Monday is Memorial Day, the first big summer holiday. For drivers who venture downtown, Monday is also a Monopoly-like day, meaning free parking at the meters in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Well, most of them anyway.

Neither city enforces its meters on Memorial Day, but that’s not the case at spaces under the jurisdiction of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. If you head to Minnehaha Park or Lake Calhoun, be sure to bring coins, dollar bills or a credit card because you’ll have to feed the meter.

The Drive has long wondered why the Park Board charges fees 365 days a year when the city of Minneapolis suspends fees on 11 holidays each year and St. Paul on 10. The Park Board’s Annie Olson has the answer.

“We don’t waive parking fees on holidays because we consider parks high-visited destinations, whereas downtown might not be a destination on a day off work or holiday,” she said. “We understand that people want us to give it to them for free, but premium parking comes with a fee.”

By premium parking, Olson is referring to the lots immediately adjacent to popular amenities and attractions such as the Lake Calhoun Bandshell, the Minnehaha Dog Park, the Lake Harriet Rose Garden, Minnehaha Falls and the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden.

All lots that require payment or an annual parking permit are posted with signs, she said.

Frequent park visitors can buy an annual pass for $35, which allows unlimited parking for a 12-month period and access to specially designated parking spaces at the park system’s most popular regional parks.

Visitors with handicap plates or placards can park in lots for free anytime but are encouraged to use designated handicap parking stalls.

‘Trying to make it seamless’

Olson noted there is plenty of free parking in bump-outs and pull-off spaces on roads that circle lakes Harriet, Calhoun and Isles and in other places along the vast network of parkways. It’s also free to park in lots at recreation centers. This year the Park Board converted the surface lot at Beard’s Plaisance from a pay lot to a free lot. That’s the tiny lot at the bottom of the hill near the picnic area and tennis courts on the west side of Lake Harriet.

“People didn’t use it, so we pulled out the pay boxes and made it free,” she said.

While the Park Board will continue to collect parking fees on holidays, it has taken steps to make the payment process easier. This spring the Park Board put in 26 new digital pay stations and took out parking meters and pay boxes at Minnehaha Regional Park, Lake Nokomis, Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun, Boom Island, Nicollet Island and the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Now patrons can park in any space instead of having some space set aside for annual pass holders and others metered for hourly parking.

In the past six months, the Park Board has made its on-street parking machines compatible with those drivers use on Minneapolis streets. The new pay stations on Minnehaha Parkway, Minnehaha Avenue, East River Road, West River Road and Main Street near St. Anthony Main allow park patrons to use the MPLS Parking App, meaning they can pay for parking via their smartphones.

“We’re trying to make it seamless; there is no reason they should have to know two systems.”


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