The Best of the Mayor's Forum on Parking Meters

[Saint Paulites gathering to protest racism parking meters.]
 [Note: I have left this semi-rough transcript largely unedited and uneditorialized. Though they completely fail to capture the angry intensity of the room, hopefully the words speak for themselves.]

Mayor Chris Coleman: Welcome. I'm happy to talk about issues around Grand Avenue and the future of parking meters on Grand, or the lack thereof.

[cheering and clapping]

Mayor: [making calm down gesture] This meeting can go until 8:30. We can have that...

[some cheers and jeers] 

With the opportunity for people to weigh in and have a conversation. I respect that people's emotions are high but the more you all scream, the less people will have a chance to talk and have an opportunity for people to talk, if that's OK. We're going to start with three presentations: from GABA, the Summit Hill Association (SHA), and a rep from Transit for Livable Communities (TLC). We want to hear from people with different perspectives on this issue, so what I'd like to do before without further ado, is turn it over to the representative from the Grand Avenue Business Association (GABA) for a presentation. Jon?


[People lined up to testify against fossil fuels parking meters.]
Jon Perrone, Executive Director of GABA: There's quite a few more people than I expected. As you all know, I'm not a great public speaker, so I'll apologize in the beginning.

This morning the members of GABA, SHA, their board of directors, and also residents of Summit Hill, met with Mayor Coleman and his staff to discuss the concerns raised regarding the proposed parking meters.

I wish I could say that this meeting went well, but it didn't. It was more of the same. They heard us but are not listening to to our concerns. It was the same excuses, with a few new ones added in. This is why we're having the problem with the city, now. City Hall has given us plenty of reasons, but none of them have ever checked out as to why meters are beneficial for businesses on Grand Avenue.

As soon as a business or resident starts using facts to support our opposition, their reasons change. When the meters were first proposed, it was stated that the meters were being done for the businesses, and that the businesses wanted them.

This was wrong. Once we started showing the data that 88% of businesses were recently polled opposed, they changed their reason.

The next reason stated was the at the meters were to help with turnover. This information came from a 2006 parking study.

Once we started to point out that the study was old, and that the facts of the study were inconclusive and that it was never determined by the members participating in the committee that the meters would help Grand Avenue, the reasons changed again.

[Shouts of "of course"]

Once it was turns to us [sic] from the City Council president Russ Starks [sic] was that the meters were to help with the budget. Now we believe this reason as its the only one that's been sticking.

[pause, fumbling with paper. big cheer from crowd]

The question we raise from this: Why are we taxing only one area of Saint Paul to make up for a city-wide budget problem?

[clapping, cheering]

The administration is spending money on pet projects like the Riverwalk or the renovation of the Palace Theater, or the soccer stadium that they'd like to get. We have a budget problem period.

Most recently the mayor said that this proposal would help fight greenhouse gases and pollution...

[loud groans, boos]

When this was mentioned, all of us started to laugh a little to be honest. But representing the businesses, we asked the mayor: How much do those jets you're flying on cost and pollute? Are the cars that are going to be removed from the Avenue going to make less of a difference than those trips you're taking to Germany, Japan, and France this year?

The only consistent reason for the parking meters is the 2016 budget. This is why the vote has to take place before the end of the year. This is why there's been no process. This is why we're all upset.

The $400K in net revenue that will come from the parking meters in 2016 is 1/7 of 100th of 1 percent of the overall [inaudible from clapping] and in my opinion is a cheap gimmick by Mayor Coleman and city leaders to help fix a much larger problem.

This issue has not only united the Summit Hill Association and its residents, the GABA and its members, it has also united several other business associations. [lists a few] All of them have come out in opposition because they fear they will be next.

[some more more about petitions, loud clapping]

On behalf of the GABA, its board, our businesses, and the community, I am asking the mayor, city staff, and City Council Members not to install meters on Grand. It is sending a very loud and clear message to the citizens and the city that they as elected officials think government knows best, and does not need to listen to the majority. It's also sending a loud and clear message to all the other neighborhoods who may be affected by the projects they're working on, such as the soccer stadium, that government officials do not listen. GABA is keeping all its options open as to stop the installation of the meters on grand avenue.

One more thing; today the city has been wasting taxpayer dollars today emailing people to get them out here to speak pro-meter.


I would like to point out one thing. We didn't need to do that.

[calls for shows of hands, etc. lynch mob vibe.]

