Parking Meters Will Work for Grand Avenue

ACE Hardware on Grand Avenue.

ACE Hardware on Grand Avenue.

When my wife and I moved back to the Midwest after nearly a decade on the West Coast, we chose Grand Avenue. We chose it for a number of reasons, but first and foremost was the walkability. We didn’t own a car during our eight years in San Francisco, and we became accustomed to the freedom and independence that provided. Granted, we understood our car-free lifestyle was not long for the world when we returned to the fairly car-dominated Twin Cities, but we knew we could hold off the inevitable a bit by choosing our housing location well. We picked a beautiful apartment in a four-story brick building at Grand and Lexington and couldn’t have found a better spot to ignite our love-affair with Saint Paul.

I mention all this because of the recent news that Saint Paul is exploring parking meters at various business areas around the city, with Grand Avenue being chosen for the first pilot project. However, as expected, business owners and area residents are not pleased with the prospect of being charged for something that is currently free to drivers. I say free to drivers because there is actually a High Cost of Free Parking and free-to-drivers parking is bad for everyone. In an interesting aside, the first parking meter was actually created and installed by a business owner to promote parking turn-over in downtown Oklahoma City.

Grand Avenue is unique and a regional commercial draw in spite of its free parking, not because of it. Free parking with little turn over induces circling for open spots and double parking, which makes the street unsafe for all road users. As someone who often rides a bicycle, walks, or transits to and around Grand Ave, worrying about drivers hunting down spots or trying to squeeze into one that is probably too small is stressful and frankly dangerous.

I also have a hard time believing that $2 to $4 for parking is really going to force people to stay away from Grand Ave. A nice dinner at Salut or Brasa could run a couple upwards of $60 before drinks so the parking costs are negligible on an evening out. This brings up the issue of promoting driving to drinking establishments and parking minimums for liquor licenses. The general manager at the Wild Onion is on record being against adding meters, which really raises the question about what mode of travel people use when imbibing and what role the city plays in those choices. On a more general business note, cyclists and pedestrians have been shown to spend more per month than drivers at local businesses because, while they spend less per visit, they visit more often. Making a street more inviting to pedestrians, which I’d argue Grand Ave already is very inviting, has a higher return for businesses than putting cars before people.

In the end, we moved to Saint Paul because we love the small business nodes that dot our neighborhoods. We fell in love with Grand Avenue and bought a house in Macalester-Groveland specifically so we can easily walk, bike, and take transit to all the amazing unique amenities. Let’s believe in ourselves, our city, and our shared future. Let’s take steps to make our city work better for all modes. While I am empathetic to the concerns of business owners and change is always difficult, I see an amazing city coming into its own and the future is bright.


Grand Avenue in front of Kowalski’s, by Ayd Mill Road.

56 thoughts on “Parking Meters Will Work for Grand Avenue

  1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    This situation highlights why we don’t just “ask business owners” about transportation policy in their areas.

    Businesses benefit from turnover in adjacent parking. They lose customers from a lack of turnover in spots. Meters should be unambiguously good for Grand Avenue businesses.

    And yet…

    1. Wayne

      “local business owners” have been drinking the public subsidy of free street parking for far too long, so of course they’re going to whine and cry when anything changes.

      1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        Except this is a change that’s good for their pretty universally recognized as good for their business, and they don’t see it.

        Of course, I’d also argue that bike lanes are good for business too, but at least I can see how that’s harder for them to realize.

      2. Fred Mertz

        Gee Whiz, the local business owners are “drinking the public subsidy of free street parking”. When did paying high taxes and right of way street maintenance fees qualify as public subsidy? Did you hall off your unicycle and hit your head? What about the home owners on neighboring streets that will bear the burden of dealing with cheap asses like yourself that will walk three blocks to avoid paying these nominal parking fees?

        1. Mike SonnMike Sonn Post author

          Those high taxes and ROW fees get passed onto the customers so those that don’t drive are subsidizing those that do.

