Park here, please

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July 7, 2003 // UPDATED 10:57 am - April 30, 2007
By: Sam Grabarski
Sam Grabarski

Disability advocates and the business community get together for a parking plan that starts this week and benefits everyone

Name a few things you didn't expect to see anytime soon. How about that Supreme Court ruling that struck down state prohibitions against bedroom behaviors? Or a world without either Strom Thurmond or Katharine Hepburn? I'd suggest "flying pigs", but you've taken advantage of the 2 a.m. bar closings recently and know the pink ones prefer gliders.

Something I didn't expect to see was the introduction of a new policy regarding disability license plates and parking meters that goes into effect Downtown this week. An interesting alliance of viewpoints caused this, from the champions of the rights of disabled people to the small retailers with short-term parking meters in front of their shops.

Until now, Minneapolis parking policies allowed anyone displaying a disabled parking permit (presumed to be valid) to park in any metered space for free. Federal law (American With Disabilities Act) requires a city to supply some free and convenient parking spaces, but most cities limit free parking to just one hour. Now, Minneapolis will shift to allowing four hours of free parking in all but the long-term meters located mostly near the riverfront and the Metrodome.

Free parking at all of the City's 6,800 street meters had taken a toll on public and private ramps, where 2 percent of the stalls are set aside by law for parkers with valid permits. City officials estimate that 80 percent of their ADA stalls go unused. Private ramp operators (during a meeting I hosted) reported that 50 percent of their ADA stalls go unused. No one wants hundreds of ADA stalls going unused daily because it creates a false impression they are unneeded. Or, a resource lost.

To encourage the use of these reserved stalls, the City of Minneapolis will now offer a 50-percent discount to qualified monthly parkers. And, the parking enforcement officers plan to step up enforcement of illegal parking permits. City officials think this will generate at least $75,000 in new revenues annually for Minneapolis. Private ramps, often located at the choices locations, will likely follow suit. In this soft parking market, it's logical to accept discounted monthly parking contracts rather than to see the stalls sit vacant.

Multiple factors led to all this. First, and most annoying, too many people were using permits falsely to park for free in Downtown's small supply of 350 metered parking spaces. Businesses that rely on meters in front of their stores were seeing no turnover, especially in those limited to 15 minutes for pickups and deliveries. Leaders in the ADA community could see that totally free parking wasn't a defensible policy in times when civic leaders are rethinking a cadre of policies affecting revenues. Large vacancy rates in office towers have created much more capacity in Downtown's ramps for discounts and deals.

Here are some of the other parking issues facing the Central Business District. Everyone wants more short-term parking for client visits and retail shopping. Suburban companies testing the soft office market for relocation deals expect parking costs to be low or provided free as an incentive. We don't have a great signage system to lead visitors to ramps, and we have no system to lead people to the largest numbers of vacant stalls during hours of peak demand. Road construction limits access to and departures from ramps, causing heartless detours and turning restrictions.

Suburbanites take too much enjoyment from telling me they have not visited Downtown in the past ten years. Parking often tops their list of reasons. I like telling them the Foshay Tower is still the tallest building, so they don't need to make the trip any time soon.

Sam Grabarski is president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council, a group of business leaders.