Map of the Day: Duluth’s Canal Parking


After a ridiculously warm weekend, it seems like spring has arrived early. Before you know it, thousands of us Minneapolis-types will be driving up Interstate 35 to the cool shores of Gitche Gumee.

Since its post-industrial low point a few decades ago, Duluth has built Canal Park into one of the top-drawing tourist spots in the state. It’s definitely a great place, but I continue to be amazed by how much prime Canal Park real estate is occupied by pavement for storing cars. After a visit last fall, I made this map and found there are 21 acres of surface parking in Canal Park.

The blue boundary is the core 67.8 acre area I studied, bound by the big lake, the ship canal, Minnesota Slip, and the Interstate 35/railroad corridor. The black boxes are structures of any kind, and the red boxes are surface parking lots.

Structures occupy 19.12% of Canal Park’s land area. Surface parking occupies 31.05%.

It would be extremely difficult to apportion the remaining half of Canal Park that’s not structure or surface parking, but I’d approximate that the balance of the land is split roughly into thirds: One third public streets and roads, one third public parks (including the Lakewalk and the actual Canal Park), and the final third as Non-Place Greenspace.

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14 thoughts on “Map of the Day: Duluth’s Canal Parking

  1. Rick Mons

    It is striking that so much Land area goes to parking. Our experience has been that the car we take up to Duluth often remains parked for the duration of our stay.

    Three countermeasures come to mind:
    • the proposed rail service linking the Twin Cities and Duluth likely would reduce the influx of cars;
    • Valet parking where you drive to Canal Park and your vehicle is then parked off-site; and,
    • a ramp on the west side of Canal Park for long-term parkers and on-street parking limited to short-term (<1 hour and handicapped) parking.

    1. Matt SteeleMatt

      We stayed at the Sheraton when I made this map last fall, and it was actually a comfortable walk between this north end of downtown and Canal Park via the lakewalk (over the I-35/railroad tunnel).

      On our second morning, we walked down the length of Superior Street from Shearton to the depot (by way of breakfast at Original Coney Island), then across 35 on the “South 5th Avenue West” bridge. Wow, that was an awful experience. I figured we could walk around the DECC then across the Minnesota Slip drawbridge (which turned out to be closed).

      That DECC peninsula between downtown, Park Point, and Bayfront Park is really a no-man’s land and a shameful waste of prime real estate. Here’s how you know it’s bad: DECC has loading docks facing the waterfront. Yikes.

  2. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    I think the most remarkable thing about looking at this map is seeing that only a single building really fronts Canal Park Drive — yet it’s a surprising pleasant walk, certainly compared to our run-of-the-mill parking-dominated streets in the metro. With enough trees, buffers, and landscaping (and attractive natural surroundings), it seems you can make a walk along a parking lot relatively humane. Obviously I’d prefer more structured parking, but I assume it gets tricky in this area to go down, and going up risks affecting views. Perhaps a Texas doughnut might work for a larger hotel.

    On the other hand, having stayed in Canal Park many times, the Lake Ave SPUI is horrifically inhumane, ugly, and stressful. I believe it was our state’s first or second SPUI (24th Ave/494 being the other early one) — demonstrating for decades that this pedestrian torture device can convey cars efficiently.

    1. Monte Castleman

      One idea might be structured parking over Railroad Street (or move Railroad Street), next to the interstate. You could even have an off-ramp directly into the parking ramp.

      I don’t like the previous idea of off-site valet parking since I don’t want to let someone else drive my car, then wait an hour for them to bring it back when I’m ready to go, followed by a tip. As for rail service, OK maybe some people do, but do most people spend an entire trip by Canal Park only without wanting to take a car to the North Shore?

      1. Tim

        That is a good point about driving to other destinations — while I’d enjoy taking a train to Duluth, there are also a lot of places in the area that are really only accessible by car. For example, last time I was there, we drove up the shore to Gooseberry Falls and Split Rock Lighthouse as a day trip. Even within Duluth itself, there’s a lot more to it than just Canal Park.

        1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

          If NLX is to be built, it would be smart for the city to work with Canal Park (and even downtown) land owners to come up with a vision to meet this need. There’s enough to do in downtown/CP for a couple days, but most people are going to want to check out some area attractions. Better transit or bike share might help for the closer stuff (Tower Hill, Glensheen), but other destinations make more sense to have a car.

          Hotels could have a small fleet of ZipCars or hotel-owned vehicles onsite, Car2Go/similar could provide a more local option, etc. It’s not hard to think of how this area could intensify with some structured parking that still allows anybody who wants to go carless to do so.

  3. Xan

    Any idea how many parking spaces (including on street)? Efficient parking should approach 300 sq ft/space, or about 145 spaces/acre. So 21 acres should = 3045 spaces. Mpls parking requirement are generally 1 space/300 sq ft of retail. Is there 21 acres of retail that I am missing whenever I go to Canal Park, or is there a ridiculous over abundance of parking there?

    It would also help if they did not build suburban motels on downtown lakefront property. Just sayin’.

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