Progress on Parking: A Channel 79 EXCLUSIVE

“We’re hearing unconfirmed reports that the City Council has banned cars.”
image credit: Omar Bárcena

Minneapolis is one City Council vote away from enacting a major, nationally-heralded parking reform authored by Council Member Lisa Bender. I’ve watched with great interest as the debate has unfolded on Channel 79. To summarize the back-and-forth as uncharitably as possible: utopians on bicycles deployed a slew of crowd-pleasing parking analogies* (12), while some of our city’s original inhabitants countered with predictions of the aparkolypse (it’s a “boondoggle” of an “epic fail”). 

One misconception coming from opponents of the policy is that it will cause the parking ratio for housing construction in the specified transit corridors to fall to zero. This mistaken assumption is the basis for the primary argument you hear from parking maximalists: this policy will fail because there are still so many cars and drivers out there (Minneapolis isn’t ready for your radical car-free agenda!).
It’s true, cars are still a thing. Which is why developers, and the banks who loan them money, aren’t about to start creating crisis-level parking situations that sink their investments. But I’m just restating Council Member Lisa Goodman’s rebuttal to what she sees as “a lot of misunderstanding” regarding this plan:

We’re not telling developers not to build parking. We’re just simply saying we’re not going to tell you what the minimum or maximum is going to be. I personally think that’s a better role for the city. The people who have their money in the game are the ones who are going to have to determine if they can sell or rent homes.

Goodman went on to explain how the policy will lower the cost of constructing affordable housing, and that “new buildings cannot be required to solve the problems [i.e. lack of parking] of existing buildings” (her full remarks are worth watching).
Then there’s the charge that this policy is corporate welfare, a sop to developers. I hear this a lot, as it’s often delivered Tourette-style, right in my ear (by the way, it’s an honor and a privilege to serve on my neighborhood association’s Board of Directors). At first, I dismissed this as phony left-wing populism, but just today I saw a note from a parking profiteer on the bulletin board downstairs. Now I’m ready to pretend to take this pretend argument seriously.
“This business plan is going to require a manufactured parking crisis. Who do we know at City Hall?”

Lowry Hill East is fertile ground for parking entrepreneurs, with many parking lots constructed soon after Minneapolis enshrined residential parking minimums into the 1963 zoning code. One of those lots belongs to my apartment building. I regularly and obsessively count the empty stalls; according to my non-scientific analysis, the effect of our city’s 50-year-old regulations is a parking lot that never exceeds 60 percent full (as a pessimist, I tend to see it as 40 percent empty). Extrapolate this surplus parking goldmine to similar buildings in the neighborhood, and you can imagine the potential for ill-gotten gains.**

This is to say nothing of unintended consequences; squeeze the supply of parking too tight, and some “job creator” will capitalize by building more parking. It’s not a stretch to say this policy assures even more parking will be built. If you’re a knee-jerk liberal urbanist like myself, the last thing you want is another corporate parking lot. Even so, I’m not pretending when I say this is still a plan worth supporting.

Response from the City of Minneapolis to a question about historic parking regulations.

While I’d prefer to live in a city with fewer full-time drivers, I fully acknowledge their existence. Likewise, this proposed policy change accommodates the reality of car ownership. However, what Minneapolis’ existing parking mandate does not do is acknowledge the existence of people who live without a personal automobile. Residential parking regulations are levied against them, like a tax. It’s illegal for developers to cater to them.

A socio-economically diverse city should have parking regulations that actually accommodate diversity. Parking has a cost; it’s as much “for sale” as a hanging hot tub or water stairs. We shouldn’t mandate residential parking in a way that eliminates choice and ignores the needs of so many Minneapolis renters and buyers. On parking, let the market decide.***
More parking minimum analogies: it’s like a TV/VCR combo; it’s like an apartment with bundled cable TV when you just wanna stream it over the internet; it’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife; it’s like meeting the man of my dreams, and then meeting his beautiful wife.
** Bernie should be talking about this.

Constituent Emails

You may remember the agitated gentleman from a few months ago who emailed me a PDF of my own Tweets. Now that I’m an elected public official, I have set up an email filter to clear my inbox of all messages not containing the phrase “you’re a hero” (I will still be accepting your vitriol via Tweet, however).

From: Actual Constituent 

To: John Edwards 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015 at 11:01 PM 

You’re a hero to attend such meetings. Hang in there!

I don’t understand why LHENA board thinks we need cops on bikes? Who can explain? or is it an attempt to get at something else, i.e. more interaction with the public. Sorry, but I just don’t know about crime in LHENA. Or maybe the current board just can’t think of any way to use its money for neighborhood stuff like a youth development program, home maintenance for seniors, community gardens, a database of miscreant landlords. I could go on.