          And living near a dynamic retail district means there will be extra activity around your home (house or apartment). Most see that as a feature, not a bug.

        2. Jeff

          What’s wrong with walking? Is dealing with “cheap-asses” who would rather walk three blocks than drive and search (in vain, perhaps) for a parking spot really a burden? IMHO, seeing people walk by our home in St. Paul is a great way to meet new neighbors (we’re new to the ‘hood, after all) and not a “burden.”

        3. Julia

          I grew up in a neighborhood that served as parking for nearby venues as well as suburban commuters, where streets would often get packed with cars. Yeah, it was sometimes annoying. But my family had a driveway and a garage, as most homeowners in the Twin Cities do, and we accepted it as part of city living, a consequence in a car-centric culture of living close to things people actually wanted to go to. It was nice, being so close to such cool stuff that we could walk as kids and teens.

          In fact, because I grew up in a walkable area with destination attractions, I’ve chosen to never drive and instead I live near cool stuff. Also because I’m a cheap ass, and I don’t want to pay for driving (car, insurance, gas, maintenance, parking, tickets, fees, licenses, etc.), even if my taxes still subsidize it heavily.

  2. Bill Connell

    The circling is a huge thing that isn’t well-enough recognized. Nearly every time I’ve had dinner at Brasa i’ve watched the same car make multiple trips to the parking lot just to turn around while looking for a parking place, usually not even destined for Brasa. The practice really multiplies the level of traffic and makes it an unpleasant place to be.

    I’d love to see increased installation of bike racks as part of the meter installation, but politically i’m sure it would be seen as meter fees subsidizing bikes. Grand Ave (along with most restaurant areas) has very limited bike parking/locking facilities.

      1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

        Exactly Bill, and a quality clarification by Wayne.

        I’m also excited to bike to Grand Avenue more.

  3. Keith Morris

    You beat me to it. I was just gonna say that the meters will help with the huge lack of bike parking; I have to lock to a tree to go to Bread & Chocolate. They should put signs on all the meters that read, “Free Parking: For Bikes”.

    People are melting down in the comments section over having to pay upfront instead of everyone else paying it for them and many of them declare how anti-socialist they are. Hmm, weird. I’d like fare-free bus rides myself, so boo hoo.

    And have these people including business owners ever been to other cities? Surely they’ve been to thriving districts where *gasp!* all the onstreet parking has meters. Hell, all they’d have to do is cross the river. Uptown certainly hasn’t shuttered due to metered parking. It’s stunning just how insular St Paul is even in districts that are doing well. As far as they’re concerned the rules don’t apply to St Paul; whatever works elsewhere can never work there. It’s amazing that they agreed to LRT in light of this and the Cleveland bike lanes debacle.

  4. Wayne

    First they came for the free street parking, and I said nothing because I didn’t drive.
    Then they came for the wide lanes and huge turning radii at corners and I said nothing, because I still didn’t drive.
    Then they came for the high speed limits on local streets, and I still said nothing because I walk everywhere.

    And the world was a better place.

  5. Anne

    I completely agree about meters when it comes to customer turnover and residents (who can get permit parking on side streets).

    The part I’m not sure about, and which I would love an answer to, is how that works for employees. On Grand last night, one employee was concerned about having to park several blocks away because the permit parking would be for residents only, and obviously you don’t want to pay for a meter if you’re working a full day somewhere.

    Of course, I take public transit, so there’s a fee involved with that as well…and plenty of people who work in the downtown areas pay for parking in ramps all the time.

    So how DOES this work for employees on Grand?

    1. Jeff

      That’s one open question, the other being what happens with the revenues. Seems like they should be re-invested in the community to make the proposal more palatable to the people who live near that section of Grand. There’s a meeting on the 29th at 7, I believe at 860 St. Clair to talk about the proposal.

      1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

        It seems like side streets, in front of residential properties, is exactly where employees should be parking for long periods of time. Leaving the high-demand on-street spaces in front of businesses available for customers.

