Chuck Henninger got an unpleasant surprise last Monday when he went to pay the parking meter in downtown Minneapolis. The price had gone up by $1 an hour.
“I was shocked,” he said about the increase that went into effect last week without much forewarning from the city, which announced the price hike in a news release. “I was unaware. The increase is unwarranted.”
That’s not the only recent change that may catch motorists off guard. The timing rules also changed for meters in the area bound by Hennepin Avenue and S. 13th Avenue and 12th and E. 14th streets and West River Parkway. Almost all of the 2,625 meters in the downtown core will have a 2-hour limit — some had been longer — and drivers accustomed to parking free on weekends at some meters will now have to pay.
Parking at meters is meant to be short term. But meter parking is enticing because it often is cheaper than parking in ramps or lots. As a result, metered spots were occupied more than 90% of the time, according to a city study. That made it difficult for visitors to find a place to park, said Tim Drew, the city’s parking systems manager.
“People circling the block wasting 30 minutes is not the environment we want to provide for guests coming to downtown Minneapolis,” he said.
The new pricing and hourly structure will bring on-street rates closer to those charged in off-street lots and ramps, Drew said. The goal is to get residents and downtown workers who occupy spots for long periods of time off the street so spots will continually turn over.
With parking limited to two hours, some drivers may try to skirt that rule by returning to the pay station or using the city’s parking app to add time remotely. Not so fast, Drew said. City ordinance requires motorists to move their car from parking spots when time is up, so “feeding the meter” is actually against the law.
Traffic-control agents can use the old-fashioned method of determining how long a vehicle has been parked, Drew said. Agents can put a chalk mark on a tire, then circle back after two hours later. If the vehicle is still there, they can write a ticket and perhaps call for it to be towed.
But soon they may have an easier way to spot parking scofflaws. The city is in “the deeper phases of testing” technology that would use cameras to recognize license plates, Drew said. The system would flag agents if cars were parked in a spot too long and did not have a permit or parking sticker authorizing that.
The days of free weekend parking also are gone. Meters in most of downtown will be enforced from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. For years, meters in a large part of eastern downtown were not enforced on Saturdays and Sundays except during events at U.S. Bank Stadium. With the rapid growth in high-density residences, shops and restaurants east of 5th Avenue, there is a higher demand for parking in the area and a greater need to enforce the meters for additional hours, Drew said.
Changes to meters downtown bring the area in line with meter rates in Stadium Village and Old St. Anthony, on parts of Lake Street and around the Convention Center. The city is also looking at changing meters in Uptown.
The new rates will bring in $200,000 to $500,000 annually. That revenue will go back in to street repairs, Drew said. But, he said, the “biggest reason is to change people’s behavior.”
Follow news about traffic and commuting at The Drive on startribune.com. Got traffic or transportation questions, or story ideas? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet @stribdrive or call Tim Harlow at 612-673-7768.