Cleveland Avenue Shows St. Paul’s Need for Parking Creativity

I wanted to piggy-back off of Bill’s great piece on Lowertown’s perceived parking problem, where he notes that people walked nearly a mile from their parking spot on Energy Park Drive to Midway Stadium and were completely okay with that but parking a couple blocks away from CHS Field and walking through a vibrant downtown is somehow asking too much.

Saint Paul recently unanimously adopted the Saint Paul Bike Plan and has begun the process of implementation. Being a fairly dense city, Saint Paul has limited right-of-way within which to work so some tough decisions lay ahead for the city. However, I’d argue that after five plus years of planning, discussion, public meetings, and vigorous debate, Saint Paul’s Bike Plan is well vetted and now just needs the political will to put rubber to pavement. The roll-out will be slow as the city plans to keep costs low by adding bicycling infrastructure only during road projects. Ramsey County is currently doing several mill & overlay projects across the city that will hopefully include bike lanes with the finishing re-striping. The most contentious of these projects is Cleveland Ave in Mac-Groveland because of parking removal from Randolph Ave to Grand Ave.

Five proposed 30 minute spaces within 100' of the building at Cleveland and Randolph. Please see letter for suggestions about the two underutilized lots.

Five proposed 30 minute spaces within 100′ of the building at Cleveland and Randolph. Please see letter for suggestions about the two underutilized lots.

I recently spent quite a bit of time brain storming some solutions to help ease concerns of property owners, especially at the corner of Cleveland Ave and Randolph where four spaces are slated to be removed. Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition and Saint Paul Women on Bikes first sent these suggestions to the property owner as a gesture of good faith and open dialog before passing along to Saint Paul City Council Members, Ramsey County Commissioners, and both Saint Paul & Ramsey County Public Works staff. All the parking suggestions we presented kept readily available spaces within 100 ft of the building’s entrance.

One of the main reasons I fell in love with Saint Paul is the many small commercial nodes. While built because of the long-gone street car system, they have survived by serving their neighborhoods. People patronize these nodes because they are easily accessible to neighbors. If this is the case, then why must all local neighborhood-serving businesses require front door parking? Why is it so apocalyptic to walk around a corner and past a couple of homes in our beautiful neighborhood? I believe the very essence of Saint Paul and its charm is being lost in the eternal search for the perfect parking space.

As an example of scale, I’ve placed a 100′ distance measure showing how far people actually walk across a barren big box parking lots. How is this acceptable to traverse, but not the lilies my neighbor planted?

Midway Target

Midway Target

Midway Walmart

Midway Walmart


Highland Lunds

Highland Lunds

You can't even access any retail within 100' of the parking garage at the Eagan Outlet Mall.

You can’t even access any retail within 100′ of the parking garage at the Eagan Outlet Mall.

Do these drivers have disdain for our neighborhoods? Is walking any distance from a parking spot so rare these days that anything short of “home run” parking is equivalent to no parking at all?
If so and nothing will appease these drivers, why are we letting them dictate how safely we move around in our neighborhoods? Small local businesses need to embrace the reasons people go to them, with location being a major factor. I personally love walking or riding through our charming neighborhoods, seeing all the kids playing, the gardens growing, and getting to wave to friendly faces. With all these great amenities, why is parking a block away from your destination a reason to never visit your favorite barber again? Or after 40 years of going to a store, will people really stop simply because they are forced to walk past their neighbors’ houses?
We Saint Paulites are blessed to live in a city as engaging as ours. I’m further blessed to have a home in, what I consider to be, the best neighborhood in all of the Twin Cities. We pay a premium and sacrifice on home size in order to have walkable and bikeable access to some of the coolest businesses you’ll find anywhere in the Midwest.
Let’s not forget what makes us great. Let’s embrace it and move forward towards a more sustainable and safe future. We shouldn’t have to choose between parking for businesses and safe bicycling infrastructure. If we work together for creative solutions, we can have both.

41 thoughts on “Cleveland Avenue Shows St. Paul’s Need for Parking Creativity

  1. Nathaniel

    Great article. I’ve officially shared this on the Highland Facebook page. I think you might find some more interesting comments there …

  2. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

    Loved this. We could get off track with each example of “but THAT is okay” except there are times it really needs to be pointed out. This was very well done, Mike.

  3. paddy

    ” Saint Paul’s Bike Plan is well vetted” – The business owners were notified two weeks ago that they were to lose their parking spots 4 weeks? 6 weeks? before construction is slated to start. I would not consider that a well vetted plan.