        1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

          Yeah, there’s a tricky spillover discussion that does need to happen. I’m not a fan of residents-only parking permits, especially priced at $10/year, which is insanely low. But, I’d be willing to bet that the fight against parking concerns on residential streets is more uphill than the businesses. You can likely win business owners over with revenue going back into the district to lower property taxes or help with streetscapes/business loans/whatever. Residents don’t really feel that pull.

          I would advocate for a hybrid scenario on nearby residential streets after a test period to evaluate how full those blocks get and for how long. If they become >80% occupied for >3 hours a day (spitballing numbers here), auction permits to residents. Cap the number of permits at what would fill 60-80% of the block (not sure what the right number here is). One electronic parking podium per block could then sell parking to anyone else (including residents) for short-to-medium term parking, and drivers just put the ticket on their dash. This allows for shoppers, employees, and guests to find a place to park while also ensuring the residents who want it the most can guarantee themselves a spot any time of day.

          1. Jeff

            There is probably some valid concern among residents about the impact of this proposal on parking spillover (especially to the extent it pushes employees into residential streets, but (and I’ll expose my bias here), why do those residents need to use the parking available in front of their homes? Almost all homes near there have at least one garage space, if not two, and if no garage at least have a parking bay in their alley. They should be parking in their own garages.

            1. Monte Castleman

              Probably some homes have two or even three cars, but only a one stall garage. But some of it might be be laziness. I tend to (in violation of Section 21.301.06(i) of the Bloomington city code) just park on the street in front of my house in the summer. So some of the cars there could probably just be put away.

              1. Wayne

                Anyone who doesn’t have a garage spot for a vehicle they own is playing Russian roulette and has zero right to a street space, though. If they own more vehicles than places to park them, they need to either pay for most places to park or accept that they have no right to the street parking and hope for the best.

          2. Wayne

            Residents have no “right” to park on public streets. Crying that someone else got a spot first does not change the fact that they do not own the street in front of their house. If enforcement wouldn’t be prohibitively expensive I’d be for charging for all street parking everywhere. NO MORE FREE RIDES FOR CAR OWNERS.

            1. Rich Passmore

              While it is correct, that homeowners don’t own the street in front of their house, I think a slight argument could be made for the contribution that stable parking makes in a neighborhood. My block is close enough to St Thomas that we occasionally get spillover parking, especially on weekends when there is a home game. You can always tell because of the litter you find Sunday morning. The health of a city block is at least in part defined by the stability of the street, where the neighbors know the cars and therefore have a sense of who is coming and going. For the record though, I am in favor of expanded metering in St Paul.

      2. Wayne

        The revenue can go towards, oh, I don’t know, maybe paying to maintain the roads everyone parks on for free?

    2. Rosa

      were the employees worried about safety? If so that should be addressed, but otherwise it seems like a bad reason for free parking. Parking a few blocks away (or the equivalent in walking across giant parking lots) is pretty typical in lots of places. Downtown, and some big corporate campuses. And of course most people who bus or take the train are walking a few blocks.

      You would think business owners would discourage their employees from taking up all the parking spots close to the doors anyway. I thought they were worried about customers having parking access?

  6. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

    For the great business street that it is, I’ve always found Grand Ave surprisingly bad for pedestrians and bicyclists. In four years at Macalester, I can’t remember a single time I biked down Grand Avenue, even when I wanted to go to a business on the street. It’s a faster and wider road than you expect.

    Parking meters are a great first step, but if the city wanted to really transform Grand into the kind of great urban street it is once a year on Grand Old Day, it would shrink the road to two, narrower lanes and add a bicycle lane as well. Perhaps even one protected by the parking!

    1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

      Near Mac it’s pretty bad. It’s not until you start hitting Lexington that it really improves, and even then… I would like to see a median along almost the entire stretch. Maybe move to pull in parking like in Park Rapids? Something to narrow the street down and make the centerlane less available to most drivers.

