Help design the downtown parking online straw poll

straw pollOne way to gather some information and get people engaged about an issue is to conduct a straw poll, an informal unscientific survey of those who ‘show up.’

One common type of straw poll is to ask for a show of hands at a face-to-face meeting, e.g.,

How many of you are happy with how the elections turned out? Who does NOT have a cell phone that’s set to mute? Who thinks the Twins will win the World Series this year?

show-of-handsAs people in the room see each others hands go up and down, it sets the expectation that in a public setting, one is expected to ‘weigh in.’  It helps get people more engaged, rather than just being passive listeners. The activity gives the presenters a little information about their audience.

Online straw polls are similar but have some advantages: people can complete them anytime of the night or day; the polls can be more in-depth and people can take as much time as they need to fill them out; those reluctant to weigh publicly have a degree of anonymity; results are more easily compiled, etc.

We’re going to put up a straw poll at the start of this project (in a week or so) and we’re planning to do another one at the very end.

But your help is needed in creating these straw polls.  I’ve started working on it and will post updates on my efforts via the comments feature attached to this blog post.  Please critique my efforts and make suggestions on what else should be included.


20 thoughts on “Help design the downtown parking online straw poll

  1. Griff Wigley Post author

    I’ve created 5 questions thus far:

    1. How often do you park a motorized vehicle downtown?

    2. Where do you usually park?

    3. What time of day do you typically park downtown?

    4. When you attempt to park on the streets downtown, how often are you able to find a spot that’s convenient?

    5. Comments on items 1-4 (comments that violate the civility guidelines will not be published)

    See the my proposed answer options in the preview at:

  2. Kathie Galotti

    Might also ask how long people typically park for? (to distinguish those who park while they run quick errands vs. those who park for a few hours for some serious shopping or dining?)

  3. Randy Jennings

    If I missed this, please point me to it, but have you or Ross provided any factual data or traffic studies that describe traffic and parking downtown? Number of vehicles, number of spaces available on streets and within lots, length of vistor/parker stay, distances from available parking to businesses, number of employee vehicles parked in the relevant area, comparison of parking spaces to retail/service/office square footage, average cost per space developed, etc.

    How about a description of the ways other communities have provided parking (free municipal lots to parking meters to for-profit parking concessions, etc.) And if you have already compiled this sort of information as an objective starting place for community conversation, do you have comparable statistics for other communities or from advocacy organizations like those Betsey Buckheit cites for their best practices? We need not do what other communities do, but it would be useful to have a wide range of ideas about other communities’ experiences.

    It seems to me that the place to start is with you collecting and presenting any such facts or statistics, if they exist. To begin with subjective self-reports (how do you define “convenient” in question 4?) from a small set of online denizens about parking behavior, rather than a fact-based description of the current situation, seems backwards. Maybe data will show that we really don’t have a parking shortage, relative to the amount and type of activity downtown. Or maybe it will, and we can all start opining from the same foundation of factual information.

    If your data-gathering is primarily anecdotal, and your citizen engagement begins with a straw poll and ends with a locally grown-style conversation among a handful of people with strong and immoveable opinions or self-interests for which to advocate, it’s hard to see how this process will result in better municipal decision-making.

  4. Randy Jennings

    Apologies. I should have clarified that I think we need current data. The Walker parking study is now 12 years old. At the time it found parking supply adequate. What’s changed since then?

  5. Ross Currier

    Griff –

    I’d like to include non-motorized transportation in the discussion.

    Perhaps: How often do you walk or bike to downtown?

    I’m also wondering if there are some obstacles to non-motorized transportation; perhaps: What might make you walk or bike downtown more often?

  6. Griff Wigley Post author

    Ross and Kathie, thanks for those straw poll suggestions. I’ll alert you here when I’ve added them to the draft.

    Randy, your comments are helpful. I’m on my way out the door to meetings in the Cities today but will respond by Wed. morning.

  7. George Kinney

    Ross beat me to the ‘walking’ comment — I walked down today for a meeting, haircut, shopping, and groceries. But — what is ‘downtown’ parking? I think it was defined in the earlier study as including Washington and possibly the next block (?).

  8. kiffisumma

    1. quantify convenient in #4: my 76 years old ‘convenience ‘ is a lot different than it used to be
    2. agree with kathy that time parked in one spot is important.
    3. do people park in one spot, and go to several destinations? or move car several times?
    4. do people drive around block several times to get their preferred parking location?

  9. Griff Wigley Post author

    Randy, we don’t have a grand detailed plan for how this process is going to work but lots of elements that we’re considering. So questions like your are perfect for pushing us to think harder and plan better. 😉

    The straw poll is my idea, and as I wrote above in my blog post, it’s primarily an engagement technique, not an important data-gathering tool for decision-making. It can help to get both citizens and project leaders thinking and discussing. So yes, it’s subjective and anecdotal but I don’t think it’s backwards to start with it.

    We’re not ruling out more data gathering but don’t see it as a prerequisite to begin discussing and maybe even prioritizing and recommending parking management strategies. The Walker Study is indeed old and there are probably ways to update sections of it a nominal cost. But even if the data show that we don’t have a parking shortage now, the Council still wants a management plan.

    As we get going, we’ll have links to other parking management plans from other cities similar to Northfield that might be helpful to examine.

    Hope that helps.

  10. Randy Jennings

    It helps, in the sense that it confirms the flaw in your premise. I know you are a passionate advocate for discussion, no matter how well or poorly informed, but when you write…
    “We’re not ruling out more data gathering but don’t see it as a prerequisite to begin
    discussing and maybe even prioritizing and recommending parking management strategies.”
    …it raises a serious question about how this form of citizen “engagement” can possibly be of any benefit. Subjective opinions should not be the basis for public policy.

