Edina, Minneapolis leaders studying ways to ease parking crunch

As the holiday season arrives, a nagging question is still hanging on one of the city's busiest shopping hubs: is there a lack of parking, or just a lack of patience?

Ask shoppers and others around 50th & France about parking and some gripe about circling for spots only to find one around the block from their destination.

&#8220Oh, it's terrible,” said Michelle Innes, 39, who was picking up her black miniature schnauzer, Asia, from Pet Clips at 5011 France Ave. recently.

&#8220Customers always complain,” said David Martinez, an employee at Pizza Hut at 5045 France Ave., as he paused from pressing dough out to fill a circular pan.

And Pizza Huts' delivery drivers feel a crunch, too, he said, especially on busy weekends when it has up to five drivers sharing a single space behind the store.

&#8220You just circle around until you find a space,” Martinez said.

Robert Foote, who owns a jewelry store at 5007 France Ave., said he recently surveyed his customers and found parking was a major concern for them.

&#8220About 50 percent of people said it was a pain in the butt,” Foote said.

&#8220I see people jostling for the one spot out front there,” he said, gesturing out his front window as a Friday afternoon rush hour began to congest the street. &#8220As soon as someone leaves - boom - it's filled.”

&#8220There's never enough spaces,” said Karen Fernholz, owner of Little Enchantments, a store that sells miniatures and doll house supplies. The only solution she can think of, she jokes in a calm deadpan, is to bulldoze some nearby homes to make room for more parking lots or ramps.

However, the shopping district, which sits on the border of Edina and Minneapolis, is slated to lose parking spaces before it gains any.

A transportation plan approved Nov. 6 by officials in Edina recommends redrawing traffic lanes on 50th Street and France Avenue, and, in the process, eliminating 16 street parking spaces.

&#8220There's sure going to be more pressure on the Minneapolis side,” said Steve Young, who chairs the Fulton Neighborhood Association's traffic committee.

Young said the city needs to do a better job managing the Ewing Municipal Parking Lot, at Ewing Avenue and 51st Street in Minneapolis. Posted three-hour time limits are routinely ignored and rarely enforced, he said. Many employees realize and take advantage of this, taking away needed parking for customers.

&#8220We need to find a more effective way to manage that parking lot. There has to be some kind of system,” Young said.

In response to concerns Young raised at this month's neighborhood meeting, City Councilmember Betsy Hodges said an aide was working to set up a meeting to discuss solutions for the parking situation.

The Edina traffic plan report also includes a recommendation that the cities work together on a comprehensive parking study of the area and find ways to increase the number of spaces available.

But David Burley, president of the 50th & France Business Association and owner of the Edina Grill, said he doesn't think a parking shortage exists.

&#8220I think people forget that there's three ramps here,” Burley said. Surveys of ramp use show over lunch they peak at about 90 percent capacity, and at all other times they don't come close to filling up, he said. &#8220You might have to drive up to the third level.”

It's an important issue, he said, and a large part of the association's role is to oversee parking spaces to make sure they're used effectively. Constructing more ramps isn't a necessary solution now, he said.

&#8220We're really starting to focus on ways we can better market the ramps and lots we already have,” Burley said.

The association is discussing signs and other marketing efforts to improve awareness about the ramps, one of which sometimes sits almost empty, he said.

Lisa Janzig, assistant manager at Paint Your Plate at 5027 France Ave., said there's enough parking behind the retail strip, but customers don't always know how to get to the shops without walking all the way around the block.

She agreed marketing might be part of the solution, specifically for an existing walkway in the middle of the block between Ewing and France avenues.

&#8220If they made the walkway a little more distinguishable,” she said. &#8220If they had a rainbow flag or something bright out there.”

A tougher issue to address is that some people will be unsatisfied if they have to park any further than five feet from the store at which they're planning to shop.

Burley said: &#8220That's not a 50th & France problem. That's an American problem.”

Dan Haugen can be reached at dhaugen@mnpubs.com or 436-5088.