A proposal to fund Minneapolis bike projects

Parked Bicycle

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.

5 thoughts on “A proposal to fund Minneapolis bike projects

  1. I could see that working, but with conditions…and I’m speaking from a “Performance Parking” frame of mind here. According to Donald Shoup (an urban planning professor at UCLA who’s done a lot of studying of on-street parking), an 85% occupancy rate is the “sweet spot”. If your on-street parking usage is higher than that level, then raising the meter rate for that block/area makes sense and those proceeds could be used for the bike projects you suggest. However, if usage is less than 85%, it makes no sense to raise rates.

    • I’m familiar with Shoup’s work, and I agree. I felt it was too complicated for this post to go into the details of performance parking, so I assumed an average rate increase (some areas of the city would be unchanged, while others would go up, but on average you might see a $1/hour increase). My assumption of the average rate increase would need to be verified by an assessment of vacancy rates across the city’s metered spaces.

      Your comment also raises the important issue of timing. Assuring an 85% vacancy rate 24 hours a day means that prices should change based on demand. It is unclear whether the new electronic meter system the city is installing will have dynamic pricing capability, but I hope they don’t rule this out. SFpark is an example of a dynamic parking pricing program currently being implemented.

  2. I’m all for this idea. Politically though, this has a pretty big hill to climb. Special service districts have been trying to dedicate meter revenue to geographically specific areas in Minneapolis for some time now – I think they are, how do you say it, already in line in front of you with hat in hand…

    • Oh, Joe, that is the beauty of being a gadfly with a blog, I don’t have to worry about political expediency.

      Seriously though, I take your comment to mean a couple of things: 1) Special Service District Boards aren’t interested in funding bike projects and 2) they feel they aren’t getting enough revenue from existing sources to complete their mission.

      I don’t think I’d want these boards deciding when and if to fund bike projects, because many of them go beyond the boundaries of these areas (or are outside any special service district), and thus probably wouldn’t be prioritized. As for number 2, as you say, this is a political question. I think it means stakeholders interested in bike projects will need to organize a little bit better and lobby their elected officials more effectively. However, if some of my estimates about the amount of revenue are even close, it seems there could be a way in which both groups get some funding.

  3. Don’t forget the streetcar!

    “Increases in parking meter fees and a surcharge on public and commercial parking spaces – it was assumed that half of a 25% increase in parking revenues would be dedicated to streetcar. This equates to approximately a 12.5% increase in parking meter revenues and an annual surcharge of approximately $50/non-residential parking space.”


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