    2. Wayne

      I’m thinking it was implied, but in case it wasn’t: don’t forget to widen the sidewalks. I don’t understand how we have such narrow sidewalks in the few pedestrian-‘friendly’ walkable business districts in the cities. Sidewalks here are too narrow in general, but especially in areas where people actually walk more often. And the mess of street furniture and utility poles and sidewalk café seating all crammed into too little space makes them difficult and unpleasant to navigate.

      As much as I support bike lanes, I’d like to see more emphasis on widening sidewalks in some areas. It seems like everyone’s go-to improvement is adding bike lanes and we forget about the sidewalks. Which, actually, get even narrower when bike parking is included on the sidewalk instead of taking a ‘car’ parking spot on the street.

      1. Stu

        There is decent, for Saint Paul at least, bicycle infrastructure one block over on Summit. I’d rather the city focus on making those bike lanes better, i.e. protected, versus adding bike lanes to Grand. Summit it not ideal for biking but I think it is safer than Grand. All those pop in shoppers on grand equal lots of parking turnover and chances to get doored and there are a fair amount of parking lot driveways to worry about too.

        Also, I think people drive like idiots on Grand between Lex and Dale.

  7. Matt

    As someone who occasionally parks in metered areas, having to walk 800 ft in the wrong direction is much more of a deterrent than having to pay a small fee for the space I’m taking up. The parking meter app can’t come soon enough.

  8. Mike Mason

    As someone who used to live at Grand and Victoria, and still lives in St Paul, I welcome meters. As we say in my family, “Facts ruin a good argument”, so what we need is leadership by our mayor and city council to ensure this moves forward. Please contact those that either represent you in the city, or if you’re not a resident, contact the mayor to voice your support. Thank you!

  9. Trisha McGovern

    Well gentlemen, I noticed there is not a woman posting here yet.. I have lived in this neighborhood for over 20 years – I run in and out of stores all day long like most women who have kids, careers, school and volunteer – parking at meters on grand will cost my family over 2000.00 a year not including parking tickets.. you used Salut and LaBrasa as examples.. That’s not what the people are upset about its the 10 trips a day and on weekends going in and out of stores : UPS, Laundry, Walgreens, Shoe store etc.. The new meters revenue stream is built on parking tickets – just look up latest in parking revenue for Chicago and other markets going to town because of the new sensor technologies … I see you have signaled out Wild Onion – don’t go there and don’t know them but I have seen just as much happen outside of salut so not a great example..both rest. have parking lots and the staff at Salut is very concerned about meters .. Lincoln already has a ton of overflow and its going to get worse with meters .. most of the people parking on the streets BTW are not workers like Thune said but people living in the apartment buildings – build a ramp for them and charge them for it

    1. Anne

      Um, what am I, chopped liver?

      I’m also a woman living in St. Paul, and while I do not live right on Grand, I certainly go there regularly. I end up paying for public transit wherever I go, and it’s just part of the cost of running errands, volunteering, getting to work, socializing, etc. Just like gas or car insurance, bike maintenance, etc.

      Honestly, if you are reparking 10 times a day to run errands, you’re probably wasting a lot of gas and doing terrible things for the environment on your way. You could probably reduce that number a lot and find a middle ground and walk farther from store to store. Choosing not to for convenience’s sake is still a choice.

    2. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

      I’ll echo Anne’s sentiment on the running errands, etc part. My wife and I live in Minneapolis and have a child in daycare. She works downtown Mpls, I work in downtown St Paul. We manage to get many daily trips done on foot, by transit, or bike. Including dropping the kid off at daycare & picking him up (this despite there being a free on-street parking drop-off zone right out front). Yes, sometimes we drive to things. Sometimes we drive out to a suburban Target or Home Depot. But we make choices. Uptown (the closest major shopping destination to us, a little over 3/4 of a mile away from our home by foot) has metered parking and a big ramp. I’d go so far to say that CARAG, the Wedge, ECCO, etc has just as much of a “parking problem” as the neighborhoods around Grand. Guess what? We choose to walk to the Magers & Quinn when we want a book. Or bike over to My Burger to grab a bite to eat. Or walk up to the CVS at Dupont when the kid needs teething tablets. All because the hassle and price of driving and parking isn’t worth it to us.

