A house in the suburbs, a garage to park the car, a yard full of green grass surrounded by a white picket fence: the American dream. Of course, not everyone attains this dream and not everyone wants to. Nikki Foresta lives in a small apartment on West First Street above Coney Island Deluxe in downtown Duluth, Minn. She has lived there for nearly three years and loves her apartment because it’s “in the middle of it all.” The building is old and she doesn’t mind dealing with the draft because it means she gets to keep the exposed brick wall. Her living room space opens up to a balcony overlooking a parking lot with 28 spaces. From there, she can smoke cigarettes and watch parking enforcement issue citation tickets on her car.
“I have thousands of dollars in outstanding parking tickets,” Foresta said. “The last time I tallied it up without having fees added it was about three grand. I’m probably looking at four grand now.”
The parking lot outside her building is for public use, but is regulated with meters that take only quarters and have two-hour time limits. Foresta often works late hours and is forced to either wake up at 8 a.m. to feed quarters into the meter or face a $12 parking ticket. She admits that she has given up on paying off her debt.
“When you’re living pay-check to pay-check like I do, you can’t just throw down money left and right for tickets,” she said. “By the time I have the money to pay them off it’s been 10 days and they go from $12 to $42.”
There are no resident parking options for her or her neighbors. She says that her landlord has tried to get the city to offer some sort of parking deal for his tenants, but the city turned him down.
“There’s no stickers there’s nothing for residential parking over here,” she said. “I don’t know how it’s such a huge hassle getting a resident sticker.”
Last September, an outside panel made up of five parking planning experts from around the country evaluated the parking problem in Duluth’s downtown area. The panel suggested the city update the parking meters. The new meters would take coins as well as cards and cash. Some would also have longer time limits.
Although Foresta would still prefer resident parking, she loves the idea of not having to plug quarters into the meters all day.
“It would mean one trip to the machine and I’d be good for the rest of the day,” she said.
For now Foresta relies on the parking ramps that are a few blocks away from her apartment. She can’t afford to pay the monthly ramp fees, which cost between $55 and $75, and even if she could she still wouldn’t be guaranteed a parking spot.
“A lot of the business fills the parking ramps up,” she said. “You drive around just hoping for a spot.”
On weekends or during holidays and special events finding parking is even more difficult for Foresta and her neighbors. She doesn’t mind the noise and excitement these events bring, she actually enjoys it, but it does mean that she has to be more aware of the parking situation.
“If I come home and the lot is half full, I knows it’s a slow weekend,” she said. “When they have Grandma’s Marathon or the street dances in the summer there is no parking at all down here.”
It’s not just the lack of space that makes Foresta shy away from the parking ramps. There is also a safety issue after dark. The less expensive ramp that Foresta often uses, which costs $3.75 a day, doesn’t have any lights. Foresta has been harassed on multiple occasions when leaving the parking ramp at night.
“One time I was carrying a case of beer and this guy tried to get me to go back into the parking ramp,” she said. “He grabbed at me so I flung my arms up and ran.”
After their initial study of the downtown-parking situation, the parking panel suggested enhancing the interior of the ramps and hiring staff to manage them. Foresta hopes that the city will follow this advice and make the parking ramps safer for everyone.
Because Foresta doesn’t feel safe parking and walking back from the parking ramps at night, she often finds herself pulling up in front of those quarter-eating meters outside her apartment when she gets off of work. She just crosses her fingers and hopes that she can get by without another ticket.
“I can see how the city makes money through parking tickets, but they’re really just hurting downtown residents,” Foresta said. “Someone in this building is going to drive or have a car. What’s the point of having residents down here if you’re not going to let us park?”
Other areas throughout the Midwest have similar issues with downtown parking. Fargo, ND., a city of comparable size to Duluth, has a parking program in place for its downtown residents. Fargo’s Residential Parking Permit program offers a combination of on-street and off-street parking for $25 per month. Residents can park for extended periods of time on designated streets, and in city-owned off-street facilities on nights and weekends. Much like the lots and ramps in Duluth, downtown residents are still not guaranteed a spot, but this option is more affordable and convenient for downtown residents.
Foresta has no plans of moving out of her downtown neighborhood. She understands that her parking issues are not going to resolve themselves, but she has hope that the city will change something soon. Whether it be updated meters, safer ramps or some kind of resident program, Foresta says anything is better than having to search for quarters.