Car reservation

Como Park should start charging money for parking

Como Park is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful public attractions in the Twin Cities. Living less than two miles away and with a bunch of new kids in the family, I’ve come to appreciate her more over the past busy pandemic year.

This Boxing Day I took another trip to the zoo and conservatory and loved showing St. Paul to a family visiting from Utah. Somewhere between the wolves and the room full of ferns, my brother-in-law stopped and turned towards me.

“Wait, is this all free?” He asked, astonished.

“Yes, they are asking for donations, but anyone can come,” I said, quickly putting $ 20 in the donation bin.

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The fact that the zoo, conservatory and park are free reflects an incredible legacy for St. Paul, where public infrastructure and philanthropy provide invaluable recreation and education for everyone, regardless of income.

But there is a problem. Thinking about the role of the conservatory and the zoo, locally and globally, I have long thought that the same principle should not apply to car parks. Especially at a time when man-made climate change is triggering mass extinction, it’s time for Como’s attractions to do more to incentivize low-carbon transport. They could start by charging money for the storage of the car.

History of the park

The park of Como itself dates back to 1873, when land was set aside at the behest of the legendary 19th century park guru Horace Cleveland (whose architectural cachet is everywhere in Minneapolis and Saint-Paul). St. Paul purchased 257 acres of land around Lake Como, and it quickly became the ambitious centerpiece of the city’s planned park and walk system. (Prior to that, the lake was known as Sandy Lake and had served as an average rural spa resort.)

The park itself and the neighborhood around it only took off when the railways and streetcars arrived. The first area to develop was a small railroad suburb called Warrendale which was developed along a first railway line connecting the Twin Cities. In other words, the park and its attractions were transit-based and remained so for much of the 20th century, although early auto drivers were certainly encouraged to drive recreationally along. newly paved roads.

The connection between public transport and Como Park was so strong that Como’s first lakeside pavilion was built by the St. Paul tram line. (The current building is a faithful recreation of the original.) And thousands of people visited the park via the Como-Harriet tram, one of the city’s most used lines, which conveniently stopped in the middle of the park. The existing tram station and historic bridge still sits across a hill and clearing from the zoo and conservatory, northeast of the intersection of Como and Lexington.

Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

The existing tram station and historic bridge are still just across a hill and clearing from the zoo and conservatory, as they do in this 1906 photo.

Climate targets

Things changed in the second half of the 20th century, and today the vast majority of people go to the park’s attractions individually. This means that parking has always been a bugaboo in Como. The city has completed dozens of transportation and traffic studies over the years, every decade or so for a lifetime, and more recently in 2011. The latest expansion, in 2015, came when the city’s parks department expanded surface parking lots around McMurray Fields and did the same along the southern ball fields, paving parks and creating more space for vehicle parking. Each year, to reduce parking demand, the city runs a free shuttle to take visitors about half a mile from the center of the park to the sprawling asphalt lots alongside the state fairgrounds, a major city expense.

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Meanwhile, while there are around 2,000 places in the park, the number at a very close distance to the pavilion, zoo and conservatory is much smaller. These nearby spaces have always remained free, which means that visitors have little incentive to look for alternatives to driving. In contrast, similar popular regional parks like the Great Minnehaha Falls Park in southern Minneapolis have a long history of mixed free, paid, and time-limited parking systems, which helps keep traffic flowing and encourages transit. , cycling and carpooling.

It’s time to align park transportation planning with broader climate goals. In 2019, the city of St. Paul’s leaders adopted ambitious climate action goals, including an overall reduction in vehicle trips in the city of 2.5% per year. Rethinking transport in Como would be a key step towards achieving this goal. With nearly 2 million visitors per year, according to park sources, moving even 10% of trips to the park on public transport would significantly reduce carbon pollution.

It's time for Como's attractions to do more to encourage low-carbon transport.  They could start by charging money for the storage of the car.

MinnPost photo by Bill Lindeke

It’s time for Como’s attractions to do more to encourage low-carbon transport. They could start by charging money for the storage of the car.

There are certainly alternatives. Bus No.3, which runs through the park itself, should be upgraded and upgraded to become a more reliable and accessible aBRT, considered as line H. Meanwhile, Route 83 also passes through the park, connecting Como’s attractions north and south. One idea: Parking fees could subsidize public transport trips to and from Como Park, and the city could set up a program through its current reservation system, where bus passes are free with entry. . It wouldn’t be unprecedented: the park previously offered free rides on public transport as part of the Earth Day promotion.

Send a clear signal

For a long time I had a vague feeling of nausea when I visited a zoo. The ethics of zoos, and even conservatories, have evolved since the heyday of the Victorian era, as wealthy countries like ours took a closer look at our relationship with the rest of the world. All these concerns multiply during a climate crisis, at the start of what has been called the extinction of the holocene. In other words, it can be difficult to make eye contact with a polar bear when it is 40 degrees in Nunavut in December.

At the very least, changing parking and transit subsidies at the zoo and conservatory would send a clear signal to visitors on their way to see, for free, the wide array of animals and plants in endangered ecosystems around the world. by rapid climate change. . Taking the bus to the zoo would offer a clear way to connect distant places to our present actions.

The St. Paul Parks Department and Como Park supporters who have kept the zoo and conservatory viable all these years should take the lead in including climate action in their transportation planning. Call carbon offset fees instead of parking meters if you like, but shifting the balance between driving and transit at one of the city’s most important and green attractions would be a step in the right direction. right direction for climate action in St. Paul.