    “five plus years of planning” – and yet “recently” groups are submitting ideas to mitigate obvious issues weeks prior to construction. How exactly was the 5 years spent?

    “vigorous debate” – what is entirely obvious is that the vigorous debate is taking place right now. Whatever obtuse process that was undertaken was clearly not “vigorous debate”

    ” just needs the political will” – This is my personal favorite. Tough luck fellows you’re the losers suck it up and deal with it.

    Honestly not sure what the point of comparing parking ay Midway Target to parking at the barber shop is. Not remotely apples to apples. When I shop for groceries at Target, I fully expect to walk forever to get into the store. When I shop at Widmer’s and use my car (sometimes I walk!) I expect to park right next to the store.I don’t expect to have to drive around the neighboring streets for 10 minutes looking for a parking spot.

    This is obviously a debate about differing visions of the future. I don’t share your vision and you don’t share mine about this street. Maybe there are other issues where we agree. Whatever that’s fine. But reading your comments on Twitter, Facebook etc., your disdain for opponents of this vision is apparent. And at the local “city level”, its clear that your (or whoever’s) vision is the only one getting a hearing.

    What’s striking to me, is how over the decades the planners of “the future” have changed goals and strategy but the tactics remain the same. While houses got torn down to build roads now business’s lose their viability (potentially) for bike paths all in the name of progress.

    I care much more about Ray and Joe than about the bike path. I have little faith at this point but I hope you lose.

    1. Matt Frank

      Paddy, have you considered the fact that bicyclists are customers too?

      Why do you expect to walk forever at a big box store through a sea of asphalt and accept that norm, yet refuse to walk any distance in a more walkable neighborhood like Mac-Grove to get to a local business?

      Mike is not arguing for removing all parking, in fact he suggests viable alternatives for parking within 100 ft. of local businesses at the corners of Randolph and Cleveland, including adding a handful of NEW 30 minute metered spots on both streets (see first image). The argument here isn’t whether local businesses need car parking close by, but rather how close.

      Implementing bicycle lanes will create a more welcoming road for ALL users as opposed to solely automobiles. As a neighborhood within a major city that strives for multi-modal transportation use, shouldn’t all residents be accounted for? The past 100 years have given precedence to private vehicle owners, the future needs to be inclusive of all modes of transit, including biking and walking, as well as all ages and (dis)abilities.

      1. paddy

        I live within walking distance of the barber shop. I walk there. I am obviously aware that there are other modes of transportation other than a car and that they apply to neighborhood stores.

        The owners of the building/barber shop/other stores clearly CLEARLY perceive the lose of parking as a threat to there business. If the bikes lanes were a boon to their business, they would feel the opposite no?

        My point is that the process produced a result that A) did not inform the affected parties B) introduced the debate weeks before the implementation of the program, and C) is obviously contrary to the wishes of the business owners and many MANY of the local residents

        In all my years of getting my haircut at the barber shop and its been a decade plus. I’ve never seen anyone come in on a bike. Sample size and all that but it is what it is.

        1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

          Never seen a bike on a route that is terrifying to nearly everyone but the most daring to bike on isn’t a good reason to be against it. I hear the same critique against sidewalks, never seen a pedestrian along a street with fast moving cars proves no need for sidewalks somehow. Then a sidewalk gets put in and people materialize and use it. It is conventional wisdom accepted by most that expanded roads induce driving demand, somehow people don’t see sidewalks and bike lanes inducing use … yet case after case shows they also do.

          I am sympathetic to the process being opaque but being touted as a “long public process”. Outreach at the earliest and during all stages for most projects like this feels like are sometimes intentionally made hidden. I’ve been at the “I’ve never heard about this until NOW!?” stage far too often. Cities could use better outreach than they do now, I’ll agree.

        2. Matt Frank

          Many MANY residents also want to see the bike lanes installed. I 100% agree with Eric’s comment that bicyclists don’t use Cleveland and Randolph often or visit the businesses on the corner because the facilities don’t currently exist, not because the same people aren’t customers. If roads are only built for car users they tend to be the typical users. If roads are built to accommodate other users, they’ll become typical users as well. Also, bicyclists are motorists are not separate groups, we’re ALL pedestrians and many of us are also motorists AND bicyclists. Let’s stop pigeon holing people into one of the three categories of transit user.

        3. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

          I walk to a barber shop in my neighborhood. Because the building doesn’t provide bicycle parking.

