Wider sidewalks vs. a parking crunch: St. Paul’s Lowertown may have lessons for Northfield

Wednesday’s Strib had an article titled In St. Paul’s Lowertown, move to widen sidewalk is afoot; The plan would allow more outdoor dining, but some fear a parking crunch in the district. It’s a good illustration of how issues of downtown parking can bump up against what makes for a vibrant street. Some excerpts:

Lowertown sidewalksDave Brooks and Jim Crockarell, who own the buildings on 6th Street across from Mears Park, want the city to nearly double the width of the front sidewalk to create a promenade for outdoor cafe seating. They lease to some of downtown’s most popular hangouts — the Barrio and Bulldog restaurants and Bin on the Park wine bar — and Crockarell believes more draws could be on the way if outdoor seating were extended.

And on the other side of the issue:

But many Lowertown residents and businesses, already worried about a parking squeeze they fear will come with the opening of the Saints ballpark in 2015, are against the plan. They’re worried about noise, congestion and pressure they’ll face with up to 22 street parking spaces taken to make room for the wider sidewalk and a new bus/bike traffic lane. Longtime Lowertown developer John Mannillo, who’s leading opposition to the proposal, said it would alter the district’s circa-1870 street grid and change building setbacks.

Are ‘popups’ a viable alternative?

Coleman also isn’t necessarily opposed to an idea that Mannillo is pushing — trying out the sidewalk cafe concept first with temporary wooden platforms that could be installed on a seasonal basis and remove as needed. But Brooks and Crackarell won’t pay for temporary extensions, Repke said. A pilot installation was tried a couple of years ago, but they didn’t like the way it looked or the work required to use it. “They don’t want to have to buy a chunk of wood they would have to store,” Repke said. The pop-ups, as they’re called, would cost $73,000 and installation no more than $20,000 annually, Mannillo said. “We’re only going to be using it for, what, four months of the year,” he said. “Besides, people prefer to sit on wood rather than concrete. It’s not as hot on the hot days.”

Here are three photos of ‘popup’s I took a few years ago on a trip to Italy:

img-7359 img-73601 img-736111


Project for Public Spaces has ideas about parking management

Project for Public SpacesThe Project for Public Spaces (PPS) regularly tackles issues related to streets and vehicles so it’s no surprise that they weigh in on parking.  I’m not sure when they published this article but it’s an opinionated piece that seems to have some relevancy to downtown Northfield. It’s titled, Finding a Place for Parking:

Despite what you may have heard, nobody goes to a place solely because it has parking. In fact, the current obsession with parking is one of the biggest obstacles to achieving livable cities and towns, because it usually runs counter to what should be our paramount concern: creating places where people enjoy spending time. As long as the myth persists that economic prosperity depends on parking, local governments will continue to waste public money and distort the public planning process.

The realization that creating a place where people want to come and spend time is more important than parking unfortunately eludes many municipalities. Worrying about and wasting public money on parking is taking over the public planning process and subsequently parking is taking over our communities. So how can we put parking in its place and draw people back to public spaces?

Be sure to see the section titled 10 Questions to Help Us Get the Most Out of Parking.

In case you’re wondering about PPS, here’s a blurb from their About page:

Project for Public Spaces (PPS) is a nonprofit planning, design and educational organization dedicated to helping people create and sustain public spaces that build stronger communities. Our pioneering Placemaking approach helps citizens transform their public spaces into vital places that highlight local assets, spur rejuvenation and serve common needs.

Planning for stakeholder input on downtown parking management

Ross Currier and Chris HeinemanChris Heineman, Griff Wigley, and I had a face-to-face meeting last week, January 16.  We have been keeping in touch through Basecamp (web-based project planning service) and decided it was time to have a real meeting.

We chatted briefly about the Northfield News article, How can Northfield better manage existing downtown parking? and decided that I should post my full e-mail to the reporter, Kaitlyn Walsh (@NFNKaitlyn), here on the blog which I did later that day.

We then talked about getting a sense of the 2013 Council’s view of a parking management project in the broader context of other Council priorities.  Until or unless we get new feedback from the Council’s upcoming planning session, we’re going to stick with the concept of project completion (a summary of our findings and some kind of recommendations for the Council) at the end of the first quarter.