      On that point, if you really would spend $2,000 a year on parking at Grand Ave business locations alone, you’ll be in the top 0.1% of the population. Even so, it goes to show how much you’re currently being subsidized by choosing to drive. For the business owners reading this, that’s $2,000 from a customer you had to collectively pay via property taxes to attract. Wouldn’t it be nice to reduce your tax bill by letting drivers pay for their car storage wants?

      1. Mike SonnMike Sonn Post author

        That $2k note, that subsidy is passed on to the customers. Big box stores with their “free parking” spread that cost onto every item. So if I walk/bike/transit to a store that has a free lot, I’m paying more per unit to cover that cost and therefor subsidizing the person who drove. This also applies to the fact that I rarely drive yet pay ROW fees on my property taxes, registration fees (the same amount as someone who drives 100x than we do), etc. Again, my wife and I rarely using our car, but paying into the system nearly the same amount as someone who drives everywhere, is subsidizing those drivers.

        And really, Grand is awesome. People will still flock to the amazing shops, walkability, and people watching. Believe in Grand. Believe in our city. Believe in our shared future.

    3. Emily Metcalfe

      I also regularly run errands on Grand, usually on foot (with my two younger kids in tow) or by bike (with my two older kids in tow). When we do drive, we often can park in lots provided by businesses, though sometimes we park on the street because it’s more convenient. Once I was walking on Grand and a woman asked me where a certain shop was. I said it was about 3 blocks, at the next stop light (which we could see). She chose to drive and repark. I think meters will encourage shoppers like her to park once and walk to different shops.

  10. MTAppleton

    As a person who owns a condo on a side street that intersects with Grand, I too will have a parking meter in front of my residence if this ill-conceived proposal goes through.

    Sorry if the parking situation on Grand forces you to walk an extra half block to pick up you lattes folks, but this proposal, if approved, will lower the value of my property. I am firmly against it as is every resident of the area to whom i have spoken. Put yourselves in our shoes.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      “Owns a condo on a side street that intersects with Grand…”

      Correct me if I’m wrong but meters aren’t proposed for side streets.

      What’s worse: paying a dollar to park or confusedly driving around for 5 minutes trying to find a legal space?

  11. MTAppleton

    You’re wrong. They are proposing that the meters go from the intersection with Grand to the alley on my street.

  12. MTAppleton

    It was presented at the hearing earlier this week. I have it in an email if you would like to see it.

    It’s a pdf from the St Paul Public Works Department titled “Grand Ave Metered Parking Concept Plan” and is dated September 28th.

    1. Jeff

      I’d like to see it. I’ve only seen partial screenshots of it. Seems like it ought to be available online (unless it’s unofficial).

  13. MTAppleton

    There is now a Noparkingmeters Facebook page that has these documents up to view in detail.

    1. Jeff

      That’s what I’ve seen. Nothing showing the full document, only partial screen-shots. I’d like to see full disclosure from someone of authority, not from an association that is against the idea of meters.

  14. MTAppleton

    To reiterate, this is the same document that was on display at the town hall meeting a week ago Tuessday. I find the fact that it is not easily obtainable via a public government website concerning from a different viewpoint, e.g. the City Government is intentionality being vague to obfuscate the facts. By your insinuation, these documents could have been falsified to support a certain opinion. If that is the case, that places the burden is on you to prove otherwise.

    1. Jeff

      I never said anything about falsification, only that it’s odd that there’s no official version of this available online (which does seem incriminating to city hall) and that the information would have more credibility coming from the source. Did Kathy Lantry distribute these?

