The Star Tribune has a great article up today about the sea of parking lots downtown and the steps being taken by city officials to better use this very valuable, very underutilized space. (Full disclosure: this blog is featured in the piece.) I’ll have a more thorough response to the article up in the next day or so, but for now, a couple of brief notes about the conversation that is currently taking place in the comments section of the Star Trib piece and elsewhere.
It’s an indisputable fact that cars are a big part of how people get around in the Twin Cities. It’s also an indisputable fact that they will continue to be into the foreseeable future. This is unlikely to change, and for many people, relying on cars to get to and from downtown is entirely necessary for a whole host of valid reasons. It has always been the position of this blog that if people want to drive to and from downtown, they should very well be able to. The real issue that is being addressed in the article and by this blog (perhaps a bit too subtly at times, given the number of people who assume that city planners want to do away with cars downtown entirely) has to do with how much space we as a city want to dedicate to temporarily housing those cars while their drivers sit at their desks during the workday, and how dedicating so much actual, physical land to parking (as opposed to, say, neatly stacking those dozens of parking lots on top of one another in vertical parking garages or beneath our office buildings in underground garages) shapes the way that we interact with (or choose not to interact with) the downtown corridor.
Downtown should be a place for everyone, whether you choose to bike, walk, take the train, or drive to get there. But more than anything (and I think this point is less obvious than it may at first seem), it must first be a place that any of us would want to visit in the first place. Part of making that happen is to make better use of the limited space we’ve carved out for ourselves. (Even the parking lot owners quoted in the article admit that the lots are a blight to our city’s urban core.) Another part of making that happen is to ensure that the cost of parking reflects the true cost of providing it (including the lost revenue the city could earn by using the space for housing or commercial uses). The fact that you can park for an entire day for as little as $5—or, in other words, 17% less than the cost of getting to and from the city via an express bus—is part of the reason that there is so much complacency with the status quo.
More to come this week. For now, thanks for reading.