Where Will I Park?
Parking is a major concern for people who drive. This concern has shaped how cities have been designed within the past few decades. This concern is tied to a very irrational mindset that leads to unnecessary anxiety and paranoia, which has damaged our cities.
Parking Can Be Bad Due To Limited Choices
Even after moving to the edge of downtown Saint Paul, I still drive often. I walk to work, and take the bus primarily just to get to downtown or Lowertown. I occasionally take the train for work lunches. Getting over to most neighborhoods in Minneapolis requires a long bus/train ride. Sometimes the buses run late, which makes the travel times even worse. When I do go to Minneapolis, I usually drive because of the limited schedules for transit routes that do serve St. Paul, and the overall slow speed of the buses. Biking is always an option, but as a fair-weather cyclist, I am picky about biking in bad weather. Therefore I end up driving, thereby increasing the demand for parking.
A full rollout of the arterial BRT (aBRT) system is one of the best ways for Metro Transit to improve the existing bus routes. Rail transit is great, but we need a short-term solution to be implemented right now (along with the recommendations listed in the Service Improvement Plan). I took the 54 to the airport recently and it was very convenient. It can get very packed though since the 15 minute frequencies cannot support the rider demand during busy periods. Even if aBRT is never implemented along West 7th Street, improving rush hour frequencies down to 7-10 minutes would be a great immediate improvement, as the Riverview Corridor is years away from construction. I do worry about hauling my luggage on the 54 to the airport if the bus is packed. If so, I might end up getting a ride there from a family member or by rideshare.
It’s not just about improving transit. Cities are also dependent on safe walking and biking routes. We need safer sidewalks that are accessible to our disabled residents, more visible crossings, and leading pedestrian intervals. We also need more segregated biking facilities such as the Capital City Bikeway. Downtown Saint Paul is very unsafe to bike in, further showing the need for the bike plan to be implemented. Improvements in/near downtown can be made in the short-term. Even our existing on-street bikeways outside of downtown need safety improvements. Summit Avenue is a great bikeway, but even it has room for improvement. On Summit, I often have to watch for drivers turning onto Summit (sometimes without looking for people walking or biking) from side streets or blockages in the bike lanes.
Parking Is Not That Bad In The City
I drive a few times a week, and often admittedly get concerned about parking. I grew up in a suburb where parallel parking is rare due to an abundance of parking spaces. I usually make a habit of avoiding parallel parking when I’m in the city. I have an off-street space at my current apartment, but I get concerned about when my friends who visit that drive here. I tend to offer my space and park on the street to ensure they have a close parking spot. Most of my friends are okay with not always being able to park close to my place though. Some people are hesitant to visit due to a fear of not finding parking. During the day my street is very easy to park on, though at night it is usually full. There are streets nearby that usually have spaces open, except maybe during popular events (such as Crashed Ice). For most of the year though, parking is actually quite easy here.
Since I do like to avoid parallel parking, I tend to park a couple blocks from my destination if its a busy area. I tend to find spots where I can slip in easily without even parallel parking. I do get hesitant on going places were parking is difficult and have avoided attending events as a result. In reality though, I have never had a major issue parking in Minneapolis or Saint Paul, even during busy events. A recent example is when my friend and I attended a New Years party in the North Loop. We parked for free, and were only one block away from our destination. Therefore like many other drivers, my paranoia is irrational. I should just more receptive towards the mindset that I might need to park a couple or few blocks away from my destination; I will always find a parking spot somewhere (especially if I’m willing to pay for it).
Do Not Focus Your Cities Around People Like Me
I’m bad at driving, and parking. So are many other people. We shouldn’t design our cities to accommodate this poor behavior. Parallel parking is part of the driver’s test, and we should put a greater emphasis towards it. We also need to accept that building and maintaining parking spaces is expensive. Building parking at my workplace is estimated to cost $25-40,000 per space. The state should keep promoting multimodal transportation, while moving from relying on surface parking lots to structured parking. Lowering the costs for a Metropass and a discount on a Nice Ride membership did help me consider other options to get to work. Parking is heavily subsidized in general, so I don’t see an issue with subsidizing other modes of transportation. Especially when Rice Street’s frontage is lined with bleak parking ramps and decaying surface parking lots.
Suburban development is a prime example of when you reward poor driver behavior and induce unneeded trips in a car. Suburbs tend to be populated with surface parking lots, big parking spaces, and wide access streets. The large size of these parking lots actually induces congestion since people end up driving to nearby places due to it being unsafe to walk. Parking lots are often larger than the actual footprint of the building it serves. People often impatiently accelerate through these lots, which makes walking or biking around tense. When I worked at MnDOT’s Metro District headquarters (Water’s Edge in Roseville), I was right next to Rosedale. I never walked there though, as I never liked crossing the mall’s beltway on foot. I drove to other places nearby, even though they were under a mile away. This contrasts with my experiences working in Saint Paul; I rarely drive to get lunch since I can walk, bike, or take transit.
If I continue to live in Saint Paul, I have to get rid of my irrational paranoia about parking, and to become a better driver. I want to support more housing and transit even if it makes driving or parking more difficult. I hope others do too so we can have better infrastructure for walking, biking, and transit.
A special thanks to the staff at Ramsey County who worked on the data I used for my maps, and making it easily accessible through the county’s open data portal. Great work!