It is no accident that drivers are spending more time and money to park in Minneapolis.
City officials have been holding back downtown parking construction for years. Lately they have doubled down, investing in bicycle lanes and approving new apartment buildings with few parking spaces that encourage people to find ways besides cars to get around.
“It’s gotten a lot worse,” said Casey Finne, who lives in a 26-unit building with just five parking spaces in fast-growing Uptown. “We’re kind of worried.”
Across the city, thousands of parking spots have been lost to development in the last few years. Impark, a parking management company that tracks the availability of private parking, found the city has lost more than 5,500 parking stalls in 20 ramps and surface lots since 2014. More than 2,400 of those haven’t been replaced.
Minneapolis is part of a movement being seen from Seattle to Boston, where growing urban centers are shifting away from decades of favoring cars to encourage other forms of transportation. Many have stopped requiring a minimum number of parking spaces in new developments. It’s part of an effort to discourage driving and devote available land to other uses.
“It isn’t just an issue of getting people out of cars,” said Donald Shoup, an urban planning professor who studies parking at the University of California, Los Angeles. “I think it’s getting better cities, and more affordable cities, and more walkable cities with air that’s safe to breathe.”
But even as finding a parking spot becomes more of a headache, people used to driving and parking in the city may not be ready to change their habits.
“There’s no question that this transition of requiring parking everywhere to not requiring parking, or even prohibiting parking, is extremely difficult,” said David King, an assistant professor of urban planning at Arizona State University. “Our cities, and Minneapolis is no different, [are] really designed around the automobile at this point.”
With less parking to satisfy the demand, prices are going up and drivers in Minneapolis are feeling it.
“I’ve lived in the Twin Cities all my life, so I’m very happy to see this development taking place,” said Jim Commers, Impark’s director of business development. “But if the parking capacity isn’t replaced ... then it will have an impact on prices, and that’s exactly what we’ve been seeing.”
Bryan Ludwig commutes from Cottage Grove to downtown Minneapolis and parks in an Impark lot about six blocks from the law firm where he works. In the past two years, he said, his monthly rate has risen twice. He’s now paying about $1,500 a year.
But like many drivers, Ludwig isn’t ready to ditch his car. Busing downtown would take about as much time as driving, he said. And as the father of young children, he needs the flexibility a car provides.
Even people who live and work in the city feel they need to drive. Megan Benedict sometimes takes the bus from her home in south Minneapolis’ Whittier neighborhood to her job at a North Loop ad agency, but she needs a car for her second job. She usually parks in a lot near Target Field unless there’s a game, when she tries to find a metered spot.
Benedict moved from Milwaukee in March, and said she didn’t expect to have to pay up to $150 a month on parking as she does now.
“I would love to see more parking in the North Loop,” she said. “I know that it’s a struggle for a lot of people.”
Joe Tamburino, chair of the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association, said he hears frequent complaints about parking. Whoever is elected mayor in November will need to address the problem, he said, especially as high-density development continues.
“There’s a whole contingent out there politically, they think Minneapolis is going to become a place without cars. And that’s a pipe dream,” he said. “People will always need cars. It’s just the way it is.”
Pressure on neighborhoods
Outside downtown, areas where parking has been plentiful, and free, are also feeling the crunch as development booms.
Kathryn Hayes, co-owner of the Anchor Fish & Chips in Northeast, said she loves how the neighborhood has grown since she opened eight years ago. But she’s worried about parking; her 18-spot lot is full every night, and as more restaurants open nearby, patrons are parking further into the surrounding neighborhood.
“I do think that it will affect our businesses for sure, if Northeast is chock-a-block and nowhere to park,” she said.
Hayes is worried, too, about residential development as the neighborhood gets trendier. The city has already relaxed parking requirements for new developments on major transit corridors. The idea is to prod people to use bikes or buses and other transit and make rental housing cheaper to build and to live in. But it’s put pressure on neighborhoods.
In the center of Uptown, which has seen an explosion of high-end apartment complexes, neighborhood leaders are encouraging visitors to park in ramps, rather than in free on-street spots off Hennepin Avenue. In the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood near the University of Minnesota, which has seen a similar development surge, residents are exploring meters and limited parking signs.
Amid the growing pains, city officials say they’re hopeful that parking will eventually become less of a necessity.
Matt Brown, president of the Minneapolis Planning Commission, said changes to parking policies are partly a recognition that city-dwellers are less likely to own cars than they were decades ago. Already, ride- and car-sharing services are changing how people get around and reducing the need for parking.
“In the longer term, obviously, we’re going to see more people using transit, using bicycles or simply just living within walking distance of where they need to go,” he said.
Authorities on urban parking are looking further ahead, to a future with self-driving, self-parking cars, although it’s a future that is admittedly a ways off, said Frank Douma, a research scholar at the University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies.
“Until we get to the day of self-driving cars, we’ll probably have to provide some parking for some people,” he said.
In the meantime, parking providers are planning their next move. Commers, of Impark, said the company has its eye on a number of free ramps that look ripe for new management — in the suburbs.