Duluth reconsidering mandated parking minimums

The Duluth News Tribune reports that proposed changes to city code would eliminate requirements for developers to provide a specific number of parking spots.


Matthew James

about 1 year ago

For anyone interested in the research supporting the elimination of minimum parking requirements, the book The High Cost of Free Parking examines the issue in a brisk 700 pages. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_High_Cost_of_Free_Parking


about 1 year ago

These proposed changes are a great step in the right direction. I hope it makes it through city council with flying colors. Parking (especially unused) is such a wasteful land use, and free or cheap parking only serves to incentivize driving. One could argue that Duluth's policies that hyper-prioritize the automobile are one of the root causes of our systemic budget woes.

Chester Knob

about 1 year ago

"One could argue that Duluth's policies that hyper-prioritize the automobile are one of the root causes of our systemic budget woes."

How so?


about 1 year ago

@Chester Knob

To be clear, Duluth isn't unique in this respect. Many cities post WWII made the decision to reorient their development to the car, and the urban renewal projects and suburban sprawl that followed were very car-centric, or car-only. Classic examples include leveling entire neighborhoods for highways, or demolishing once vibrant majority black business districts for parking lots. For some visually arresting before-and-after examples, check out "Cars Destroyed Our Cities" on Instagram.

More specifically to Duluth. Traditionally, as cities grew, neighborhoods changed and intensified. What might start out as large lots with single-family homes, would evolve into duplexes and low-rise apartments, probably with small businesses on the ground floor. This process ensured that a city could as much value from its infrastructure investment as possible, allowing it to pay for impending maintenance or replacement. A side effect of this process is that people typically had what they needed to survive within walking distance. As intensity increased, cities built mass-transit systems like street cars and subways to efficiently move people around. This is how Duluth developed throughout its early years, until the early to mid-20th century.

Now, our neighborhoods are locked under a pane of glass by strict Euclidean zoning laws and other car-centric policies. Large setback requirements, minimum parking requirements and explicit commercial vs. residential zones ensure that we are unable to extract more dollars from the pipes and streets we laid. Want to build a neighborhood appropriate, low-rise apartment building in Lakeside? I hope you have millions of extra dollars to fight for a variance.

Similar struggles apply to opening a small business in a neighborhood. Regardless of parking minimums that make it more expensive to build, the vast majority of neighborhood land in Duluth prohibits opening a business altogether. "Front-yard" businesses used to be common place, but they're illegal in Duluth. Here's an article/video from StrongTowns about that.

Other policies and trends further entrench the requirement to drive, creating a negative feedback loop. Zoning regulations and parking requirements make our city more spread out, less financially sustainable and less walkable, ensuring that more people drive. More people drive, clogging our streets and making trips for groceries or the hardware store take longer. Roads are widened, lanes are added, sidewalks are narrowed (or don't exist at all), making walking more dangerous and less enjoyable, resulting in fewer trips by foot. Due to lower density, mass transit is less effective and fewer people ride it, fewer people value it and funding it isn't prioritized, which further degrades it. Everyone who is physically able to drive or can afford to, now drives for most trips. More parking is needed at destinations, and land is used even less efficiently. The city becomes more spread out and the cycle continues ... our city becomes less able to fund it's critical infrastructure, is less able to create or maintain amenities for residents, and needs to raise or add taxes just to break even.

In many ways, Duluth's saving grace has been that its core neighborhoods were able to get to a relatively dense state before car-oriented development took hold. New development in the second half the 1900s was suburban in nature and expanded into Duluth's previously rural areas. Large lots with single-family homes connected by many miles of pipes and streets. The only reason things haven't completely fallen apart is because our core legacy neighborhoods produce significantly more tax dollars per acre, able to pay for their own infrastructure and subsidize the further reaches of Duluth. Urban3 consults with cities and creates visualizations of where a city's revenue comes from. It would be fascinating to see a similar visualization of Duluth.

If you want to learn more about these concepts, I encourage you to check out StrongTowns. Alternatively, the popular urbanist YouTuber @NotJustBikes created a fantastic intro primer to StrongTowns ideas.


about 1 year ago

Utopia is great when you have a sidewalk not covered in 6 feet of snow. Vehicles and roads will never be replaced with bicycle paths. Americans like to move. Vehicles allow us to go camping, they move our lumber and food, they pick up our garbage, they are a real driver for our economy. When parking lots can't fit enough cars and people have to bike, they stop shopping there ... and they go to Hermantown.

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