          1. Mike Hicks

            Yeah, there’s only a tiny amount of designated bicycle parking through the city compared to space for cars. Cyclists are more justified in complaining about parking through the city than drivers are, since it’s just nonexistent in most areas. Sure, it may or may not be legal to attach a bike to a pole or fence depending on the area, but that’s not the same as having a proper bike rack bolted to the ground.

            Bikes don’t take up much space, so it’s baffling that so little effort has been put into adding racks. One of the easiest things to do in areas that have tight sidewalk spaces is to put a bike rack into an on-street parking space. A single parking space can allow room for a dozen bikes or more (double that if you have two-tiered racks that allow some to be stored up high). Just one or two of these bike corrals per block could double the overall amount of parking in an area.

        4. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          Have you considered the (high) probability that they are wrong?

          Or the possibility that the business owners just kind of like the fact that the public provides subsidized parking for their business?

          1. paddy

            I had not considered the fact that some random commenter on the internet might know how to run a barbershop or restaurant better than the people running those businesses for decades, but maybe I should.

            1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

              Oh, if I ran the business, I’d probably fight to keep the subsidized parking too.

              But anyone listening probably needs to keep some salt handy when someone enjoying a subsidy predicts doom and gloom should it end.

              1. paddy

                That’s fine.

                As long as I can liberally apply that same salt the next time someone cites some ridiculous Dutch study about how awesome bikes are and how people are just stupid b/c they don’t realize how awesome bikes are whether or not graphs are included.

                1. Matt

                  Paddy, please stop pitting businesses against transit users and car drivers against bicyclists. No one here is against small local businesses, in fact the opposite is true. You need to get out of the mindset that the only customers small local businesses receive are from people who drive their own personal cars. Bicyclists are customers. Bicyclists are commuters and ride to run errands at local businesses, they’re not simply recreationalists. Pedestrians are also customers at local businesses. The overarching idea here is that not everyone has the means or access to a car nor does everyone want to have to drive to reach a business. The addition of bicycle lanes to Cleveland is an effort to redesign the street as a more equitable transit route for all users, including car drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians, ALL of whom will visit local businesses if the appropriate infrastructure amenities are in place. These identifications are also not separate, but rather one in the same – many car drivers are also bicyclists and everyone is a pedestrian. Let’s make our streets safer for everyone and stop giving priority to the most expensive, most dangerous, most subsidized form of transit that has gutted our cities for the past century.

    2. 3 block walker

      Wow. Ever consider that your unwillingness to walk more than 15 feet from a car to a business, when you are willing to do so at a big box retailer, is the glaring issue in this conversation. Really unbelievable that amongst all the points brought up by the author and yourself there is one easily recognizable absurdity. But you don’t recognize that. Nope nothing strange about wishing an initiative to fail (which is not your cup of tea, but clearly has support amongst other st Paul residents) because you won’t walk as far in a neighborhood commercial zone as you would in a Target parking lot. Paddy, you are the problem in this debate. Unbelievable.

        1. 3 block walker

          Just that of all the points that the author and you made the “I expect to park right outside the store” was the outlier from a perspective of reasonability. That and perhaps the suggestion that only the bike plan supporters are being heard when we have developed our city for auto use for 60+ year’s. And I don’t bike, but I support a lot of things others enjoy and use that I don’t. Not trying to be overly critical, other points you made about informing interested parties regarding decisions in a timely manner seem totally reasonable

          1. paddy

            *I* don’t expect to park right out side the door to the business but the business owners DO expect their customers to park right outside their business because for the past 45 YEARS their customers have parked right outside their business.

            After having a condition exist for the 45 YEARS Ray has run the business I don’t find it unreasonable at all that he expects the condition to continue.

            1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

              Having received a subsidy for 45 years makes him entitled to keep receiving it and unreasonable to consider redirecting it to something else?

              1. paddy

                Umm yes basically.

                That’s basically politics in a nutshell right?

                Interesting definition of a subsidy. I guess paying property taxes and associated assessments on the easement for 4 decades is “receiving subsidy” but tomato / tomato

  4. Angel Chandler

    it is really unfortunate that you are unable to look at the full impact this will have on our building.

