Parking, Parking, Parking

The city of Minneapolis is going to chip seal Bloomington Avenue between Minnehaha Parkway and 54th Street this summer. In conjunction with that project, which already requires re-painting the lines on the street, the city plans to execute its Bike Master Plan to expand our bike facility network by adding buffered bike lanes. As a resident of this neighborhood, that’s great news. This new set of lanes will connect the busy Minnehaha Creek paths with the existing advisory bike lanes on 54th Street. Personally I’m looking forward to using them to get my daughter to school at Hale Elementary in a few years (among many other uses).

The route

The route

But not everyone is happy and you’ll never guess why (actually, you’ll totally guess why if you ever pay attention to bike issues). Someone’s gone so far as to put up flyers and make a Facebook Group:

Won't you think of the parking?

Won’t you think of the parking?

That’s right, the evil bikes are out for our parking again. Dastardly.

As I mentioned, the plan here is for buffered bike lanes on both sides. That means in addition to six feet for bikes to ride in, there will be another two feet of painted space that’s meant to keep the cars at least that far away. It doesn’t sound like much, but believe me, when you’re riding next to traffic, every little bit counts.

The planned layout

The planned layout

The buffers and appropriately sized bike lanes mean there’s not enough room to continue to provide on-street parking (for free, of course) on both sides of the street. (Actually, the proposal is to eliminate parking entirely between the Parkway and 50th, but no one seems to care about that and I’ve never actually seen anyone park there.)

All of the usual anti-bike lane arguments have come up (biking is seasonal, there are other routes, why can’t they take the back streets, nobody bikes there anyway, don’t we have better uses for this money, etc.), but I want to put those aside. Both because I want to take the creator of this Facebook group at their word when they say they want both parking and bike lanes and because arguments have been beaten to death.

So, let’s talk about parking. Or, more specifically, let’s talk about the parking situation on this street. Just how many cars park here anyway? I went out Thursday night about 5pm and Friday morning around 8am. Here’s what I found:

Block # of Parked Cars
5pm 8am
4900 0 0
5000 10 8
5100 17 12
5200 13 24
5300 3 7
Total 43 51

I’m not sure exactly what the parking capacity is for a typical city block, or even for these particular blocks, but I’m confident that it’s more than 10 cars per block. Even the busiest block here (see picture below), was not at capacity.

I’ll spare most of the pictures I took, but this is the busiest block. Does this look like a street with a parking shortage?

5200 block of Bloomington Avenue at 8:11am on January 20, 2017

5200 block of Bloomington Avenue at 8:11am on January 20, 2017

At this particular moment in time, there’s an open spot immediately in front of the businesses (maybe two if you could squeeze in behind the red car). There’s at least two more five car lengths down the street. You can’t really see in the photo, but you’ll have to take my word for it that there’s more on the same block farther down. And just as importantly, below is the block on the other side of the intersection.

The 5100 block of Bloomington Avenue at 8:09am on January 20, 2017.

The 5100 block of Bloomington Avenue at 8:09am on January 20, 2017.

That’s a whole block of street parking that’s almost entirely open. These two observations alone should make it abundantly clear that we’re not talking about a parking capacity issue. Residents and patrons of these businesses won’t have any trouble finding parking. There’s lots of it.

What we have here is a parking convenience issue. That is, residents living on one side of Bloomington will have to give up their God-given right to park directly in front of their house. It’s an outrage.

Except, of course, that there is no such right. I mean, it’s a nice luxury, but why is providing that free luxury something the city should value? Each of these homes has alley access, and thus the ability to provide for residents’ own, super-convenient off-street parking. Some of them don’t take advantage of that opportunity (although, as these numbers show, not a very large number of them), but that’s not really the city’s problem.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why those who will have to park across the street or around the corner aren’t happy. They’re being asked to give up something they were getting for free (in order to use something else that’s slightly less convenient, also for free).

But the rest of the neighborhood is getting something more valuable: a safer street. The proposed plan provides safer and more comfortable biking, shorter crossings for pedestrians and overall safety improvements that will come from narrower traffic lanes and greater side friction to slow drivers. On one side of the ledger there are something like 25 people who will have to park slightly farther away. On other side of the ledger is everyone who drives, bikes or walks on this street, or patronizes its businesses. I don’t see how the latter doesn’t win easily.

So I said I’d put those other arguments aside, but let’s run through a few in rapid-fire bullet points:

  • Why not a narrower bike lane? Wider lanes with buffers protect riders from cars on both sides. Moving cars are dangerous, obviously, but so are parked cars with doors that can open suddenly into a bikers path. Ouch. Given that we have more parking than we need, let’s do a better bike lane.
  • Why not a different route? This one crosses the creek and connects to other facilities, while the neighboring streets do not. It also connects to business and schools that people who use bikes for transportation will want to go to.
  • What about the elderly and infirm? Again, each property has alley access and the ability to provide private off street parking. Those with mobility challenges that are too great to safely cross the street or walk around the corner most likely would be best off taking advantage of that option. But if there’s a reason they can’t, let’s find solutions for specific problems instead of using abstract concerns as a reason to stop a project that will make our neighborhood better.
  • What about parking for these businesses? There’s only one business here that draws any significant volume of people, Hot Plate. It does get busy and there can be long waits for a table. But lots of those people walk from the surrounding neighborhood (my preference) and even when I’ve driven during weekend brunches (their busiest time), I’ve never had to park more than a half block away. Moreover my wife was a regular during her pregnancy (they knew her order when she walked in) and she tells me she’s never parked more than a block away. Hot Plate will do fine.
  • What about conflict between businesses and residents? Hot Plate closes at 2pm. Peak parking demand may be in the morning. There will be open spaces when residents get home from work (assuming they aren’t working nights).
  • Is there really enough demand/I don’t see many bikes? You can’t judge the demand for a bike lane by observing how many people ride on a dangerous street without any type of bike facility. Just like you can’t judge how many people want to drive through a cornfield before there’s a road. These lanes connect to other facilities and stuff people want to get to. They will get plenty of use.

I find this sort of thing incredibly frustrating. If we can’t accommodate decent bike facilities on a relatively lightly used arterial street that ends a few blocks away and that has way more on-street parking than actually gets used, where can we?

Adam Miller

About Adam Miller

Adam Miller works downtown and lives in South Minneapolis. He's an avid user of the city's bike paths, sidewalks and skyways. He's not entirely certain he knows what the word "urbanist" means.