Thank you for your support. The MPD issue is tricky. It’s a delicate balance between my pro-crime and pro-bike agendas. I’m glad you approve of my approach. As for your other concerns: I pledge to get a handle on our neighborhood’s youths, seniors, plants, and miscreants by the end of my first 90 days. And I’m gonna do it without raising taxes. I’ve got a team of volunteer coders working on a “miscreant database” as I write this.

Kristina, via social media, writes: “so what was up with lt edwards?”

You’re right, Kristina, that was a confusing series of Tweets. Let me clarify. Lt. Edwards (no relation) was at last week’s Board meeting to talk about a plan, proposed by LHENA’s Crime Committee, to pay for MPD bike patrols. Lt. Edwards got a glowing introduction from the 5th Precinct’s Inspector, which included repeated use of the phrase, “Lt. Edwards is fantastic.”

Board President Leslie Foreman then introduced him as Sgt. Edwards, prompting the entire room to simultaneously conceive of the same joke: “Don’t demote Lt. Edwards!” It was the most fun LHENA has seen in a while. Lt. Edwards then good-naturedly expressed his concern with our time management (fair point, L.T.).

Lt Edwards is fantastic.

— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) June 18, 2015

Don’t demote Lt Edwards.

— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) June 18, 2015

Lt Edwards is like damn, guys, it’s 835. This was supposed to be over at 830.

— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) June 18, 2015

While Lt. Edwards is fantastic, he wasn’t fantastic enough to convince the Board to vote for the patrols. It appears a decision on any plan for MPD patrols has been put off until next year.

29th Street: Interpreting the Open Streets Experience

View from the LHENA tent at Open Streets on Lyndale Ave.

It’s been an interesting first two months on the job as a LHENA Board Member. Many blog posts have gone unwritten, while others have been drafted only to remain unpublished. Some observers have speculated that I’m saving material for a political autobiography (rumored title: Eyewitness to Power: God, Guns, Grits, Gravy, and Screenshots).

But really, it would be a disservice to my constituents if I stopped doing the communicating that helped me win a landslide tie for sixth place. Of course, I’ll have to modulate my tone. For example, I may start using phrases like “my esteemed colleagues” as a way to soften the blow felt by my esteemed colleagues when I dismiss their ideas. Comity before comedy, I always say.

At last week’s Board meeting, I heard from a colleague that the planned 29th Street makeover was met with an unenthusiastic reception at the LHENA tent at Open Streets on Lyndale. I’ve also heard that the neighborhood has been ignored, and that the process for seeking public input has been inadequate. I felt this was too silly a point to bother bickering over at the time, but just silly enough for a blog post/constituent update.

The Open Streets comment was a surprise to me, as someone who worked the LHENA tent that day. The first thing you should know about the experience at Open Streets is that LHENA’s big, beautiful, professional-looking “Wedge” banner had everyone thinking we were the Wedge Co-op. I spent a lot of time providing customer service to shoppers in search of food items with names I have never heard before (fundraising opportunity for next year: Cub foods at Wedge prices).

We did finally come across a young woman claiming to be a resident. She was so enthusiastic about getting involved with her new neighborhood. In the excitement, I immediately gave her a “Wedge Walk Patrol” hat, without checking ID or making her play a silly game. After she departed, we noticed the address she left on the signup sheet was in the Lyndale neighborhood. She’s probably somewhere right now impersonating a member of the Wedge Walk Patrol, making unlawful arrests.

Seen a Lyndale resident wearing this hat? Report her to the Wedge Walk Patrol.

Then there was the surly mom who seemed to hate everything we were doing. She had a hugely negative reaction to all the options on our Mueller Park survey, one of which was “staffing the pool so babies don’t drown.” If we’re using the feedback we received at Open Streets to draw conclusions, our primary takeaways might be that hardly anybody knows who we are, and Wedge moms have a deep hatred for all things LHENA (not a scientific survey of Wedge moms).

So while feedback may have been sparse, the suggestion that a bunch of Open Streets attendees are skeptical of remaking a pot-holed mess into something attractive, useful, and pedestrian- and bike-friendly is odd. As is the idea that this has been forced on us, under the radar. Though I won’t deny, at multiple LHENA meetings over the last 12 months, I’ve been put to sleep by Lisa Bender’s relentless droning about 29th Street, leaving me unable to remember key details of her secret plan.

There’s been plenty of time to bang the drum if anyone thought the neighborhood’s concerns for 29th weren’t being addressed. There were three public meetings last year (I walked to two of them from my home; other LHENA honchos were there as well). Aside from complaints about process, I’m not sure what the substantive objections/critiques are. If you happen to have any, there’s one last meeting scheduled for June 29th.