Mayor: Now we'll hear from Mark, rep of SHA

Mark from Summit Hill Association (SHA): I'm here to speak on behalf of SHA and its members which include all the residents of Summit hill which are renters and home owners, prop owners, and business owners. I'm here on behalf of SHA not for myself.

When SHA learned about that the parking meter pilot project was going to be Grand Ave and only Grand Avenue, we decided we needed to take the temperature on this issue. So we held a meeting on Sept. 29th and had a turnout of 140 people, which pales by comparison to tonight, but we thought it was a good turnout.

The mood in the room was similar to tonight overwhelming opposition to meters. We did allow about 20 people to get up to speak, and they were unanimous in opposition. That's not to say the room did not have people in favor.

We received emails and people left comment cards, and the percentages were 82% opposed and 18% in favor, which exceeds Mayor Coleman's percentage int he last election, which was a landslide.

Afterward, we met as a board to decide what our response would be, so we took a vote and sent a letter to the Mayor and City Council to express overwhelming opposition to the parking meter proposal and frustration with the lack of transparency with the process.

On that issue, district councils have been around for 40 years, and the purpose of the district councils is to allow citizen participation in helping to shape Saint Paul  neighborhoods. The city and district councils are supposed to work in collaboration as partners. For example, if a business or homeowner wants a variance, they come to the SHA first and we take a vote, and forward that to the city.

That should have been the process here, where as a district council we take a vote. And that didn't happen and it was frustrating for us. We felt we should have been included but were excluded.


And assuming no representation by our elected officials. As long we're on the issue of transparency in the spirit of full disclosure, if someone were to ask me, I'd probably raise my hand and say, "ah, parking meters might not be such a bad thing."


I'm not here to speak for myself, I'm here to speak for the SHA, and on behalf of the SHA we're against parking meters and overwhelmingly against them, and we want our elected officials to hear that. Thank you.


Mayor Coleman: Thank you so much. I appreciate that. Next we're going to hear from Barb Thoman from Transit for Livable Communities. I know that most of you don't agree with her position, but in the Saint Paul tradition, I would hope you listen to her with the same respect as you listened to the first two speakers, and give her a chance to explain some of the thinking behind it. Then I'm going to have a chance to say a few words. Then we'll open it up for conversation.

[Barb Thoman before a crowd of anti-poverty anti-parking meter advocates.]
Barb Thoman, former director of Transit for Livable Communities (TLC): Good evening. I guess I'm a brave soul, as a lot of you out there... I am the former Executive Director of Transit for Liveable Communities, and I'm also the author of a report entitled "the myth of free parking."

Like many of you I'm also a longtime resident of St Paul, and someone who shops and dines on Grand Avenue fairly often. I'm not here to defend the city's process for the pilot project, but I want to talk about the merits of paid parking, of metered parking.

In the last decade, there's been a great deal of study about the topic of metered parking, and the impacts of not charging for parking on communities. If you go to the website of the Transportation Research Board, or the American Planning Association, you will find dozens, if not hundreds of articles, about parking and its impacts on community. There's even a popular book by an author named Donald Shoup called "The High Cost of Free Parking."

And that's the topic that I'd like to address first. The curb parking along Grand Avenue, which is provided to drivers free of charge, isn't free. It's subsidized. The city incurs costs to build and repair that parking lane, to provide winter maintenance, to maintain the signage, and to enforce the parking requirements.

[loud shouts and murmurs from crowd. no no no, etc.]

Just a minute. I'd like to have my time. The vast majority of these costs are paid for with property taxes and the city's right of way assessment.


I just got my bill for $230 for next year for my right of way assessment. Neither of these revenue sources have anything to do with how much people drive, or how much they use on-street parking. So people who drive less, and car-pool, bike, and bus more often, pay the exact same amount as people who drive more and use on-street parking more frequently. That isn't fair.

[loud groans and boos]

There are also indirect costs of driving and parking. Vehicles cause traffic congestion, noise and air pollution. In the case of Grand Avenue, motorists access Grand Avenue using many of our collector streets -- Cretin, Cleveland, Lexington, and Dale -- and contribute to traffic and noise in many neighborhoods including mine. I live 3 houses off of Cretin, and 27,000 cars a day pass very close to my house.

[derisive laughter, murmurs]

Installing parking meters on Grand Avenue and other commercial corridors will help level the playing field and contribute directly to the costs of parking. Alternatives like taking the bus and biking, or sharing a ride with family and friends, will be more competitive options. Today with subsidized parking and bus fare at $2 round trip, there is an incentive to drive in our city. Grand Avenue has really good bus service with the 63 bus, and in our city we have good North-South connecting service on Dale and Cleveland and some service on Lexington. Starting in 2016, Snelling will be served with the best bus in the region.

