The Minneapolis Bike Master Plan identifies many critical projects that lack maintenance funding, and the plan says these projects can’t go forward without it. Many potential maintenance funding sources are listed in the plan, such as bicycle registration, a special taxing district, a sales tax on bike products in the city, an endowment, advertising, and a number of others. Some of these ideas may work and be palatable (like sponsorship), but many suffer from problems with enforcement or unintended consequences (bicycle registration, sales tax).
My humble proposal? Increase parking meter rates and direct the additional revenue to bicycle capital and maintenance costs. On-street parking and bicycle facilities often compete for space, and if the city is serious about encouraging more people to use bikes (and other non-auto modes) as transportation (as the Council goals, Greenprint and draft bike plan all state), increasing on-street parking rates would help.
On-street parking in downtown Minneapolis (where most meters are located) is $1 to $2.75 cheaper per hour than public ramps that are nearby or sometimes even within spitting distance. Having spaces that are virtually in the same place with two different prices seems odd, especially if we want drivers to use ramps and stop cruising around the block looking for a parking place. Bringing parking prices in line with demand (or at least in line with rates at existing ramps for downtown meters) could have the additional benefits of making parking easier to find, decreasing congestion and reducing emissions.
The City of Minneapolis has 6,800 parking meters, with various time limits and hours/days of enforcement. To be conservative, let’s use only weekdays (minus some holidays), and assume on average parking meters are occupied 4 hours per day. Let’s also assume that meter rates are raised $1 on average across the city. 6,800 meters X 250 days X 4 hours per day X $1 = $6,800,000 per year. Now, increased rates might lead to reduced demand for parking, so perhaps the figure could be rounded to $6,000,000.
The funding chapter of the draft Bike Master Plan says existing maintenance costs for bike infrastructure are $100,000 per year, with an additional $300,000 per year needed if all the projects in the plan were built. Non-infrastructure programs in the plan would cost $2 million per year to sustain. In total, this is $2,400,000 per year for maintenance of the bicycle network and associated programs. If my estimates of meter revenue are accurate, all maintenance costs could be covered, with $3,600,000 left over for capital projects each year. Even if my figures are way off, say meters are only occupied on average 2 hours per day instead of 4, there would still be $1 million per year for capital projects.
This funding source would be permanent, easily collected and administered (there is already a process in place) and have few unintended consequences. Best of all, it might actually encourage people to choose a bicycle over a car for trips to congested areas of the city.