Finally, we identified stakeholders groups for face-to-face meetings.  They are, in no particular order:

Building Owners
Restaurant Owners
Office Users
City Staff
College Students
Public Transportation Users

Our first face-to-face meeting will be with stakeholders who have a significant economic stake in downtown parking management, Building Owners.  Ideally, we’d like to meet with at least one group every week.

In parallel with our face-to-face meetings, we plan to spend time identifying parking management techniques used by other communities.  We don’t want to drive the discussion, for that, we’re looking to the stakeholders.  However, we are interested in the state of the art…or at least “best practices”.  If you’ve heard of anything clever, please let us know.

That’s pretty much what there is to share at this point.  If you have any comments or questions, share them with us by posting them on the project website.  It’s an equal opportunity, but not anonymous, website.

Northfield News article on parking management

Northfield News
The Northfield News published an article today about the downtown parking management project.  I’ve added my entire answer to the News’ reporter Kaitlyn Walsh (@NFNKaitlyn) as there were topics covered in the e-mailed questions that were not included in the newspaper article.  Here’s my e-mail:

Kaitlyn –

I have copied the NDDC President, Greg Kneser, and the Chair of the NDDC’s Parking Task Force, Keith Covey.  I have also copied the Parking Management Team, Chris Heineman and Griff Wigley.

In my opinion, the purpose of the conversation is to generate ideas, and reactions to ideas, from stakeholders, about parking management.  Personally, I define parking management as managing your existing parking resources in an effort to maximize effectiveness and efficiencies.

It is my understand that the entities involved in this parking management project, the City Council, the City staff, and the NDDC, hope that a secondary result of this work will be a replicable model for citizen engagement.  City Administrator Tim Madigan has referred to it as an “Experiment” and I think this is a smart framing of the effort, recognizing both the secondary goal and the innovative aspect.  Northfield is blessed with many smart, creative, and passionate people, finding a model or method to engage their talents and include their contributions could enhance future projects and initiatives.

You’d probably be better off asking City Administrator Tim Madigan or members of the 2012 Council, perhaps in particular the downtown Councilors, about the decision regarding the NDDC’s role.  However, I’ll take a shot at it.  Based on my observations at the Council meetings, it seems to me that the NDDC was chosen to lead this effort for at least two reasons.  The first is that the NDDC has been working to enhance downtown parking since the birth of the organization in 2000; it has always been a priority for our stakeholders.  The second is that the stakeholders who experience the greatest economic impact of the parking supply and demand in downtown, the building and business owners, have worked with the NDDC on this issue for many years.

We, the parking management team, are meeting this week to detail the schedule.  I believe there was some early discussion about completing this work in the first quarter, however, there are some other topics/priorities on the Council’s agenda/plan that may shape our schedule.  In an early meeting with City staff and downtown Councilors, it seemed, at least to me, that assuring significant and meaningful engagement with stakeholders was more important than an end-date on a timeline.

The one thing that I would add is the expression of my personal and professional appreciation to the 2012 City Council for their incredible work on and contributions to the downtown parking issue.  It’s an issue that has been identified and discussed at least as far back as the 1970s.  The 2012 Council looked at the issue, including past reports from consultants and current input from stakeholders, worked through their various perspectives on and philosophies about parking, and ultimately determined to move forward with some enhancement of parking but also to find some ways of increasing leverage from existing parking.  They thought not only about the present but also the future.

I hope this gives you enough for your article,


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.

How is this engagement project going to work?

We’re planning to use a variety of online tools along with face-to-face meetings to gather information and engage downtown stakeholders and Northfield area citizens around the components of a parking management plan. Everything we plan to do, whether face-to-face or online, will be blogged here.  And then we’ll blog about it after it’s over. The idea is to have ONE place where everything is ‘housed’ to make it as easy as possible for the citizenry to learn about the issue, participate, and refer back to what happened anytime.

Engagement spectrum

The red box on the involvement spectrum above indicates the approximate spot where we think this project resides.  It won’t be just ‘inform and consult’ but more towards ‘include and collaborate’ because we’ll be asking you to help identify the issues, develop alternatives, and weigh in with your choice of the preferred solutions.

So there you have it: vague details and sketchy theory!

While we prepare to make things more concrete, feel free to comment and ask questions by using the comment box below.