Parking issues are popping up all around St. Paul and officials and residents from several corners of the city are hitting them from all angles, including head on.
"The challenge for cities is to try and balance the needs and wants in a way that makes the most sense from a larger public perspective," said Judith Martin, an urban studies and planning professor at the University of Minnesota.
That's the challenge for St. Paul, which currently is wrestling with challenges in four major areas.
The most immediate action may come from the City Council, which is poised to adopt changes to the parking section of the zoning code during its Wednesday meeting. The parking code, last updated in 1992, specifies such things as how many parking spaces a business must provide. It doesn't cover enforcement, management or downtown parking issues.
Current parking requirements were based on suburban standards and no longer match the actual demand. The city has issued many variances to businesses because the code required more parking than what was needed.
The changes, which are pretty technical, should make it easier for old buildings to be reused.
The goals include consolidating requirements to encourage new development and reuse of existing buildings, reducing requirements to better align with actual demand and making parking lot designs more eco-friendly.
The changes only affect new development/reuse or change of a property's use.
The St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce recently released a survey of 340 respondents that shows on-street parking in downtown is a challenge. Business owners said signs are confusing, enforcement is overly aggressive and restrictive time limits are shooing away customers.
The chamber suggests that time limits on meters be extended to 90 minutes, signs be simplified, marketing be improved to tell people about ramp rates and validation programs, and a study of parking meter technology be started. Community groups and Council Member Dave Thune support the chamber's ideas.
The Public Works Department, meanwhile, will wrap up a parking meter study later this month. It will be shared with elected officials and then shown to the public for feedback in a few months. The city is likely to join with Minneapolis, which is in the middle of switching its meter system, to provide similarities between the two downtowns.
The misconception with downtown parking, said city engineer John Maczko, is that there isn't enough. There is plenty, he said, it's just not all as convenient or cheap as people want it to be.
Como Park changes
The Parks and Recreation Department is leading a study of short-term and long-term solutions to parking and transportation issues around Como Park. About 3 million people visit the park in a year, and two-thirds of them go to the zoo or conservatory.
Issues of concern in Como include parking availability, safety, trails and signs. Plus, residents in the surrounding neighborhoods often complain about traffic and cars filling up their streets.
A 1998 study showed that about 92 percent of people who visited Como drove. In a 2007 survey that asked visitors what they would like improved at the park, parking was one of the top responses.
The goal is to finish the plan by September, then get feedback from the public and start making some short-term improvements by the end of the year, said Michelle Furrer, Como Park Zoo and Conservatory manager.
A weekend shuttle bus program, which picks people up at a State Fair parking lot, is back again after a successful start last year. Between June 1 and Aug. 8 it will run on weekdays, too.
University Avenue changes
The $957 million Central Corridor light-rail line is set to be built right down University Avenue, one of St. Paul's busiest commercial corridors.
But to accommodate the line, 85 percent of the avenue's on-street parking spaces will have to disappear.
Many business owners howled when that fact became clear, but the Metropolitan Council, which is leading the project, said there isn't money in the budget for parking.
Project planners spent more than six months noting trouble spots and seeking solutions. City workers have been trying to help businesses solve problems.
Efforts range from getting businesses with extra off-street parking to share or lease with others, to setting up a city fund for lot improvements, such as repaving or lighting upgrades.
The city is considering using about $500,000 to repave and clean up alleys.
Chris Havens • 612-673-4148