People who can't get to Grand Avenue on bus or transit are going to pay for it. Grand Avenue has statewide appeal, similar to other commercial corridors in the region, and in other states where people pay to park: Uptown Minneapolis, Lake Street or Riverside Avenue in Minneapolis, Michigan Avenue in Chicago...

[loud gasps, boos, derisive laughter, more boos]

Most noteworthy are the number of places in California where a percentage of parking meter revenue is returned to the Commercial Corridor. In those cases, money is used to promote the district, plant trees, install sidewalks, install bike parking, and cover those costs that are priorities of the businesses. That concept is called a parking benefit district, and is something I believe should be considered if this proposed Grand Avenue pilot is considered. Thank you.

[People spending their evening fighting for affordable health care free parking.]
Mayor Coleman: Thank you. I appreciate everybody giving a chance to hear from her perspective. We have other city officials here, if there are are questions I can't answer. The fact of the matter is we've had many opportunities lot of emails and calls on this issue. I understand the concern. Let me just tell you a little bit about the process that led to this proposal.

First off, there have been no less than 8 studies since 1985 that have studies the issue of parking on Grand Avenue. In 2006, a study was conducted that identified some options and goals associated with managing traffic on Grand Avenue.

A couple things that were noted. Almost 70% of businesses identified parking on grand ave and the crowded parking on grand as specific problem. second, it was stated as a goal that one of the things that people wanted to see, was an increased use of alternatives to cars to go to Grand Avenue, to take buses, to bike, to walk, whatever it might be.

There was a stated desire to have people find alternative means to get to Grand Avenue. So if you were in a neighborhood where you were close enough to walk, you would choose that, as opposed to driving your car up there and parking on the street. Or if you had a opportunity to take the bus up, you would choose that route as opposed to driving there as well.

The third goal, I'm sure there were others, but this is the one that stuck out in my mind. And this has been a goal since I was a City Council member representing the Avenue, is to try to get employees of businesses to park further away so that those parking spots on Grand Avenue were freed up for customers. Very specifically, it was identified as a major problem that people would park on grand avenue work at a business all day long taking away a valuable spot for a customer, reducing the opportunity for people to come in and patronize businesses.

[loud murmurs from the crowd]

So one of the specific things ... [tries to quiet crowd] I'd like to have the opportunity to tell you why we got to this decision....

[more loud murmurs]

In spite of eight studies, in spite of all the people that have looked at this problem, no one has been willing to advance a specific way to deal with the challenges that we saw on Grand Avenue.

It's unfortunate that the Director said that people were laughing at the environmental impact of parking and the use of free parking, because the fact of the matter, and the very scientific evidence, is that there is a very direct and very dramatic cost of having people circling the block looking for a free parking space over and over and over again.

[groans, loud boos]

Barb referenced Donald Shoup's book, and you don't have to believe me on this...

[crowd boos]

This is an opportunity for people to take a look, and look at some of the reports that have been made. In 1935 the first parking meters were installed in Oklahoma City. When meters were installed, the businesses that benefited from that were looked at with envy, and surrounding businesses said, "we want parking meters."

That was the beginning of parking meters in this country and you go across the county and go to various cities of all shapes and size. I don't know if you didn't like Chicago, or Michigan Avenue... [referencing the mocking of Barb Thoman's earlier example.]

The fact of the matter is it doesn't have be a city the size of Chicago. It can be cities large and small, urban and rural, across the country in every way, shape, and form. The fact of the matter is parking meters have been looked as a way to solve a parking problem. They have been specifically identified

Take the example of Vail, which you can argue is different. Obviously its a unique town. Vail had a major parking problem, and so the city responded by building an expensive parking ramp.

[Lady next to me who has definitely gotten pissed off parking her car in Vail before, shouts loudly "It costs twenty bucks to park there!"]

It cost $1.25 a day to parking in the parking ramp in Vail, but no one was using it. And the reason no one was using it was that people would circle around and look for a free parking spot. So instead of paying $1.25 to park all day in Vail, they chose to continue to circle the block.

[loud boos]

The fact of the matter... it is true... but the fact of the matter is that when they started putting in parking meters their parking challenges were dramatically reduced. Their traffic problems were reduced.  I want people to understand that I'm not doing this simply, just to have a way of somehow making money...

