Car-focused Assumptions Lack Inclusiveness

A year or so ago, I was invited to a “greet your local legislator” gathering at the Minnesota State Capitol. A casual, brown-bag affair over a weekday noon hour, it seemed designed to draw working types from my politically progressive district.

Surprising, then, that the otherwise detailed instructions included parking information only. Not a word about the Green Line or several bus lines that go to the Capitol’s backyard. Nothing about bicycle lanes or bike racks.

The refurbished State Capitol now advertises its accessibility to all, not only drivers.

When I called to inquire why two left-leaning legislators in a moderate-income district would assume that all of their constituents drive, the staff member apologized and acknowledged his oversight. I assured him that his driving bias is all too common.

How many organizations invite patrons to events with no mention of public transportation? How many otherwise environmentally conscious companies provide only driving directions to their suburban stores? (Are you listening, REI?)

It is routine for chambers of commerce and other business organizations to offer directions to their events as though everybody drives — which, of course then, everybody does. “Parking is available in the Lowertown Parking Ramp for a fee,” said the invitation to a Public Affairs luncheon series in June sponsored by the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce. “Please keep in mind the construction along Jackson Street and allow for some extra travel time.”

No suggestion that carpooling or mass transit may have been more efficient. Construction downtown was so extensive that one of the three presenters was 20 minutes late.

Other examples abound in and around my St. Paul neighborhood:

  •  The Middle Sister and Urban Moon shops: “Looking forward to seeing you after a couple of weeks off,” said a recent e-blast to customers. “Plenty of parking along Selby or on the side streets.” Plenty of convenience having the Route 21 bus stop right in front of the store, too.
  • Saint Paul Farmers’ Market: I had heard that Metro Transit offers free rides to and from the market on weekends. No evidence of that on the Farmers’ Market homepage, where the headline beneath the Parking navigational link says only: “Parking has changed. Learn more.”
  • Lagoon Cinema, Minneapolis: Though nine miles away, the art-house movie theater is an easy bus ride from my house. “You bus to Uptown?” a neighbor asked me recently. I answered with equal incredulity: “You’re willing to navigate that traffic?” The Lagoon, however, fails to play up its bus-friendly advantage. The theater’s website mentions only street and ramp parking in the MoZaic (their spelling) Art Park Ramp. It costs $1.75 for every 30 minutes, equal to a one-way bus fare.
  • Whole Foods: My walkable grocery store — and one that caters to the less car-focused millennial generation — advertises bike racks along with directions to its ramp but says nothing about the two bus lines that stop at its door.
  • Tillie’s Farmhouse: The former Trotter’s Café, Tillie’s has a new owner who remains committed to the farm-to-table menu and unpretentious vibe, but the discount for cyclists has gone missing from the website — despite the restaurant’s location on a street with designated bike lanes. The homepage features two locations for parking, right above the announcement for cheap “happy hour” beers.

    Bike lanes could be a boon for restaurants and small businesses in St. Paul.

What goes around . . .

Since this investigation began with my beef about the State Capitol, it feels only fair to circle back there. Although the headline reads “Directions and Parking” for the refurbished Capitol, the page does include information about public transportation, bicycle racks and even Nice Ride, the rent-a-bike service.

That makes the People’s House feel more democratic.

Amy Gage

About Amy Gage

Amy Gage is managing editor of A former journalist, she writes a blog about women and aging ( and recently was named executive director of Friends of the Parks & Trails (of St. Paul & Ramsey County).

23 thoughts on “Car-focused Assumptions Lack Inclusiveness

  1. jeffk

    Midwest Mountaineering does more for the environment just by existing in (and paying taxes to) a walkable place than anything REI does.

    1. KLU

      Even more outstanding, Midwest Mountaineering rewards their employees for commuting by sustainable modes (bike, walk, transit)!!

      1. Melissa WenzelMelissa Wenzel

        I love that!! There are many organizations that reward their staff for biking to work (any sustainable mode is uncommon but a better way to go). State employees are researching this. Still great to make sure it’s easy for anyone to visit a public-focused establishment via sustainable transit.

