A clean well-lighted place for cars

I read there is a lack of parking in St. Paul, especially in the Midway area. Do my lying eyes deceive me? In the face of an obvious surplus of paved space, it makes me think the problem is not the lack of parking, but the lack of the right kind of parking. Some parking spaces are just no good, they are occupied by the wrong crowd, or unoccupied, or something, or cost too much, or are free, or are available only at certain times, or available at all times, or are secret, or are public, or are on-street, or off-street.

The scarcity of blacktop in the vicinity of Snelling and University Avenue is frightening. It will be even worse once a stadium used 20 days per year is built.
The scarcity of blacktop in the vicinity of Snelling and University Avenue is frightening. It will be even worse once a stadium used 20 days per year is built.

Perhaps an exclusive parking shoppe, where the spaces are carefully curated and staff can guide the parker with appropriate recommendations would be helpful.  We could call it `A clean well-lighted place for cars’. The cars would be well-treated, with their choice of asphalt, concrete, or brick pavement, their drivers catered to appropriately by stylish meter maids.

Most of the discussion in this arena is just complaining to get column inches in the local newspaper by driving up the blood pressure of rabid commenters who drive page views and thus ad sales. Yet, much of it is, I suspect, a perverse form of ODD, reflexively supporting on-street parking to oppose bikes and the people who ride them, who add stress to driving (cf: war on cars).

There are several things to remember:

  • There are at least 3 parking spaces in St. Paul for every car, just as in the rest of America.
  • Parking ramps are long-term multi-year investments. Cars that park themselves will be on the market shortly, and driverless cars (we can’t say that, since the cars are now legally drivers) er, self-driving cars will be able to park themselves without inconveniencing the passenger with a long walk to their destination. Robot cars parking themselves can park in less space, since they don’t need to open their doors.
  • The cheaper it is to drive, the more people will drive. More free parking induces demand, just like any transportation investment.
  • Parking is a private good, it is both rivalrous (If I park, you cannot) and excludable (I can keep you from parking if I charge for it and enforce it). It should be profitable to charge by the use. If it is not profitable, it is not needed.
  • If on-street parking were properly regulated and charged for, off-street parking minimums would be entirely unnecessary, the market could work out solutions.


The Museum of Surface Parking | streets.mn

The University of Minnesota, along with M-Health, are about to open a new branch of the Museum of Surface Parking (the MSP) on Oak Street at Fulton in southeast Minneapolis, in front of the new Ambulatory Care Center.

This is wonderful news for those in the local Museum-going community, the site will help 21st century college students in particular study the details associated with the storage of cars, as practiced in 20th century America, taking advantage of the University of Minnesota’s position as a great urban university. The site will be a living laboratory, not just for the observation of other people parking cars in the traditional mold, but also enabling students and visitors to park cars, by themselves, for a small fee. The value for transportation engineering courses is immeasurable.

While other nearby sites, similarly within walking distance of the East Bank LRT station, are being developed with “buildings”, this site preserves the historic open feel of the prairie landscape, while not reducing sunlight for its neighbors.

The Museum of Surface Parking - Minneapolis
The Museum of Surface Parking – Minneapolis

This is welcome addition to the collection of Living History sites in the Minneapolis–St. Paul area, such as the Streetcar MuseumFort SnellingGibbs Farm, and Kelly Farm. The parking lot will be open 24 hours a day.

Cross-posted from streets.mn

The hITE of absurdity: Minimum Parking in an era of Declining Traffic

The Institute of Transportation Engineers, founded in 1931, is the main professional association for traffic engineers in the United States. The ITE Trip Generation Manual (currently on the 9th Edition) aggregates a set of studies and outputs the expected number of trips coming or going to a site, by mode, as a function of the type of site. The book Parking Generation does something similar, and guides municipalities on the number of parking spaces a particular new development should have.

Municipalities generally adopt the rates (influenced by the ITE books) as a set of Minimum Parking Requirements, though there is great variation (aptly illustrated by the website Graphing Parking). New development must have parking spaces in excess of the minimum number in order to be approved. Most municipalities, using logic-copying, simply adopt the statues of neighboring jurisdictions without much deep thought. Some do customize them though. For instance, this is the code of the well-endowed (from a parking perspective), City of Maple Grove, Minnesota.

If the world remained the same, and operated at the average level it has for the past 10 or 20 or 30 or 40 years of data that are represented in the Manuals, the Manual might be producing the number that which presumably most municipalities seem to want … the number of parking spaces required so that no customer any day of the year would have to park off-site.

But this requirement itself is odd, and leads to the construction of excess off-street parking, since at least some of that parking is vacant 300, 350, 360, or even 364 days per year depending on how tight you set the threshold and how flat the peak demand is seasonally. Is it really worth vacant paved impervious surface 364 days so that 1 day there is no spillover to nearby streets?

Yet we know that the next 40 years will differ significant from the past 40, just as the past 40 differed from the 40 before that. Our best estimates are that traffic per capita (and perhaps overall) has peaked. This blog has discussed this issue multiple times.