    1. We use all of the parking between Randolph and James on a daily basis. That is 9 spots, but you have conveniently cut those out of your diagram
    2. Our business owners and employees are already parking on side streets where it is not permit parking
    3. The majority of the parking on the side streets is permit only
    4. We have 8 apartments above our building, which is potential of 16 tenants at any given time. They are not eligible for permit parking and without the parking in front they would have to walk blocks to get home ( think moving, carring, groceries, forgot something at home, visitors)
    5. The parking spots you are suggesting for is we already use. Please do tell me you really think that 4-5 spots is enough to support 6 commercial units
    6. You reference big box stores a lot in your article but we are NOT a big box store. We are small local businesses that have served the community (and some for 90 years). can you really deep in your heart believe these business will survive the winter months without parking?

    We try very hard to keep small local business in Saint Paul by buying these depressed buildings and breathing new life into them. Allowing small businesses affordable rent and a comfortable environment. If we are not able to keep this building economically viable we will have no choice but to sell the building to a big box store that will redevelop site.

    But maybe this is what you want? As you seem to like walking the parking lots of big box stores. I myself steer clear of these store and stick to Saint Paul small.

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      Maybe you should fight permit parking at city hall? The idea that someone can get a permit to park on a public street but others can’t is ridiculous. If there’s more demand than supply for on-street parking, put up meters.

    2. Matty LangMatty Lang

      I recall talking with the funeral home owner in my neighborhood about bicycle improvements to Charles Avenue a couple years ago. He was convinced that he would be forced to relocate to the suburbs. He even went up and down the street telling other businesses that they would face the same fate. I asked him if he had researched the impacts of similar projects on businesses in other parts of the city. He had not. He “just knew.”

      What happened? The bicycle facility was built and people adapted. The funeral home and the Holiday station have not relocated and are doing just fine. I agree with Matt, that it sounds like the permit parking is the logical issue to fix.

    3. Nick Hannula

      Can you explain what you mean when you say tenants “would have to walk blocks to get home”? There appears to be ample parking on Randolph.

    4. Mike SonnMike Sonn Post author

      Here is a map made by Andy Singer. It shows all the permit parking a block on either side of Cleveland.

      The issue is mostly at the north end of the project in deal with St Thomas students that want to park for free. Hopefully providing them a safe place to bicycle will eliminate some of the need for them to drive to campus.

  5. Eric SaathoffEric S

    I think this is a nice representation of people’s misperceptions. One critique I would give to the maps above is that they should show a colored semi-circle of the radius rather than a single line. I also wonder if some of the stores, like Target, have more than one acceptable entrance.

    On the other hand, one could go further by considering all of the walking these people are willing to do when they go into the store – like walking hundreds of feet through the store to get to the video game section at the back. Compare that to parking around the corner from a video game store on the street. You walk five feet in the store and you’re there.

    1. Mike SonnMike Sonn Post author

      I thought about adding in semi-circles, just didn’t have the time. Sorry.

      And great point about walking around inside the store. But as it is climate controlled, I didn’t really count that. Most arguments against walking outside is because “winter”.

  6. L Stryker

    The idea is lovely, but not realistic, to add parking spaces on the south side of Randolph near the St. Kate’s diagonal entrance. This corner is rife with accident problems, and adding more parking where right turns are made from Cleveland is not a good idea. Eight apartments and four businesses get their measly spots taken away, for a bike path? Why? Just bike up Cleveland as it is now, killing yourself in the process. It’s not a street wide enough for this idea. It is far too heavily trafficked to make sense. Let’s do this on Cretin too, which would be just as ridiculous an idea.
    There are MANY ways to go north in St. Paul. This idea is unnecessary and ridiculous.

  7. Stephen Kelly

    Bike are not transportation but recreation. The worst part of the bike craze over the last 40 years is not the loss of parking but the loss of 70+ miles of roads in Saint Paul so a minuscule number of folks can have a bike lane. Go to Marshall Ave from Cretin to Fairview any weekday around 5 pm and you can see what bike lanes have wrought with cars piled up in a single lane waiting for lights to change four times before moving through an intersection. Far from being “new” new urbanism is a tired old idea which has failed in places like Portland where roads are in complete disrepair, property is unaffordable and families have been pushed out. A few years ago, Saint Paul wasted $1,000,000.00 of taxpayer money and ceded control to a private advocacy group to build the “Jefferson Bikeway.” We got misprinted signs, wavy lines and more traffic congestion. At the end of the day, if they had not spent $1, bikers could have still used Jefferson Ave in the exact same way. Fight bike lane, fight the loss of parking and streets and advocate for a livable Saint Paul.

