Turning parking spaces into parklets

A parklet pilot will study the tiny public spaces this summer

A parklet in San Francisco, where dozens of the tiny public spaces have popped up since 2010. Credit: Photo provided by the San Francisco Planning Department

CARAG — Minneapolis may get its first parklets this summer, as the city tests the tiny, often temporary public spaces in a pilot program.

Most city parks are measured in acres, but Minneapolis’ first parklets will be designed to fit public seating and planters filled with greenery into the dimensions of a single parking space. They’re expected to hit the streets this summer for a test in wards 3 and 10.

Minneapolis Pedestrian Planner Mackenzie Turner said the pilot would involve two or possibly three parklets in high-visibility commercial corridors with high volumes of pedestrian traffic. At least for the pilot, county-controlled roadways are out, which means streets like Lake Street and Lyndale Avenue aren’t in the mix.

Ben Somogyi, policy aide to Ward 10 City Council Member Lisa Bender, said one location under consideration for a parklet is the 3000 block of Hennepin Avenue South, next to Calhoun Square. That would require the city to relax parking restrictions on that block; the east side of the street, where the parklet would go, is a no-parking zone 7 a.m.–9 a.m. weekdays.

That would put the parklet near Dogwood Coffee Bar in Calhoun Square. Somogyi said the business was not opposed to the parking change, and Turner added that the parking restrictions there were already the subject of a city traffic study that could result in their removal.

“If it works out, it’s just a happy coincidence,” she said.

Minneapolis parklets, at least for now, are intended as public space, not as sidewalk seating for restaurants and cafes. But Ward 3 City Council Member Jacob Frey said it was important to get the buy-in of nearby businesses “because in some cases what you’d be doing is eliminating a parking space or two.”

Frey added: “In my point of view, this is extremely beneficial to businesses because this is now more of a community gathering space than it has been before.”

He said the Ward 3 office has identified several potential locations for the city’s other pilot parklet, including the intersection of 3rd Avenue and North Second Street in the North Loop, near Moose and Sadie’s restaurant.

Frey also mentioned the 400 block of 14th Street Southeast in Dinkytown and the confluence of Central Avenue Northeast, East Hennepin Avenue and 5th Street Southeast on the edge of Marcy Holmes. Dinkytown may get a parklet this summer, but Turner said both  locations were under consideration for a separate pilot project that will test pedestrian plazas.

Similar to parklets, the plazas would reclaim underused roadway space for pedestrians. They contain many of the same elements — including seating and potted plants — but instead of being built atop a deck-like structure, the boundaries of plaza spaces are marked with pavement treatments, planters and reflective delineators.

Turner said the city was considering up to four plaza test sites this summer. Both the plaza and parklet pilots were budgeted for up to $75,000 each, she said.

The world’s first parklet debuted in 2010 in San Francisco, where there were nearly 40 parklets as of a year ago. They’ve since spread to cities across North America, including New York City, Montreal, Dallas and Seattle.

Turner said the first parklets would be just one parking space in size, but in the future they may be designed to take up several parking spaces, as they are in other cities. The first designs will be modular, so they can be easily installed and then removed at the end of the summer. She anticipated a much more robust Minneapolis parklet program in 2015.

Next year, after the city develops design standards for parklets, community sponsors will be able to apply for parklet permits. They would also design and build their own parklets, Turner said.

“I think we’d really like to encourage creativity and uniqueness,” she said.

A parklet pilot timeline Turner distributed at the April 15 CARAG neighborhood meeting indicated the city planned to meet with neighborhood organizations, property owners and businesses near the proposed parklet sites in mid-May and begin the permitting process later that month. Parklets would be designed and fabricated in June and make their debut on city streets in early July.

They’ll come off the streets sometime in late October or early November. Parklets will likely operate on a schedule similar to Nice Ride, the city bike-sharing system, Turner said.

The parklet pioneers in the San Francisco Planning Department have produced a parklet manual that can be found on their Pavement to Parks website.

UCLA’s Larkin School of Public Affairs published a parklet toolkit for cities in 2012. View it here.