He tweeted thus:
But accommodating parking comes at a high cost, in terms of both city budgets and urban fabric.
Here are the problems as I see them:
Problem #2: The city is already filled with expensive parking lots. The city and developers have already spent many millions on parking garages downtown. Historic buildings have been converted into parking garages. [Shudder.] There are lots of parking garages, and they're really expensive.
|[One of downtown's many blank walls & unappealing sidewalks.]|
These problems are interlinked. Solving Problem #1 comes at the expense of Problems #2 and #3. It seems an impossible challenge.
|[Leave Lowertown or Rice Park, and lots of downtown Saint Paul is ugly and empty.]|
Here's a rough sketch of a solution. Almost all of this is based on the work of the economist and planner Donald Shoup, the expert on US parking policy.
Step #1: Do a parking survey. Count the number of on- and off-street spots downtown. Also, get a rough measure of how "used" each spot is. What is its average occupancy throughout the day and week?
You'll probably find (as the city repeatedly says) that there are lots of parking spots downtown. You'll probably also find that a some of these spots are in very high demand. Most of these will be on-street surrounding prime attractions (e.g. the Farmer's market). On other hand, you'll probably also find that many spots have low demand, and sit empty much of the time. Most of these will be off-street garages, or in marginal locations.
Step #2: Set prices according to demand. Make the prime spots expensive and the distant spots cheap. This will ruffle a few feathers, but making prime spots expensive will encourage people to "turn over" the spots more quickly. Parking at in-demand locations will become easier but more expensive. This would eliminate "cruising" for parking, and end Costanza frustration. It's pretty straightforward: those who value convenience pay more, those who want to save money walk farther out of their way. The important thing is that all the parking gets used. We get full return on the investments that the city and developers have made over the years.
|[You could hire way more people like this guy.]|
Step #4: Repeat as necessary. This might involve several iterations, as the supply and demand of parking shifts over time and prices need to be adjusted. Ideally, you could make this process automatic using "smart" meters. (This is what they are doing in San Francisco.)
|[They're doing this in San Francisco. They made an app for it.]|
The bottom line is that parking in downtown Saint Paul should not be free after 4:30. Free parking might benefit a few lucky people, but causes lots of problems and frustration for many others. As long as parking is free on the street, nobody will use the thousands of spaces in the huge ugly garages we've spent millions to construct. People will waste countless miserable hours cruising the streets looking for the perfect spot in order to save $5 on their way to see the Wild, the Saints, Keillor, or whatever Scientologists do at night. Meanwhile, off-street garages will just sit there, underused. That's not a happy situation.
This solution is an outline. Details need to be added. But this would work. It'd be cheap, and in the long run, it would make some of the 100 people in that room yesterday happy. It would improve downtown Saint Paul as a place to work, live, and play. It would be a great stride toward making our downtown a "real city" once again.