The Uptown portion of Minneapolis’s Critical Parking Area (Area 21) includes Emerson and Fremont between Lake Street and 31st Street, as well as a small stretch of 31st Street itself. As described by the city, these permit parking districts “are residential on-street parking areas that are intended to provide relief to neighborhood residents from parked vehicles by persons who have no association with the residents or the businesses in the neighborhood.” Resident permits cost $25 each year; additional visitor or service vehicle permits can be purchased for guests. Each resident license driver is allowed to purchase two parking permits. Uptown’s district has been in place for more than five years now, and its many flaws are readily apparent.
Donald Shoup’s excellent book, the High Price of Free Parking, proposes a solution for high-demand parking areas like Uptown. The problem, he points out, is that the parking spaces on residential blocks near commercial districts are often filled if there are no restrictions, yet parking permit programs such as the one in Uptown leave the blocks underused. In Uptown’s case, Emerson and Fremont are nearly void of cars during the day, while nearby (and more densely populated) blocks on the other side of 31st Street have few spaces available. Shoup suggests creating what he calls “Parking Benefit Districts,” a common-sense compromise solution that Uptown and Minneapolis would be smart to consider.
A parking benefit district, as outlined by Shoup:
- Residents can obtain permits for free or for a small fee;
- A controlled number of additional permits are available for purchase by non-residents for market-rate prices;
- Permit fees are earmarked to return to the parking permit district, and could be used for things ranging from cleaning graffiti, fixing sidewalks, adding lights, landscaping, or otherwise improving the streetscape, area safety, or overall quality of life;
- The non-resident permits could be restricted to certain times, if desired.
A stroll down Emerson or Fremont during weekday daytime hours makes it absolutely clear that the current permit structure isn’t working. Daytime permit parking for non-residents would allow local employees to find convenient street parking. Yes, I would prefer that they walk, bus, or bike to work, but the reality is that many people will choose to drive. If the city is going to provide free parking “storage for cars,” as one official quoted in Shoup’s book aptly puts it, then we as a community might as well get something out of that decision.
Parking Benefit Districts would offer something for everyone; residents on permit streets would still have parking available, but no longer would large swathes of curb go unused. Uptown regulars (employees or otherwise) arriving by car would have access to convenient parking. The revenue generated could be used to combat some of the district’s problems; graffiti, in particular, is everywhere, and maybe this money could assist with the ongoing efforts to keep local trashcans, street signs, light poles, and other streetscape elements clean. The Parking Permit Benefit District could be extended to cover a broader area than the current district; those apartment-heavy blocks in other areas of Uptown could also get some relief, but without resorting to the extreme restrictions currently offered. This would be an opportunity to make some other changes, too; currently Minneapolis Critical Parking District Area licensed drivers are allowed to hold two permits. This seems excessive; does the city really need to provide guaranteed parking for each person to have street parking for two cars? I’d suggest allowing residential rate parking for one car per licensed driver, with the option of purchasing a non-resident, market-rate permit for each additional car.
Regardless of whether Minneapolis embraces Parking Benefit Districts, the time has come to study the successes and failures of Uptown’s permit parking experiment. It’s a touchy subject, and the vocal voices of a few outspoken homeowners dominate the discussion and advocate policies that benefit a few with little regard for the community as a whole. (In a spectacular display of putting cars over people, for example, homeowner Phillip Qualy once described permit parking as the “single most useful instrument of city government to define and assure our residential livability.") While those homeowners may love the current system, it simply doesn’t make sense to continue the program as it works now. Parking Benefit Districts, with their added revenue and better use of space, works for the benefit of everyone, local residents included. Let’s hope that the next City Council Member – in all likelihood Meg Tuthill – will stand up to the special interest groups and bring permit parking back to the table for some much-needed reevaluation.