Why We Support Parking Meters on Grand Ave

Why We Support Parking Meters on Grand Ave

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By Dave Van Hattum, Advocacy Director, and Melissa Martinez-Sones, Interim Executive Director

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Metro Transit bus route 63 serves Grand Avenue seven days a week.

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Transit for Livable Communities supports installing parking meters on Grand Avenue in Saint Paul. Our organization has long advocated for parking reform and for recognizing the hidden subsidies for car parking. This is no exception.

Opposition to the City of Saint Paul’s recent parking meter proposal has been vocal, but parking fees are common in the Twin Cities, and around the globe, in locations with high demand for limited parking spaces. While it makes sense to provide limited roadway right-of-way for parking, it also makes sense to charge a reasonable fee for use of parking spaces on city streets with high car travel and high demand for parking.

Saint Paul has about a third of the parking meters that you’ll find across the river in Minneapolis. Despite the perception that much of Saint Paul’s on-street parking is currently “free,” there are real costs to the city associated with street maintenance and parking enforcement (not to mention the costs to public health, air quality, safety, and livability that arise from a transportation system that encourages driving). Today the cost of providing “free” car parking is absorbed not via moderate user fees, but by residents and property owners regardless of how much, or how little, they are actually driving and parking on city streets.

Saint Paul isn’t on the cutting edge here, putting meters in our commercial districts. I suspect, in some ways, we’re far behind. We are an actual big city.

Kathy Lantry, Saint Paul Public Works Director and former City Council President, quoted by MinnPost earlier this fall.

In the case of Grand Avenue, we argue that areas with high demand and strong retail do better with meters or other paid parking, because of increased turnover of spaces and access to businesses. The City’s proposal includes the largely commercial/retail section of Grand from Dale Avenue to Ayd Mill Road. Fees can and should be set at levels that don’t overly discourage activities on Grand (shopping, dining, etc.), while ensuring the turnover of parking spaces for other customers and visitors.

We agree that it would be best if some of the parking meter revenue went to the local community, as would happen with a parking benefits district. This would mean some portion of revenue from these new parking charges would return to the neighborhood for investment in sidewalk/streetscape maintenance, lighting, trees, benches, more bicycle parking, or other amenities.

In broader terms, appropriate parking availability and fees, along with street design, policies, and funding for alternatives to driving, should all combine to encourage the full variety of transportation modes typically chosen by Saint Paul residents and visitors.

A public hearing is expected next month. Transit for Livable Communities urges supportive Saint Paul residents to speak up on this important issue by attending and/or connecting with city council members directly.