More significantly, peak-season (Christmas) retail travel has fallen off a cliff, as shown in this Wall Street Journal article. Total retail foot traffic for November and December 2013 is at 17.6 billion trips, down from about 33 billion in 2010, just 4 years ago, according to data the WSJ obtained from ShopperTrak. Clearly the rise of the tablet has facilitated shopping via couch rather than car. Does anyone doubt this will continue to rise with tablet adoption?

Graphic from Wall Street Journal
We have further anecdotal evidence. On Black Friday, reportedly the busiest shopping day of the year, the community around Strong Towns went to major shopping areas and photographed mostly empty (over-built) parking lots. Photos were posted to Twitter using the hashtag #BlackFridayParking

Paved Surface Area in the US

To the best of my knowledge, no one really knows the answer to the question of how much total paved surface there is in the US. The best estimate I have seen is 43,000 mi^2 (111,369 km^2).

As a check, we can make some back of the envelope estimates. Feel free to improve these with data

2,605,331 miles (4,192,874 km) of paved roads in the US x 30 feet = 412684430400 ft^2 (38,259,975,250 m^2 or 38,359 km^2). This is about the size of Maryland plus Delaware.

This is back of the envelope. Most roads are 2 lanes (1 in each direction), some are wider. I am taking lane width as 12 feet, and assuming an additional 1/2 lane for each centerline mile to account for multiple lanes.

Parking is less well documented.
250,000,000 vehicles in the US x 3 spaces per vehicle x 180 ft^2 per space = 135,000,000,000 ft^2 (12,541,910,400 m^2 or 12,542 km^2).

As a point of comparison, Connecticut is 14,357 km^2, so we have almost paved over the equivalent of Connecticut to store vehicles off street in the US. This number is probably an underestimate, as some space must be allocated to accessing parking spaces.

Parking plus roads gives us an estimate (rounded to 2 significant digits) of 51,000 km^2, 80% of the size of West Virginia.

So my estimate of paved area is a smaller than above by a factor of 2. It is still quite large.

All else equal, we would definitely prefer to reduce this, as paved area has environmental implications (less pervious surface to filter water, more pavement to absorb heat), direct costs (paving roads and parking cost money – asphalt and concrete production and construction have further environmental costs), and opportunity costs (land that is paved for roads and parking cannot be easily used for something else, money spent paving that land cannot be used for something better).


Democratic municipalities should do what they want. They should want to reduce Minimum Parking Requirements, or instead impose Maximums where the Minimums used to be.

The reasons they don’t of course have something to do with just unthinkingly using Standard Operating Procedure and something to do with neighbors who do not want spillover parking in front of their own property. The mix of which depends on the location. The neighbor problem can be addressed with on-street parking enforcement and parking charges returned to the neighborhood, but is not the main problem in most of the US.

Unfortunately, these changes won’t affect much in the short run. Land owners are not going to suddenly roll up under-used parking like an old rug. There is not all that much new development taking place (especially retail) which can take advantage of the lessened requirements. Many land owners build in excess of the Minimum anyway.

However as opportunities for re-development arise, better laws will lead incrementally, to better land use.

Lots of Parking in Minneapolis

Why pay more to park on the road
Why pay more to park on the road

A reporter asked: How much parking is there in Minneapolis? This is not a question for which there is a well-sourced answer.

Downtown Parking: There are nearly 25,000 parking spaces in 38 parking lots and ramps throughout downtown,

In the City there are 7000 metered spaces:

Minneapolis Municipal Parking System has 17 parking ramps and 7 lots
These Ramps and Lots encompass over 20,000 parking spaces. (Subtracting this from the first estimate suggests only 5,000 parking spaces are private).

Outside of downtown requires estimating.

On street-unmetered parking? The City has 1100 miles of street . (I think this excludes state and county roads, I am not sure about park roads, but this is most of them). My guess is 200 spaces per mile (@ ~26 feet per car). If there were no “no parking restrictions” this gives 220,000 on-street spaces (The vast majority of which are unmetered).

Off-street private parking. There are 155,155 households. If each one has 1 off-street space (some have 2 or 3, some have 0), that would be 155,155 off-street spaces in residential areas. I would guess based on national data about twice as many in commercial areas. Roughly every car has to have a space at home, work, and shop.

In short there are lots of parking.

Does anyone have a better estimate?

Bloomberg does the hard sell

Mayor Bloomberg of New York is doing the hard sell to get congestion pricing approved, along with some help from FHWA (Mary Peters) Urban Partnership Agreement. The Selling of Congestion Pricing –
Everyone thinks the losers will be commuters priced off the roads. But consider the poor parking garage owner, who will now have to lower their rates to attract back customers. I wouldn’t be surprised to see parking prices drop almost as much as congestion charges rise, meaning only “through trips” (New Jersey to Brooklyn, Queens, or the rest of Long Island) would be truly priced off the road.