Surprise! Parking is scarce in Uptown

New study finds parking capacity exceeds demands, but only in heavily restricted lots

The results of the long-awaited Uptown Parking and Transportation Study probably won’t come as a surprise to many Southwest residents.

The recently released study found that parking is a major issue in Uptown. On-street parking is consistently filled to near capacity, leaving off-street lots and ramps as the only parking option. While there are often openings in off-street lots and ramps, they are heavily used and filled near capacity on weekends. The area’s parking woes are further compounded by signs restricting the use of many lots for customers of certain businesses.

Those results are hardly surprising, said Thatcher Imboden, a resident of the CARAG neighborhood who helped gather information for the study. Imboden co-wrote a book about the history of Uptown titled “Uptown Minneapolis” and operates OurUptown.com, a resource guide for the area.

“In my opinion, pretty much anybody who has lived in Uptown or worked in Uptown for five years or more could have told you everything in there for the most part,” Imboden said. “That’s a generalization, but it’s really a current conditions report.”

Bill Morton, a CARAG board member who also gathered information for the study, said businesses, residents and visitors are all acutely aware that parking spaces in Uptown are heavily used.

“It wasn’t a surprise to anybody that this is one of the most intensely parked areas around,” Morton said.

What the study did show, said Uptown Association Executive Director Cindy Fitzpatrick, is that there are places to park in Uptown. The problem, she said, is that many private lots are underutilized because signs restrict use to customers.

“We do have a lot of parking spaces in Uptown; they’re just not utilized to their best potential,” Fitzpatrick said.

The study notes that the off-street parking supply still exceeds demand, but “the current business practice of aggressively protecting parking supplies with overwhelmingly negative signing leaves a most unfavorable impression on customers and will eventually drive them from the area.”

The 65-page parking study was completed by the Short Elliott Hendrickson Inc. firm at the request of the city. The study will provide the background for creating an Uptown parking and transportation action plan to deal with current and future development in the area. The full report details a number of factors that have created the parking and transportation situation in Uptown, and it also examines possible solutions.

While professional consultants analyzed data and put together the study, Uptown residents like Imboden and Morton collected much of the data, going out and counting cars and parking spaces.

“The city was trying to go cheap on the study by having volunteers from the community collect the data. But you know, data collection is probably one of the most important things you can have,” Imboden said. In his opinion, he said, using volunteers the resulted in a study that is lacking.

He points out that some volunteers collected license plate numbers to track how long cars remained in each parking space, but others didn’t. Learning what the turnover rate is for parking spots in Uptown would have been new and useful information, he said. He would have also liked to see the study include information about the number of housing units per block, which especially affects parking congestion when some units don’t provide off-street parking.

Even the study itself calls for further investigation on several points. It suggests a more detailed study to determine the effects additional parking meters would have on the area and additional surveying of off-street parking rates, among other things. But the study does feature a host of information and statistics that will be used to guide city officials in creating an action plan.

On-street parking

There are approximately 1,000 on-street parking spaces in Uptown, according to the study. On-street parking that isn’t restricted is heavily used during the day, evening and overnight. The study suggests installing meters on some blocks to better manage the curb space, a move that would add to the estimated 310 parking meters in Uptown.

Off-street parking

According to the study, there are 2,782 off-street parking spaces in Uptown. The spaces include surface lots and parking ramps. Many are free for customer use, and the remaining are fee-based. The study states that it did not have the funds to conduct an off-street parking rate survey, so the price range for parking off-street in Uptown is unclear.

All off-street parking is controlled by the private sector, and many of those spaces are restricted by signs that limit the use of the spaces to customers. The study suggests that as Uptown continues to grow, “the pressure for more public off-street parking spaces may require the city of Minneapolis to build parking facilities or manage some of the off-street lots.”

Area employees

A survey conducted by Fitzpatrick and included in the study showed that, throughout the course of a peak day such as Friday or Saturday, approximately 2,500 employees work in Uptown. The study estimates that those employees would generate a minimum of 750 vehicles, which takes up a large portion of the roughly 3,800 total parking spaces available in Uptown. The vast majority of employees surveyed who drove to work said they parked free of charge on neighborhood streets.

The study suggests that a parking management plan targeted at employees should be part of the overall management plan for the area. Since employees create much of the parking congestion in the area, the study suggests encouraging employees to use alternative forms of transportation. Some incentives include: promoting bus pass sales, subsidizing a portion of bus passes, assisting in securing monthly off-street parking rates, and providing bicycle lockers or racks.

Potential Improvements

The study offers a number of other actions the city could take to address parking problems in Uptown. They include:

– Creating a transportation and parking guide that will clearly identify public parking availability both on and off street.

– Establishing a parking association that will manage the parking needs of all institutions, businesses and residents.

– Establishing a signage program to lead patrons to public parking facilities in the area.

-Further regulating on-street parking through measures that include expanding the parking meter system, increasing evening rates and promoting a debit card that can be used to pay for meters.

“Hopefully we can gather the partners and players who own those lots and work out some viable options,” Fitzpatrick said, adding that one possibility would be working with businesses that still have restricted signs on their parking spaces even after their store is closed and they no longer need the spaces for customers.

While the study has its points of information, Imboden is careful to point out that parking problems aren’t a new phenomenon in Uptown. As far back as the 1920s, discussion about parking spaces for automobiles appeared in local publications.

“Even back when I was younger, in the ’80s when Uptown wasn’t as hot, parking in parts of Uptown was difficult, too,” he said. “It’s not a new problem.”

A complete copy of the study is available on Councilmember Ralph Remington’s 10th Ward website at www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/council/ward10.