  2. BTSP

    This has always annoyed me when I’m looking up directions to something or other. I remember I was quite amused when I was in London last year and the directions for the Tower of London said “Tower Hill is a vehicle free zone and there is no on-site parking facility.
    Parking in the surrounding area is limited as the Tower is in the Congestion Charging Zone” while providing ample public transit information.

  3. Melissa WenzelMelissa Wenzel

    MPCA has a “green meetings” policy that all other large agencies are required to adopt/use. We have to actively work (hard) to get environmental agency staff to plan for this, from transit to low waste and more:

    Planners of events have a lot going on. It will take some time before this is a behavorial norm.

    1. Zachary WefelZachary Wefel

      Thanks for the link! I’m adapting the green meetings policy for some of the organizations I work with. Many of the things we do already, but formalizing it and making it a priority in our event planning can only help.

      1. Melissa WenzelMelissa Wenzel

        You are very welcome. It does take someone willing to bring this up, add it to a website, etc.

        I asked to get the “how to get to the MPCA St Paul Office in ways other than cars” information on this page. You will notice that car-centric information is first (I tried but lost that battle to get non-car info first).

        Second, our small business assistance program recently created a “breweries and wineries” regulatory guidance doc. They put sustainable transit suggestions on this page:

        I’m on a planning team for an annual regulatory conference and I am providing “green meetings” suggestions/drafting communication that event and for another large annual staff meeting. I have to actively work to get sustainable transit information included. Absolutely no one is against it, but yet it’s not anyone else’s primary focus to include it. Baby steps though!

        By the way, we’ve had that green meetings information externally facing to not only show what we do, but how others can model this good work. I am very appreciative to know you’re adapting it for your organizations. Thank you Zachary!

  4. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    Amen, Amy. One thing to focus on would be having “travel demand management” strategies more central to business and planning conversations. There is a lot that businesses, companies, etc. can do INSTEAD of throwing money at more parking lots and ramps.

    1. Melissa WenzelMelissa Wenzel

      You already know the problem to that, Bill. Many companies/orgs do NOT have responsibility to building parking structures in the downtowns; just an obligation to pay their staff to park (or pay for some sort of elusive alternative transportation option). Thus there’s no direct responsibility or focus to thinking about biking, taking the bus or train, carpooling, etc. And that’s why it’s always considered “extra work” because sustainable transit is extra (above and beyond) the expectation of driving. THAT we need to change.

  5. Serafina ScheelSerafina

    Oh, this was a lovely read. Hennepin County Citizens Academy routinely provided driving and parking information. When I asked about transit to a meeting at HCMC, this is what I was told after an email informing me of validated parking at the site:

    “We don’t validate transit as it’s a mode of transportation — such that unless someone walks or bikes, there’s a transport expense that everyone incurs — whether by bus, vehicle or LRT.”

    At the Bush Foundation as an organization tasked with recruiting underserved communities to attend BushCON at the Guthrie, parking was validated but not transit.

  6. Nick Minderman

    If the City of Minneapolis can figure out a way for citizen committee/commission members to get “validation” for transit to meetings (which they do, based on my experience on CLIC), I would expect that it’s not beyond the reach of other public and private entities. Especially Hennepin County. If anyone needs to hold up an example, there’s one ready for use. See these descriptions for confirmation:

    1. Julia

      CLIC gets special treatment. There’s no such compensation (for any mode, including for site trips for meetings) for the Pedestrian Advisory Committee, for example.

      1. Nick Minderman

        The Community Environmental Advisory Committee also gets it, according to what I’ve heard and what is shown on their member description. Sounds like it might be a departmental thing and Public Works is dragging their feet. *shocking*

  7. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

    My six-year-old daughter has been part of a study at the Institute of Child Development at the U of M. They send out driving directions and offer a permit for drivers to park in their lot when they bring their child.

    I asked about transit the last time I we went in because I wanted us to take LRT. Out of pocket and they didn’t have directions. At a minimum I hoped for which station to get off at and how to walk through campus to find their building. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  8. Joan Pasiuk

    Yes! Thanks for important prod on what seems to transit riders a “duh.” I give continual feedback to orgs that only provide driving/parking directions. My feedback to parking voucher providers is more vociferous. I must say it’s as satisfying to embarrass them as to educate them.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      I believe you are experiencing parkenfreude, Joan: the feeling of joy that comes from shaming parking myopia.

