Parking Anxiety and Paranoia

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.

Rice Street near my workplace is surrounded by parking for state workers. Having a transportation system focused on cars and parking has led to unattractive landscapes such as Rice. Trees can do only so much to make a street more inviting. Many people cross this street on foot, yet there is only one marked crosswalk in this area. Ramp F (seen near the center of the photo) has not having to cross Rice listed as a benefit on its webpage. Why did we not just improve Rice to make it safer for everyone, and not just for state workers who drive? Source: Google Maps, October 2017


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.

Cathedral Hill in Saint Paul is a popular place with lots of destinations, but it’s still quite easy to find parking here. Alleyways help preserve on-street parking for residents and visitors by limiting the amount of curb cuts. The Selby-Western area had a parking study done in December 2016. Source: Self-created, January 2018


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.

Target and Rosedale are close by to Water’s Edge, but the highways act as a barrier to walking and biking. Walking along County Rd B2 is unpleasant, as well-stated by David Levinson’s experiencesSource: Self-created, January 2018


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!


Al Davison

About Al Davison

Al Davison resides in downtown St Paul. He grew up in Little Canada, and has also lived in Mankato, and Hibbing. He likes looking at spreadsheets and making maps, whether it is for work or for personal projects. He supports new development, especially if it involves sandwich-oriented retail.

15 thoughts on “Parking Anxiety and Paranoia

  1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    “In reality though, I have never had a major issue parking in Minneapolis or Saint Paul, even during busy events.”

    I completely agree. If you are willing to walk a few blocks, 99.99% of Minneapolis and Saint Paul are easy places to park a car.

    1. Will

      The problem, as voiced by frustrated in-laws, is that there isn’t enough free parking right in front of the door.

      1. Justin D

        I used to live in a denser neighborhood in Minneapolis, with street parking that was frequently full (and no off-street parking for my apartment), and visitors would gripe if they had to walk a half a block or more. I sometimes had to do that for my own car during snow emergencies, so I didn’t get what the big deal was.

  2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    Is it irony that people who live in the suburbs, where parking is free and abundant, also seem to be the most worried about parking?

    Like you, I grew up in the suburbs and used to fear parallel parking. Then I lived in DC for awhile and found myself driving to Adams Morgan in the evening fairly regularly, where parking could get legitimately tight, and found with practice parallel parking isn’t so hard. Even then, I could usually get a spot within a block or two of my destination. (Probably should have been taking the bus, though).

    Here? I guess I’ve had trouble parking at the State Fair, a problem that’s easily alleviated by taking the bus instead. I’ve paid too much by choosing the wrong downtown ramp during the work day. I honestly can’t think of another situation where it was at all hard.

    1. Al DavisonAl Davison Post author

      Parallel parking is definitely easy, there’s just some odd mental barrier that makes me actively avoid it when I have the chance. It’s admittedly absurd, because my car is easy to maneuver into a tight spot.

    2. Cody Zwiefelhofer

      One other factor that becomes a mental blocker could be that suburban drivers tend to own larger cars like SUVs and minivans (I wonder why Chevy made a “Suburban” 😉 ). Finding a spot to park on Grand or uptown MPLS can be difficult with a big ol’ honker.

    3. Cobo R

      I was born, raised, and educated in rural MN, But moved the suburbs after college and have been here a while now..

      I am petrified of parallel parking…. Its gotten a little better since i know drive a compact sedan with a backup camera instead of a full sized without..

      But my girlfriend lives in the city so I’ve needed to bite the bullet and learn…. I will drive a few blocks to avoid parking on a narrow busy street that aren’t flat. Reasonable bus routes between her place and mine are non-existent.

  3. Monte Castleman

    I kind of wonder how many people
    1) Regularly parallel park.
    2) Know how to parallel park but try to avoid doing it
    3) Don’t even know how.
    And how they break down rural vs suburban vs urban.

    My sister and I definately fall into the third category. Obviously we passed our drivers tests but neither of us has done it since then, over 20 years ago. If I’m going someplace and there’s only parallel parking I’ll either drive a bit farther and walk, circle the block until a space opens up in the surface lot, or just decide I didn’t want to go there bad enough and drive home or to the next place I was planning on going. Depending on such factors as how cold and wet it is and how bad I wanted to go there.

    There’s 15 states that don’t require it on the driver’s test anymore since in light of a lot of people refusing to do it and it not being necessary for the safe operation of a motor vehicle, repeatedly retesting people that flunked their drivers test because of it wasn’t a responsible use of taxpayer dollars.

    1. Al DavisonAl Davison Post author

      I’m in the #2 category, but there has been times in suburban areas and small towns where I had to parallel park. I would consider it to be necessary driving skill and not just a skill needed for urban drivers. I personally blow things out of proportion trying not to parallel park, even though it is easy to do if you follow the proper procedure.

      I wouldn’t consider being stricter on parallel parking to be a waste of taxpayer money.

    2. Justin D

      I think people refuse to do it because it makes them anxious. But whatever the reason, we shouldn’t plan parking around people who can’t/won’t parallel park.

    3. Aaron Berger

      If you want to make parallel parking fun (or as fun as parallel parking can be), I highly recommend getting a compact car. My car has a ridiculously short nose and I get a rush out of squeezing it into spaces that look way too small to park in. It feels like cheating.

      (Also I can’t wait until my kid is old enough for me to tell him things like “If you want to make parallel parking fun…”)

      1. Allen

        I love it. But if this brain free driving thing, these robo-cars every catches on your kids will be saying “if you to make parallel parking fun…” for different reasons. 🙂

  4. Allen

    Mr. Davinson, while you may onto something the claim that it’s a irrational mindset isn’t one you explain in this piece. Do you plan on unpacking that claim in a future one?

    I ask this because it’s common for people to see someone else as being irrational not because their loopy in the head but because the goals and values of the 2 people aren’t consonant.

    For example, it may be irrational for the city to spend $3, 4 or $10M to build a parking ramp or 4 along West 7th from the perspective of most of the tax payers. But to the small business owners who stand to lose scarce parking next to their business – something that their current customers highly value – it makes perfect sense. Just as from their point, being a light rail line as the Riverview Corridor has recommended, is completely irrational from their point of view since it would wipe out much of that parking.

    1. Al DavisonAl Davison

      You are correct that I didn’t clarify my reasoning regarding my views on parking being tied to an irrational mindset. I’ll consider writing another post.

      Your example is a good point on how irrationality can be perceived and defined.

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