Map Monday: Total Space for Automobiles in Saint Paul

Here’s a map from a recent presentation out of Saint Paul Planning and Economic Development department, a small point made in a larger conversation about updating the city’s parking requirements and policies.

Here are the maps, created by Tony Johnson at PED. The first shows the total amount of space in the city that is used for parking or streets…

Stp Automobile Space Map 1

The other maps break it down into categories, including garage space, parking, and right-of-way.

Stp Automobile Space Map 4 Stp Automobile Space Map 3 Stp Automobile Space Map 2

The final total is 33% of the land in Saint Paul. If you remove all the “natural” land like the Mississippi River valley and its adjoining bluffs, it’d be even higher.



14 thoughts on “Map Monday: Total Space for Automobiles in Saint Paul

  1. Trent

    These types of analyses tend to overlook the “why” question.

    Parking lots, is clear – those are places that are for storing cars.

    Garages mostly clear, though even people who don’t have cars tend to have a garage with a bunch of stuff in them – bikes, etc…. So garages as a proxy for exclusively automobile related is misleading.

    Right of way – lets not forget why autos move down these road, they are moving people around, they are providing emergency vehicles access to buildings, goods and services – so even if you banned personal automobiles from the city you’d need some flat wide asphalt for fire trucks, ambulances, Best Buy delivery trucks and the like.

    1. Christa MChris Moseng

      It’s laughable to suggest that anyone has forgotten “why cars.”

      What they have forgotten is, “why not something else?” This data is the first step to considering that question.

      1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

        Moderator’s note: Try not to mock others’ opinions, and instead take them at their face value. We want to encourage open conversation and please avoid calling others’ thoughts “laughable”, for example.

        1. Trent

          Appreciate the moderator note – the point I was making which I don’t think the commentator picked up is that among those uses, these maps are interesting because they beg the question ” what if” as in how could this land be used in other ways. What is the opportunity for reclamation?

          When the article says 33% is dedicated to moving and storing autos, it’s worth separating those two categories, 70% of that auto space is in the “moving” category where there less opportunity for re-use than the “storing” category.

          There is a concept in designs sometimes referred to as “jobs to be done” which engineers and designers are urged to focus on to not get distracted by the “how” of what is getting done now. E.g The job of a hammer is to pound a nail, if you can find a better way to get a nail into wood that’s fine, don’t get wedded to the hammer as the only option. So it is with cars. So amongst the 3 categories above, there are very different “jobs” being done which means the alternatives to a more appealing land use vary – while you may be able to drastically reduce parking for example (since parking exists to store cars, and you don’t store what you don’t have), you will always have roads of some kind….

          I like the article below as it highlights these differences treating the opportunity represented by car storage differently than roads, which in any scenario still need to move people and things the “job” being done. While the article talks a lot about on-street spots being reclaimed, and how to use traffic lanes more efficiently, in our region surface lots ramps etc… may be a bigger opportunity and mandates like parking ramps having flat floors for easier conversion away from auto storage are a present demonstration of that opportunity.

          1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

            “70% of that auto space is in the “moving” category where there less opportunity for re-use than the “storing” category.”

            I don’t think that’s right. 70% is right of way, right? We frequently dedicate a substantial portion of the right of way to storage too, with the default expectation that there will be (mostly “free”) on-street parking on both sides of the street.

            And that portion of the right of way is actually particularly ripe for re-use – especially for the movement of other modes – if “what about parking” wasn’t very nearly a complete trump card for opposing any change in our transportation system.

            1. Trent

              Good point. some chunk of that 70% is also storage in the form on on-street parking and has a higher reclamation opportunity (like the link above demonstrates).

    2. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      Sure, there are lots of ways to justify all of this. That does not change the fact that, from a 10,000′ view, that is a HUGE portion of our urban land that has been devoted to a highly spatially inefficient mode of transportation. That’s the point of the map.

      1. Stuart

        I would be careful here. Some very old cities have narrower roads in the city centers, but I believe that the basic street grid here along with the “standard” road widths were determined before automobile dominance. That road space would be devoted to transportation either way. On the other hand, the land devoted to parking (both public and private) may have been used very differently if it weren’t for cars.

        I generally agree with the comments above that the important question now is how to divvy up the existing ROW (excessive or not) to be best used by the different transportation options we use today and plan to use in the future, or potentially non-transportation options where feasible.

        1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

          The street grid for some of the oldest parts of the city has been obliterated. Kellogg Boulevard, 7th Street (entire length but especially downtown), Marion Street, Dale Street, Plato Boulevard, Arcade Street, were all widened dramatically. What am I missing? Probably a great many other examples.

          1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

            Cretin, Lafayette Street, Pennsylvania Street, Snelling… pretty sure that Lexington was originally a real “parkway” rather than the high-speed 4-lane road it has become…

      2. Steve


        Trent provides a well-thought-out comment about the 33% and I would have appreciated in your response some of your thoughts about the 70% category he mentions. With much greater mass transportation, how much of the “moving category” do you think would be reduced? Can you put the 33% in context? How do we compare with other cities? What has been the historical percentage, say during horses and streetcars. If the current number is HUGE, what is the right number?

        I didn’t think Trent was trying to “justify” anything, but rather explore the issue with more details and nuance and he has added much to the initial article.

        1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

          I think there are lots of ways to reduce the 33% number here, especially by having fewer space-hogging limited-access multi-lane roads through the city center. (They do not do this in other countries.) If we had a social system with fewer cars and less everyday use of these cars, it would be possible to use land in all sorts of ways. Garage space could be converted to ADU-style housing, for example, or half the parking might disappear, or you could narrow many roads (or return them to their historical widths).

          The key point is that the car, in general, is a huge space hog. Driving a car and building a city where that is the norm requires massive amounts of dedicated and often empty space that then cannot be used for anything else.

  2. Frank Phelan

    There are houses on one side of my street, the other side is a parkway, and parking is allowed on both sides. The street was re-built, with new curb & gutter, in 1988, just a few years before I got there. It’s only a 4′ narrow than comparable adjacent streets with houses on both sides.

    We could easily accommodate all parking needs with parking on just one side of the street. If the street had been re-built more narrowly, it would have cost less, and there would be less water running off to the adjacent lake.

    We’d also have fewer vehicles racing down the block, which is encouraged now since the parkway side often has just a few or even no vehicles parked there.

    It’s about 1000′ of pavement that no one really needs.

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