Jim Crue figures that every day, he shoos away unwitting motorists trying to park on this permit-only street in Uptown Minneapolis. Parking enforcement will certainly get them, he warns.

“They’re ruthless,” said Crue, who moved into his apartment at 3100 Girard Av. S. a few months ago. “It’s a huge source of frustration for everybody.”

As Crue spoke last week, traffic control agents zipped past in a white vehicle. “See?” Crue pointed. “They just circle around all day long.”

What started as a concession to a neighborhood’s demands to take back its street has turned into a ticket windfall for the city, at $42 a pop.

A Star Tribune examination of nearly 400,000 parking tickets issued in Minneapolis puts a bull’s-eye on this short stretch in Uptown for generating 8,100 citations, nearly all of them for parking in a permit-only zone. Seven of Minneapolis’ top 10 spots for parking violations are on this one block of Girard.

The curb in front of the low brick apartments at 3105 Girard Av. S. is the city’s No. 1 parking trap. Officers handed out 1,086 tickets there — far more than at any other address in the city.

The Star Tribune examined tickets issued by the city’s traffic control unit for all of 2013 and the first eight months of 2014. The data didn’t include tickets written by park police or the University of Minnesota police.

The average number of parking tickets written for any one address citywide: four. Even the coveted on-street parking spots in the Warehouse District near Target Field generated just a couple hundred tickets each.

A review of St. Paul data shows drivers there are most likely to get ticketed at the intersection of Avon Street S. and Grand Avenue. Officers wrote 5,111 tickets there in the same time frame. Exact addresses were not recorded.

‘Critical parking area’

The story of how the 3100 block of Girard Avenue S. became a Minneapolis ticket factory is filled with the tensions in Uptown’s latest development boom, as well as driver psychology. The street lies in Uptown’s heart, just around the corner from Calhoun Square. Sure, there’s a big public parking ramp there. But the lure of turning down Girard and scoring a spot for free is often too great.

Residents fought for years to restrict some of the neighborhood to parking for residents only. Criminals were preying on partyers returning to their cars at night and it was getting dangerous, said longtime resident Allison Rubin, a middle school teacher who lives in the middle of the block. According to Rubin, concerns crystallized in 2006 when Michael Zebuhr, a student working on his Ph.D., was shot and killed on the 3100 block of Girard while walking back to the car after dinner with family.

In 2012, residents succeeded in getting the one-block stretch designated a permit-only critical parking area, one of about 30 such zones across the city.

Rubin credits the change with making her street calmer and safer.

“Every time I see the meter maids, I thank them,” Rubin said. “There’s always an onslaught of tickets when it’s a new critical parking area. It’s only been a year and a half.”

Signs on the corners and midblock state “No Parking 9AM-2AM Daily Except by Permit.” But they are not prominent and can be missed, particularly at night, say drivers stuck with the $42 tickets.

“I didn’t realize it was a residential-only permit parking street,” said Max Musicant, a 30-year-old motorist ticketed there on a Thursday night last February.

Neither did Lee Burkhalter. A librarian who lives in Mound, Burkhalter, 30, got a ticket in November last year after work when she parked on the block to attend a book signing at Magers & Quinn Booksellers.

Burkhalter said she has parked on residential streets in the neighborhood for years and never had any problems. She didn’t see any signs near her car, she said, but was running late and “didn’t really look too hard.”

Jill Quednow says she did look. The 44-year-old graphic designer from St. Paul was ticketed while meeting friends for happy hour last winter.

“I noticed no sign at all that said ‘permit parking only’ or anything like that,” she said. “Then I looked for the sign and I didn’t even see one. It’s not marked very well.”

Rubin, the longtime Girard resident, doesn’t buy it: “People see what they want to see.”

City responds to complaints

Clara Schmit-Gonzalez, the city’s deputy director of parking and traffic control, acknowledged that she found the totals for Girard “a little surprising.” The city only recently started using a database to analyze parking tickets patterns and trends, she said.

But the levels of activity and complaints on the Girard block justify the ticket-writing, she said. The city applies staff where there’s a demand.

“That’s a big complaint area and an area that we get called back to a lot,” she said. “We’ve tried to pay attention to this area.”

Depending on the time of day, a crew of one to three traffic control agents driving white Ford Escapes is assigned to the Fifth Precinct, an area covering Uptown and the neighborhoods south of Interstate 394 and west of Interstate 35W. At any one time in Minneapolis, there are about 13 to 15 agents writing tickets.

Whenever a new critical parking area is created, agents run a warning campaign that involves putting fliers, instead of tickets, on vehicles informing motorists about the new restrictions, she said. Schmit-Gonzalez said she’s pretty sure they did that for the 3100 block of Girard.

She said she doesn’t recall complaints about inadequate signage. The signs are put up by the city’s Public Works department, according to state and federal standards, and are out of her control, she said.

“For many people who don’t live in Minneapolis, having restricted residential parking is new or a concept they’re just not aware of,” she said.

$135K in tickets

Meanwhile, the Girard block continues to crank out revenue for the city.

After a $12 state surcharge off the top, parking fines in Minneapolis are split 80-20 between city and state. Quick math suggests the 5,653 tickets handed out in the Girard block in 2013 alone should have generated roughly $135,000 for the city’s general fund.

Not everyone pays their fine, though. Total parking ticket revenue was down slightly to $5.2 million last year, from almost $5.3 million the year before, a drop the city attributes to the ease of smart meters.

But Girard’s parking “D’ohs!” continue.

Kathy Jo Zezza, 52, a registered nurse who lives in downtown Minneapolis, got a ticket last October while she was eating brunch at Famous Dave’s in Calhoun Square. She didn’t even look for a permit sign, she said, because she’d parked there in the past and didn’t need one.

“If there’s a lesson, I guess I learned the lesson,” said Zezza.

Not everyone has. Records show traffic control wrote eight tickets on that block to one vehicle, a 1999 Chevrolet registered in Wisconsin.

 

Data editor Glenn Howatt contributed to this report.