crossings and bike lanes. Obviously I’d prefer more structural changes to accommodate bikes & peds, but it would be a good start that would aid visitors and provide a huge help to daily users.

  9. Pingback: Cleveland Avenue Shows St. Paul’s Need for Parking Creativity | streets.mn

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