  15. Jodi

    I choose to live on Grand because of the walkability factor, but my reality is that I do need a car for my daily commute and weekend commitments that bring my outside of the city. I would argue that a large percentage of weekly revenue that the businesses bring in along Grand are from residents living along the avenue, many of whom are parked in front of their apartment buildings for large periods of time and choose to walk/bike/bus to where they need to go along Grand. My opposition to metered parking comes from the fact that we (as renters) have very limited access to off-street parking (there has been a waiting list in my building for 3 years for the few garage stalls that are available for rent) and I’m not certain that the area surrounding Grand is able to deal with the significant influx of renter parking that will encroach the surrounding neighborhoods (space is already limited in those areas). I am not against having to walk a few extra blocks for parking and would be open to purchasing a permit if that were a viable option, but (as a single female) safety is an issue on the nights that I have to come home late and have to walk several blocks to my building (crime is up along the avenue – unfortunately). I feel that these are valid concerns that were not taken into consideration with the proposed metered corridor (why meter all the side streets? why meter the block that I live on that is purely residential (rentals/home owners)?) I believe in change, but I also believe in the process that brings about change and that process was severely fractured in this case.

    1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

      I’m legitimately interested in a discussion on safety. Across the country, region, and city, violent and personal property crimes have been trending down for quite some time. I went into St Paul’s crime maps from 2008-2013 for the grids that represent the areas surrounding the proposed Grand Ave meters (shown here on this map. Grids are 126-129 and 146-149 for reference. Here is the trend. I’m a white male, so I’m not going to go any further than that – if you feel more unsafe lately I will not question it. I’m just curious if others feel the same way? Have there been a lot of unreported crimes lately? Is more police enforcement something that could help solve this or not? If so, one *potential* solution might be to dedicate a share of the parking revenue to added area policing?

      As to the on-street parking crunch, I strongly suspect a monthly permit would go a long way to keeping residents who actually have off-street parking from doing the convenient thing and parking on street. Beyond that, if your building has a 3+ year waiting list for parking, they should start charging for it (or more if they already are). Perhaps you truly need a car for your commute. I would be willing to bet many people (especially young folks, some fresh out of college) choose to own a car and drive it because it’s cheap and convenient when a bike/bus/car-share would serve them quite well. A quick glance at the Census OnTheMap tool says just shy of 60% of the people who live in the greater Grand Ave area (the triangle bound by Ayd Mill, I-94, and I-35E) work in either Minneapolis or St Paul proper. I suspect non-auto commute mode share is far below that. Not to be callous, but you’ll excuse me if I don’t have much sympathy for many of the excuses why this couldn’t work considering my family with 2 working parents (one in downtown St Paul, the other in Minneapolis) and a toddler that requires daycare dropoff/pickup makes do with a mostly bike/bus commute and one family car.

      1. Jodi

        I here what you are saying, Alex. Yes – we are charged for our off-street parking, but we have 6 spots for 10 residents. I do bus a good amount of the time, but there are times that I need a car for travels outside of the metro area (and would thusly need a place to park my vehicle). I would love to see an increase in the presence of police in the area and the monthly crime reports that we get from the Summit Hill Association show that crime is up (break-ins, petty theft, robberies) – its definitely a factor to consider when asking residents to increase their parking to residence walk home.

  16. Susanne

    This proposal to put meters on Grand adversely affects seniors like me and others who cannot walk or bike a few blocks up or downhill to Grand Avenue in icy Polar Vortex conditions safely nor does it address the issue of safety when it is dark, a particular concern for women. As a neighbor on Linwood I am incensed that I would have to bring quarters to make a five-minute trip to the hardware store or a bakery or the drugstore. Or pray that it takes my credit card. Cashing out free parking assumed people drive because they can, not because they have physical infirmities that restricts using bikes or walking to stores and it gets too dark to feel safe! How about focusing on requiring the store owners and homeowners to shovel the whole sidewalk to the curb? Narrow icy paths with snow bumps make walking difficult to/from on Grand Avenue for the physically impaired or in very cold temperatures.

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