      I like that Amy kept a list here! We should all keep a running list and make this a regular feature.

  9. David Greene

    One of my big beefs with our transitway development is that things like CAC meetings and public input sessions are held in transit-inaccessible places. We’re designing our transit system and literally making decisions in places transit users can’t get to.

      1. David Greene

        I’ve raised this issue many times when I’ve been on CACs, at hearings, etc. but nothing changes. Frustrating.

  10. Julia

    Thank you for writing this! Normalizing and subsidizing driving is a huge cost that comes at the expense of healthy, sustainable, and equitable modes of transit at every level, including in each email, and every time driving is talked about before or instead of walking/biking/transit.

    When individuals and organizations host events that are not easily transit accessible, or give driving/parking instructions without first talking about transit, walking, and biking, they are communicating their values and who is welcome (as well as who isn’t). It’s a choice and it’s a message.

    I volunteered for a while for a non-profit that had two stratospheres of individuals donating time: those who were well-off white retirees and those who were giving back because of the need they face(d) themselves, many who were poorer and POC. They consistently had “volunteer appreciation” parties that were in the suburbs on the weekend; when I looked up MetroTransit’s route to one, it was something like a three day trip with 2.5 miles of walking on either side. While I was offered a ride (I was one of the few who fell in the middle of the groups), I did not attend because the rides weren’t default and because I dislike being trapped and dependent. At best, it was the oversight of the privileged in power; regardless, it was a subtle and effective form of white supremacy.

    I’ve found this car-centrism, which comes at the direct expense of the values we-as-a-society purport to hold, to be chronic and disappointing. One particularly unpleasant example for me is the Wedge Co-op, which, as part of its recent remodel reoriented its entrance from being angled (between sidewalk/bike parking and parking lot) to be entirely car-and-parking-lot oriented. It’s bad enough that something like 75% of the land they lease or own is given over to cars (who pays for this?) and that the drivers who enter from/exit to Lyndale frequently block the already narrow and unpleasant sidewalks. At least their member discounts are less car-centric than some co-ops, where a percent discount is applied on all items purchased on a single trip (i.e. as much as you can carry/rewarding shoppers with cars).

    At the same time, I’ve had success in contacting places that ignore walking and talk about parking. For example, a few months ago, I emailed a non-profit whose website explained their parking, but gave no instructions on the bus lines they were near, let alone how to find their somewhat hidden-from-the-street entrance on foot; they were very positive in their response and updated their site accordingly.

    Car-centrism, like white supremacy, is so ingrained and normalized in our language and culture that it takes explicit mental effort to address it. A good rule of thumb, in my view, is asking who isn’t present or how specific people might engage with a setting or the barriers (physical or social) they/we might encounter. I don’t bike, but I can observe whether bike parking is adequate, whether it’s sturdy and designed to be easy to use, whether it’s sheltered, whether it’s in a secure area, whether it’s easy to find from the primary entrance, whether it exists within a network of bike lanes and safe biking infrastructure.

    Over and over, I hear from those working in these stores and organizations that either they weren’t thinking about walking/biking/transit in their design, or they mostly hear from entitled drivers who are very vocal in their concerns. Reorienting the system to people and away from cars takes a lot of little shifts, both internally and externally.

  11. John Harper

    The State Capitol public transportation link directs people to the Dept. of Admin. site that requires users to click once more to finally reach Metro Transit’s home page for the trip planner. That is 1-2 more clicks than is necessary.

  12. Dana DeMasterDanaD

    Today I was thinking about where I want to eat for my wedding anniversary tomorrow. Being vegetarian, I must always research a little or get stuck with a mediocre black bean burger. I realized that the first criteria I use to eliminate or include a restaurant in my selections is if parking information is the first thing on their website. If it is I automatically assume they will not have vegetarian food and I won’t like their atmosphere. Lots of signalling going on.

Comments are closed.