    1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

      Thanks for your comment, we need voices of dissent to keep us even keeled. 🙂

      “Bike are not transportation but recreation.”

      This is pretty much wrong, and smells of social engineering motives. Bikes are both recreation and transportation. It’s like saying cars can’t be recreation because they are transportation. My jeep gives immense pleasure, probably offering me more recreation than someone else’s car gives them. But you see my point. Building a city so that you can’t get to places without owning a car raises the cost of living because you force people to have to buy a car (and car insurance, and fees, and fuel, and repairs) to get anywhere. Thus bikes become a valid transportation mode

      “The worst part of the bike craze over the last 40 years is not the loss of parking but the loss of 70+ miles of roads in Saint Paul so a minuscule number of folks can have a bike lane. Go to Marshall Ave from Cretin to Fairview any weekday around 5 pm and you can see what bike lanes have wrought with cars piled up in a single lane waiting for lights to change four times before moving through an intersection.”

      If I recall the Marshall construction, it was more like a 4–3 conversion along most of it. It wasn’t to give bikes their lane by removing a car lane. You cannot fit a car in a bike lane. The reconstruction was mostly to put in turn lanes up and down Marshall. You put in turn lanes, a through lane in each direction, and the space left over isn’t wide enough for cars but is wide enough for bikes to fit safely. Four lanes with out turn lanes is deadly and produces crashes at alarming rates, especially to pedestrians trying to cross, and rarely moves more cars through because people drivers are being stopped unpredictably in both lanes for people turning. Fitting turn lanes and two through lanes would have raised the cost by many millions, home owners up and down would lose more yard (it would have to be bought!) for the pavement and we would all lost the ancient amazing trees in the boulevard to make room for drivers for 30 minutes on five days would bankrupt us. I know it’s unpleasant to miss a light for a few cycles. It’s not the bikes that are the problem here, it’s that there wasn’t room for what you wanted and have kept the cost sane.

      “Far from being “new” new urbanism is a tired old idea which has failed in places like Portland where roads are in complete disrepair, property is unaffordable and families have been pushed out.”

      Um, what? Portland costs are going up because they have a designated boundary outside of which you can’t convert rural land into development. It’s a good idea for a number of reasons, it has consequences like building out on fifth, and sixth ring suburbs do here. It’s far more complex than you seem to make it out …

      “A few years ago, Saint Paul wasted $1,000,000.00 of taxpayer money and ceded control to a private advocacy group to build the “Jefferson Bikeway.” We got misprinted signs, wavy lines and more traffic congestion. At the end of the day, if they had not spent $1, bikers could have still used Jefferson Ave in the exact same way.”

      Um… What?

        1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

          Its not a good idea, but price of housing a complicated. Transportation is part of the cost of housing each metro area works differently and one thing that was happening in Portland was development happening far out of the areas where existing infrastructure was built, people moved out there and then wailed when the roads were no longer acceptable. Demanding someone else pay to fix the consequences of their choice.

          So a line where they were ready to build infrastructure for houses was drawn up to keep development inside of. The history and implications of Portland’s development boundary are outside of where any bike lane is worthy.

    2. simeon

      “Portland has failed because property values are too high!”

      “Don’t take away parking: it will lower property values!”

    3. Keith Morris

      My toy gets me to dozens of destinations in the city in the same amount of time a person in the suburbs uses “real” transportation to exit his/her maze of cul-de-sacs to the nearest arterial road.

      Going 50 MPH only gives the illusion of speed in the burbs since everything is so spread out and even before you throw in heavy traffic, since everyone out there is driving, they still have no chance of reaching as many destinations in as short a time as I can. I’ll take my toy any day over a car and I get the bonus of not having to spend time circling around for parking.

      Cars are big and clunky and, I’m saying this in the literal sense, just don’t fit in the city. Much like those 90s cellphones they take up way too much space and are very passé. Small, sleek, and efficient is the way to go: bikes, microcars, scooters, etc.

  8. Tim Huberty

    The fact is that one CANNOT park in those neighborhoods. A person CANNOT park a few blocks away and walk to the business because the neighborhoods have already banded together and created “No Parking” zones. Both St. Thomas and St. Kate’s neighbors have to buy stickers at City Hall which prevent/forbid people from parking on their streets. If you want to park in front of people’s homes, you’re asking for a parking ticket. And, BTW, I am an avid biker and often bike 20 miles each way to work throughout the summer. Fairview Avenue already has bike lanes. I see, maybe, one bike/week, using Fairview.

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