[loud boos, derisive jeering]

There are better ways to do that if I wanted to. Specifically this proposal was advanced this year because of the developments downtown. There was a parking study conducted in Downtown. I'm not comparing downtown to Grand Avenue, but that was the conversation. One of things the study identified was that there were plenty of parking spaces but people weren't using them very efficiently.

Particularly, people that were parking for an extended period of time that should have been using the parking ramps downtown, were parking on the street, and as result of that, poorly managing traffic. The consequences of that was two-fold: one of them was, How do we deal with parking in downtown better and what are the budgetary implications of that?

I know people are upset that we're putting this into the general fund, and we can have a conversation about that. But the fact of the matter is I know that all of you, particularly if you live in Crocus Hill, have concerns about the rising costs of property taxes.

[some sporadic clapping]

I tried to be as cautious as I could to try to keep the property tax levy as low as I could. And to do it in such a way to have opportunities to collect money from people that are using city services in the city of Saint Paul, but that didn't necessarily have a stake in the game, as it were, because they weren't property tax payers.

Because we looked at every opportunity and everything we could, we were able to keep the property tax levy below 2% this year, which was a real challenge to do while continuing to maintain the quality of services we have -- parks, police, fire, and whatever -- it continues to be a challenge, and we continue to be pressed on it. We're continuing to look for different ways, so that we can not put all the burden of the challenges we have in our city on home owners and business owners in the form of property taxes.

So the conversation came up as we extended the conversation about parking ramps in downtown, someone mentioned the fact that there have been numerous studies about parking on Grand Avenue, and one the things we should look at is what would happen if we extended the parking district from downtown.

Now. other communities have begged for parking meters...

[groans, shouts]

I'm not sensing that you're begging for parking meters on Grand, but the fact of the matter is that other businesses that have had problems with traffic and problems with parking have asked for it and it has been successfully implemented. Parking meter strategies that have made a huge difference.

One of the things we hear is that installing parking meters would reduce the number of parking spots on Grand Avenue. If you put meters in, and define a spot, the loss will be minimal.

[groans, shouts]

I feel like I'm in a Republican debate. I'm just giving the evidence...

[shouts, boos]

The fact of the matter is, if you have a spot instead of turning over once or twice a day, it turns over four, five, or six times, that's four or five or six spots available because people aren't going in and parking their car and hanging out all day.

[Scattered shouts about time limits]

Some of them are two hours, some are 15 minutes... There's a whole patchwork quilt of how long you can park on the Avenue at different times. The fact of the matter is that enforcement alone, when I talk to people, they say, "I can't believe I got a parking ticket, I parked for 5 extra minutes."

Well, one of the things we can try coming out of this meeting, I will ask the police chief to enforce to the letter of the law parking on grand avenue, but..

[Cheers, though that last sentence seemed rather like a threat to me.]

As part of this conversation, we'll look at that whether its having the same effect as people circling the block constantly. etc.

Those are the conversations we will have. I appreciate having an opportunity.

[Mayor introduces the "rules" for the rest of the back-and-forth. I take the opportunity to get the hell out of there. As I leave, CM Thune says something about Cupcake. The crowd howls.]

[Young people getting their first political experience in the fight against unjust war parking meters.]


Colin said...

The most positive takeaway from that meeting, to my mind, is that despite the badcrazy of that crowd, we have a mayor and elected officials who are apparently aware of and referencing Shoup. That's pretty awesome, and hopefully a sign of good things to come.

Bill Lindeke said...

Agreed! I was impressed by the Mayor's comments here, and by PW Director Lantry's comments in other contexts on this.

Mikesonn said...

I hope our electeds stay strong!

Kevin Gallatin said...

Thanks for transcribing this Bill!

Liz Boyer said...

Thank you so much for the transcription! There have been varying descriptions of the meeting and it's so helpful to read the speakers words directly. Much appreciated!

Kirsten Valentine Cadieux said...

As someone who works in this area, I do have to say that I will swing through there on the days I'm driving -- and I almost never stop, even when I have errands to do, because of the turnover problem.

(That being said, I also am not a fan of biking through there, so maybe the meter installation could also be used to make it a bit more bike friendly? Or at least to make bike infrastructure on a nearby parallel?) While I'm being utopian about St. Paul's possible bike infrastructure: what is with the loose gravel method of building roads? What a challenge!!

Michael Ruth said...

Well, you explained very well on parking meters at Mayor's Forum. I also want to signed up. Thank you for sharing.
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