    If a foundation of factual information isn’t the basis for discussion, this process is a waste of time and the city’s money. Why should the city spend any of its scarce resources — human and financial — unless there’s a clearly demonstrated problem? And why should anyone trust or implement a management plan that isn’t based on clear and current data to define the scope of a problem that needs solving?

  11. kiffisumma

    Randy is correct that ALL policy cannot be based just on public opinion, at least with regards to most issues… but in a parking study like this, it seems to me that there are two legitimate parts: one is the perception of need for additional parking and the other is the fact-based physical space, costs, etc.

    So, isn’t there room for both components in this discussion?

  12. Randy Jennings

    Kiffi, you’re absolutely right that there’s room for both facts and opinions in any conversation. I’d put them in that order; Griff is, at best, indifferent, as long as there is conversation. In this case, we already know there’s a perception that there isn’t enough parking downtown. We just don’t know if that perception is based on any factual reality. Encouraging more discussion without a shared set of facts is like inviting people to a book group with no expectation that they will first read the book. That’s silly.

    Even if a straw poll of vague questions shows that the perception of a parking shortage is held by everyone who completes the poll, knowing that does nothing in terms of understanding if it based on anything more than one-time or sporadic personal inconvenience, and certainly doesn’t mean it’s a problem we should spend public money to solve. To know that we need facts first. Then opinions about what to do to better manage parking or, if necessary, increase the parking supply can be usefully debated.

  13. Dean Kjerland

    I would like to weigh-in on the side of starting with some assumptions.

    What is Downtown Parking and who are the constituents? I imagine it is primarily thought about as concerning the existing Downtown retailers/offices/services and their customers/clients/users; and about the ‘motorized’ component of those users; and about what are the wants and needs of those ‘motorized’ constituents?

    Certainly there is a sub-set of ‘motorized’ with Downtown jobs who ‘park for work’ but also visit other businesses Downtown. And there are the Downtown residents who use public parking.

    And, further, there are sub-sets of the ‘motorized’ such as locals who are savvy about the hidden parking spaces; those who get the message that a little walk is good for their health; and those who work Downtown but won’t take a parking space from their ‘customers’. So, part of the solution is to free-up spaces encouraging (enforcing) these positive attitudes.

    And, certainly there are locals and visitors who need accessible parking; pick-up of bulky/heavy items, etc.; Winter rules; events congestion, etc. And perhaps those who will not settle for less then a parking space right where/when they want it…

    However, the commercial Downtown is also about the non-motorized users including walkers, bikers and public transit users. Past, present and future investments in serving the ‘motorized’ class must fairly consider these users and trends.

    The imminent symbolic move of the Depot to the ‘T-block’ (sic) highlights the extremely limited vision of just dealing with busness parking soutions in the Historic District. The proximity of the Weitz Center, the new Carleton Offices at 2nd and Division, Riverwalk Market Fair, changes in retail/office mix, etc., all add new opportunities for expanded vision about investments in Downtown resources and trade-offs between parking spaces and ‘community’.

    Framing the ultimate poll questions in light of these assumptions (and reaching a broader constituent group) may well produce useful information as opposed to another ‘what do you (ye city of a thousand ideas) think about Downtown Parking…

  14. Griff Wigley Post author


    If you look at the consensus statement of the Council parking committee and the NDDC (PDF) at:

    you’ll see the more formal wording:

    “Purpose: to involve Downtown property owners, businesses and residents in developing recommendations on how to manage the existing public and private parking in the Downtown area in order to use current parking resources in a better manner.”

    It doesn’t say anything about assessing or gathering data.

    And if you look at what Councilors Nakasian and Buckheit (the parking committee at that time) wrote in their memo the Council on Sept 18, (Section on Long term parking considerations on page 3) at:

    you’ll see that reducing the demand for parking is key. See their rationale, as well as why they think the Walker study is problematic.

    So if I could paraphrase them: Whether parking is good, bad or ugly right now, let’s develop a plan to best manage what we have.

  15. Griff Wigley Post author

    Randy, you wrote:

    ” Encouraging more discussion without a shared set of facts is like inviting people to a book group with no expectation that they will first read the book. That’s silly.”

    No it isn’t. It’s the Utne Reader conversation salon model. To use your analogy, the idea is to come to the book group and hear people talking about the book for the first time and then maybe that conversation, held in a socially pleasurable setting, will inspire you to start reading the book.

  16. Griff Wigley Post author

    Dean, thanks for the thoughtful, detailed comment. We are in the final edits on an FAQ page that will answer some of your questions, so I’ll reply to you here as soon as I have that up.

    But in the meantime, be sure to read what Councilors Nakasian and Buckheit wrote in their memo because they touched on some of the same issues you’re raising:

  17. Griff Wigley Post author

    I’ve done a little more tinkering with the straw poll and plan to launch it tomorrow. Changes I’ve made:

    * I’ve added “Give up and go elsewhere” as a third option to #7: What do you typically do when you can’t find a downtown parking spot that’s close to your destination?

    * I’ve created a Page 2 for non-motorized transportation questions and included skateboarding and roller blading as forms of transportation in addition to walking and biking.

    * In this section, I’ve used the phrase “to get downtown” to make it clear that we’re interested in transportation uses to and from downtown, not sport/recreation.

    See the revised draft and let me know what suggestions you have:

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